The Basics of VDOT

Training Advice

Part 1

I read Daniels Running Formula for two reasons.

First, running is a huge part of my life, and I will read any and every book on the subject.

Second, one of the runners I coach wanted me to read it in order to have another perspective to apply to our training.

That said, Daniels, who backs his methods up with years of laboratory research, offers a mathematical approach to running, one that emphasizes placing yourself in the proper training zone and then the segmentation of your workouts and your efforts in order to achieve a proper balance and avoid the most common pitfalls of training. This formula appeals to many runners, especially to those who need to understand what they are doing and why. I coach many who fall in this category and need to understand what they do in order to perform.

In layman’s terms, Daniels wants us to make the most of each and every run, regardless of the race we are training for. In order to do so, a runner must understand their current level of fitness and design a training plan that first maximizes their current level and then allows them to strive to reach their goals. There are multiple ways to establish our zone of training, ranging from the traditional and costly V02max testing to heart rate based training, to the less traditional but more preferred VDOT (a V02max value based upon your best recent running performances).

Using a recent 5k time for runner John Doe of 18:05, Daniels’ tables allow one to find that they fall in zone 56 for VDOT. Now, if that runner improved upon their mile time during track season after posting such a time, running say a 4:45 (I’ve seen such improvements many times), their VDOT level, based off of best performances, can then be a 63. Taking your VDOT data, you move to another table where all of your training paces are laid out according to each and every workout runners do. Easy Pace, Marathon Pace, Threshold Pace (at various distances), Interval Pace (400m, 1000m, 1200m, Mile), and Repetition Pace (200m, 400m, 800m). So John, with a VDOT of 56 would want to run his easy miles at an average pace of 7:48, but if he went with his mile time and thus the VDOT of 63, he would aim to run his easy miles at 7:05, a vastly more intense pace.

Since Daniels first recommends going with your best recent race and then suggests working toward sustaining the times for that pace, I would suggest going with the more advanced goal for a motivated driven runner. Yet, there are some I train that would struggle to reach the marks of the higher level set at a time of speed, and they would thus need to either go with a more realistic value, one they could master, or aim to land somewhere in-between before broadening their training goals. If a 7:05 pace for a 10 mile run is too much, but a 7:48 is too easy, land in the middle until your easy pace quickens, and use the base stage to undergo such a conversion. Either way, as we set our goals for the upcoming season, these numbers are serving as conversation starters, ways to establish expectations and push runners to achieve. Some are running in their current zones, others are light years away and need to build both strength and confidence in order to face our fall season.

With these facts in mind, Daniels also presents an alternate method to track your training for the week. In lieu of a schedule that focuses on miles or minutes, he suggests points. These points are assigned based upon minutes spent at a particular effort level, thus giving credit for more intense runs at a value rated higher than longer, slower efforts.

More on this method in a later post.

Steven Stam lives in Jacksonville, Florida where he teaches English and coaches track and cross country.


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