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How I use the Daniels' Running Formula, Part II

“It's not how many miles you run, it's how you run the miles...” Ric Rojas

In this installment, I describe how I use the Daniels' Formula to compile and analyze previous performances. My next blog will address goal-setting based the analysis of your current racing and training inventory described here.

In my last blog, I plugged the Daniels' Running Formula, which, in my opinion, is the most useful “How-To” book ever written on running. In developing his Formula, Dr. Jack Daniels conducted extensive field research over several decades, crunched thousands of performance numbers, and actually tested his formulas over the course of his professional coaching career.

Kelly Gilbert

Besides espousing Daniels work, I've actually used his methodologies in my own training and my coaching practice since I was introduced to his work when he lectured at Nike's Eugene-based Athletics West Training Facility in the '80's. His long-running research eventually evolved into his “Formula” including his "VDOT” Chart (pages 81 & 82 of his Third Edition) which provides a great tool to assess current running performance, historical performance trends, and predict future times for distances ranging from the mile to the marathon.

One of the many useful things about Daniels exercise physiology is its applicability to a broad spectrum of runners. Age and gender are already built into the Chart based on performance data, and because Daniels VDOT formula adjusts for body weight, his chart can be used for runners regardless of their body mass index (BMI).

In my coaching, I start my information "uptake” by compiling a "Personal Performance Inventory” using Daniels' VDOT Chart. I ask my clients to highlight their historical and current times on the Chart for any race distance and place a date by each highlighted mark.

By analyzing the runner’s performance data as revealed on their personal charts, I can identify strengths and weaknesses and performance trends based on historical training and racing and assist the runner in setting appropriate future goals.

Daniels VDOT Chart provides a “Performance Index” for distances ranging from the mile to the marathon. Each VDOT level is associated with a specific time for a particular distance. As the runner improves, he moves up the VDOT scale and the VDOT score associated with the time also indicates what he could do at various other distances across the same VDOT line.

For many runners, the highlighted marks fall in a relatively straight line across the VDOT chart, usually within one to three VDOT scores of each other. This simply means that the runner is balanced across the range of events and if he improves at any of the distances across the chart as indicated by the corresponding VDOT, he would improve commensurately at all of the distances across the chart.

Often, I see a skewed chart: The runner scores higher at one end of the chart or the other. This suggests that he/she either specializes in shorter or longer events, or if he is trying to perform well across the range of events, is deficient in speed (on the left-hand side of the chart) or endurance (on the right-hand side of the chart).

If the curve is bell-shaped, the runner is strong at the intermediate distances but relatively week at either speed and endurance. This might be the case with a 10K Specialist.

A “U-shaped” curve would suggest that the runner has both speed and endurance but lacks intermediate speed. This would be a good miler who is also a very good marathoner but doesn’t run the intermediate distances very well. This is possible, but not likely to occur and, as a coach, I have never encountered such an individual.

Once I compile and analyze the training and performance data, I have the information I need to begin the goal-setting process and concurrently write the companion goal-specific training program for an event at a specific time and place in the future.


  • In evaluating historical performance, I assume that the runners' competitive efforts equal “maximum race effort”. This assumption allows me to establish a realistic "performance baseline” for designing training program/predicting future times.

  • In my initial information uptake or training review process, I also analyze information on miles run per week, interval/speed training, long runs, as well as injury history.

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