Back in March, I picked up a copy of Daniel’s Running Formula and planned all my runs for the remainder of 2022. Over 170 scheduled runs in 270 days. Now four months into the program, and I haven’t missed a single run. What’s the program been like? Am I making any progress? And will I ever break my dad’s 5k PR? Well, let’s get into it!

Daniel’s Running Formula

Dr. Jack Daniels is a two-time Olympic medalist in the Modern Pentathlon and world-renowned exercise scientist. Named “The World’s Best Running Coach” by Runner’s World, he coached seven athletes to the U.S. Olympic team and has advised dozens of Olympians and medalists. He went on to write the Daniels’ Running Formula, a book outlining his unique training philosophies [1]. I picked up the fourth edition of that book back in March and planned my year of runs.

What I’ve struggled with in the past is determining proper training intensity and volume. Am I running too little or too many miles? Am I running those miles too easy or too hard? And am I resting enough or too much? Without ever having a coach, I struggled to answer these questions. The Daniel’s Running Formula did just that. It details which days to run, what distances to run, and the exact paces to run. No more guesswork. Just a plan I had to execute.

(More program details in my April post: I’m Using VDOT to Plan a Year of Running)

Red Plan

Now there are numerous plans in his book for general running improvement or distance specific race preparation. Knowing my injury history, I started conservative by selecting his red intermediate general running improvement plan. It was harder than expected. The red plan has four phases, each lasting one month. Phase 1 starts off with 25 miles per week of running on four scheduled run days with three optional run days (pictured below). I decided to run on one of those optional days (Day 4) while rowing on the other days for low-impact cross-training. Unrelated to the program, but to give you an idea of my full fitness routine, I also perform a pull, push, legs, strength split twice a week. And I walk about 15,000 steps on my treadmill desk each workday.

It turned out that the running along with the treadmill desk walking was too much initially. I started to feel signs of shin splints. I cut back and even eliminated the walking for a few weeks and it helped. The pain dissipated. I’ve slowly incorporated the walking back and do about 7,000 steps/day at my desk. No issues since.

But the running plan is great! Sure, initially it was difficult to measure 1k running segments for my Threshold paces, or remember the plan in the middle of the run when exhausted, or finding running paths that weren’t interrupted by stop lights and traffic. But all of this got ironed out after a few weeks. I measured distances with my Apple Watch. I had all the runs memorized. I learned how to mark segments in my Apple Watch to track each pace change. And I had an uninterrupted running route along the water. The more I ran, the easier it became.

Phases 1 – 4

In months 1 and 2, or phases 1 and 2 of the program, I had no issues maintaining paces. The easy pace was easy. The threshold pace was difficult but attainable. And the strides are strides. Nothing special. But in phases 3 and 4, hard or interval paces get introduced. I found these much harder to maintain in my training. In phase 3, I had a workout that consisted of five three-minute intervals. My first week doing this workout, I never hit the recommended pace. I was too exhausted. But each week thereafter I became closer and would hit the pace a few times. By the end of the month, I still couldn’t maintain the pace for every interval in a workout but there was improvement.

Overall, progressing through each phase of the red intermediate plan went well. Although my miles stayed between 25 and 30 per week, each month involved slightly harder running and slightly less resting. Everything was going well… until race day.

Progress Markers

Race Times

What really motivates me is dropping my 5k time. This is why I picked up the book. I want to get faster without getting injured. I want to set PR’s while being healthy. Although I stupidly didn’t do a 5k before I started the program to properly benchmark my progress, I’d guess it would be around 20 minutes. But all my 5k prerace predictions have been wildly off by over 30 seconds so keep that in mind. My predictions have sucked.

I did my first official run 6 weeks into the program and ran a 19:23 5k. I was hoping for better but not terrible. 13 weeks into the program I ran a 19:57. How could I do worse with 7 more weeks of training? Abysmal. And 17 weeks, after completing all four phases of the program, I ran an unofficial 19:30 5k. Four months of training and absolutely no progress. It’s a little baffling. Little frustrating. So, the program doesn’t work, right?

Well, I wouldn’t say that. It’s a small sample size of races that had many variables. The courses were different. The first race I did was completely flat. The weather got worse. My second race was performed in 80-degree weather in direct sunlight. It wore me down quick. The first two races I tapered my training miles by 35% during race week, for optimal recovery, whereas the last race I didn’t taper. And my nutrition, sleep, and stress levels varied as well. Many things confounded the results. Certainly, with this amount of training my time should decrease despite these factors. But let me tell you why I’m ok with the results for now.

Secondary Progress Markers

There are secondary progress markers that are promising. I’ve lost five pounds since the beginning of the program with my body fat percentage dropping two points. My body composition is improving. My resting heart rate dropped four beats per minute and my heart rate variability is steadily increasing. My cardiovascular health is improving. I’m now lifting more weight and notching up my breath work to new levels. I’m fitter. And I’m now able to run harder and longer training runs than I ever could’ve done four months ago.

Starting in August, I’ll be taking on the blue advanced running plan in Daniel’s Running Formula. My weekly mileage will be jumping to between 40 and 52 miles per week. There’s no way I would be to do that volume back in March. So, while my race times aren’t improving, many other biomarkers are. A breakthrough must be near, and I can’t flinch now. It’s time to keep progressing. It’s time to keep running.

Final Thoughts

Four months of running Daniel’s red intermediate plan hasn’t improved my race times at all. At least not yet. But the program has kept me healthy, and my training is hitting levels I’ve never been at before. I think maintaining this consistency, while supplementing in a few sprints and plyometrics for speed and power, will eventually pay off big. It’s only a matter of time before the PR’s start coming. I’m really looking forward to a race in October and I’m sure I’ll be getting close to my dad’s 17:45 by then. Dad’s getting worried. These are my latest habits for health excellence.

Hi, I’m Brandon Zerbe

Welcome to myHealthSciences! Every week I share habits for health excellence. I do this by covering topics like Fitness, Nutrition, Sleep, Cognition, Finance and Minimalism. You can learn more about me here.