Training Plan Review: Jack Daniels' 2Q 18-Week Marathon Plan
This post was originally written for r/AdvancedRunning.
- What? Jack Daniels 18-Week 2Q Marathon Plan
- From? Daniels’ Running Formula, Third Edition
- Goal Race: Manitoba Marathon (June 18)
- Tune-Up Races: May 7th (HM) and May 28th (20k)
- Website: http://fellrnr.com/wiki/Jack_Daniels
- Reference: Chapter 14: 2Q Program, Table 14.3: 56-70 miles (90-113 km) per week
VDOT: Daniels’ numeric system for determining running fitness and training paces. Based on peak performance in a race. AKA the greatest discovery/invention in the history of science and physiology. Myth has it that before VDOT, athletes would just run 400-metre repeats until they dropped dead.
2Q: 2 quality (hard) days per week. The plan I was on was in the “18-week” section, and is not to confused with JD’s other plans, most of which also have 2 quality days per week. A “Q session” is a hard workout prescribed in the plan. For marathon training in particular:
- Q1 = Long Run
- Q2 = Medium-Long Workout
I have been running semi-regularly since the Fall of 2014. My first race was a half-marathon in the Spring of 2015. I was training around 50-65 km a week using a training plan from Jason Fitzgerald of Strength Running. Ever since, I have adapted and revised that plan to fit my goals and increased mileage. My most serious block before this year was a 14-week focused buildup to the Queen City Marathon in September of 2016. I peaked at 100 km a week during that block but was not consistent enough to meet my marathon goal of 3 hours, 20 minutes. My long runs were too easy and my workouts were not specific enough to the distance. I ran 3:34 with a 17 minute positive split in my marathon debut. In retrospect, I didn’t have enough lifetime mileage to jump up to the marathon, but it was a meaningful goal to me so I did it anyway. Coming from an athletic background in team sports, distance running has been an incredibly humbling endeavour.
I knew I could do better so I kept running. I PR’ed in the half in October 2016 and continued training into November. I resolved then to do a dedicated and demanding buildup to the Manitoba Marathon on June 18th of 2017, giving me almost 6 months to work with starting in January.
Why I Chose Jack Daniels
I need structure to stay disciplined during marathon training, so I obsessively read popular running books. I started with Matt Fitzgerald’s 80/20 Running and Brain Training for Runners, then Brad Hudson’s Run Faster from 5k to the Marathon, then Pftiz’s Advanced Marathoning and Faster Road Racing, then JD’s Daniels’ Running Formula. I enjoyed reading about running more than I did following the suggested plans, however, so I hadn’t really followed a full plan from any of them. I just sort of used some of the workouts and principles to make sure I was doing at least a couple of things right. I resolved to choose an 18-week plan for this buildup. Now it was a matter of deciding which plan to follow.
I settled on JD for two reasons. First, this comment and this comment from /u/CatzerzMcGee in the Summer Series thread on JD. Second, Fellrnr rates JD’s 2Q program very highly in the “Improver” and “Enthusiast” categories (as well as 3:00 and 3:00-4:30), which fits me well. Interestingly, I tend to disagree with some aspects of Fellrnr’s training philosophy – he is not a fan of lots of easy, slow running, while I am a huge fan of it. Thankfully, the 2Q program is super flexible and accommodates different training philosophies, whether you’re focusing on volume or quality in your buildup. Fellrnr also recommends using the 2Q program on 4 days of running per week. I ran 6 days a week with 4 easy or recovery runs around JD’s quality workouts. Fellrnr is also against tempo/threshold runs “because the science backs it up,” but I think the that the tempo/threshold work in the 2Q program adapts very well to marathon training. After all, the marathon is run at just below lactate threshold, so specific endurance requires you to run extended periods just below lactate threshold. The higher your threshold, the faster your marathon pace. Besides, JD’s threshold pace (“T”) is actually quite intense if you follow VDOT.
How I Understand the Plan
Daniels’ Running Formula is a book that is packed with information about training, physiology, and science. I learned a lot from it, but there are plenty of sections that are overly complex for a general audience. It’s not nearly as accessible as any of the other books that I mentioned. If you want to understand training principles and theory, I recommend Pfitz, 80/20 Running, or Hanson’s Marathon Method. The latter two are essentially accessible readings of Lydiard’s method applied to recreational runners. If you read any of those four books (including JD) and you’re still asking “How do I train for a marathon?,” you’re not paying enough attention.
Daniels’ 2Q program is a simple idea: he provides 2 quality workouts a week and a weekly mileage goal, then leaves it up to the runner to figure out the rest using the advice and suggestions that Daniels explains throughout the book. Important: for Daniels’ marathon training, one of the Q sessions is the long run. The plan does NOT follow the traditional “2 workouts a week, plus a long run.”
In the moderate-to-high volume marathon training plans, the Q sessions are basically 1 medium-long run (MLR) with tempo or speedwork and 1 long run with tempo or marathon-pace work. Both runs usually include miles at paces faster than your easy pace. His paces are E (Easy), M (Marathon), T (Threshold), I (Interval), and R (Repetition). Several of the long runs include long intervals and repetitions at M or T pace. Several of the medium-long runs include intervals and repetitions at M, T, and I pace. The emphasis depends on where you’re at in the plan. For example, in the sharpening phase, you’ll be doing more I work than you’re used to, and your long runs will include long portions at M.
I believe that the main difference between Pfitz and Daniels is how they treat the medium-long run(s) and speework. From my understanding, Pfitz mostly has speedwork and medium-long runs on different days. In Daniels, the speedwork happens during the medium-long run: usually after a long warmup at E pace, up to 13 kilometres(!) prior to 5 x 1k repetitions.
There’s no easy way to say this, but Daniels’ Q sessions are tough for the marathon distance, because he makes you run hard on fatigued legs. However, I have improved drastically by using this approach. My MLR is between 18 - 24k, and it includes at least 50% at high intensity. Along with the increased volume and harder long run, this is the biggest change I’ve made to my training. These sessions are tough but they have improved my ability to race half-marathons with only ONE training cycle using this approach. I ran 86:14 in the HM and 79:51 in the 20k after three months of the 2Q program. My previous PBs were 1:32 (HM) and 1:28 (20k).
How I Used the Plan
I typically run my Q sessions on Saturday and Tuesday or Wednesday. Both sessions can take at least 2 hours so you’ll need to figure out how to run that long in the middle of the week if you decide to do this plan.
The rest of the week, I run easy without any attention to pace. If I feel good I can run “easy” between 4:40 and 5:00 pace (/km) (7:30 - 8:00), but most of my easy runs outside of the Q sessions are slower than 5:00 pace. The day after a Q sessions is almost always a recovery day, where I focus on running purposefully slow. For me, that’s a shuffle between 5:30 and 6:00 (/km).
I followed the Q sessions pretty strictly with a couple exceptions. For one, I hardly did any of the R running that JD recommends (there were only 2 or 3 sessions in the 18-week marathon plan that included them). I was usually too tired from the I repeats to do anymore speedwork or 200m repetitions. Second, I increased the duration of the long run for a couple of key workouts. JD’s longest runs in this plan are 32 km, but one of my runs was 38 km (3 hours). I also had to change the order of the long runs to accommodate my half-marathon races. I tried to run 30k (2.5 hours) on key training runs even if JD said to stay at 26. If I felt too tired after long sections at marathon-pace then I would just cool down after and end the workout.
I didn’t always do the full distance for the MLRs, either. Sometimes JD will have 24-26k MLRs in one of the Q sessions. I don’t mind scaling that back to 20-22 as long as I’m doing the workout portions he recommends. I just did slightly less E running in the workout.
With this approach, I treated the 2 quality sessions as HARD days. Not moderate, not progressions, not steady. Hard. The Q sessions are already tough workouts as is, and these were my only two workouts a week. I’m running easy four times a week, so I had to get the most out of those quality sessions.
I should also note that I did not successfully complete all the workouts. One memorable Q session in particular I bailed at 7k during the 2nd 10k of a 2 x 10k MP run. This was particularly discouraging because I was supposed to be in peak marathon fitness and I could barely run 20k at marathon pace (after I had run 15 seconds /k faster for a half-marathon two weeks before). During another interval workout, I was unable to run at my target I pace.
On VDOT and Pacing
VDOT will make or break your relationship with JD. If you hate being tied to a particular pace, and if you get easily frustrated when you don’t hit your paces in workouts, you will not have a good time with JD’s plans.
That said, I do not believe it is absolutely necessary to hit your paces on the nose in EVERY workout. I use the paces as “suggested targets” and try to think more in ranges than the prescribed paces. For example, I think that T is a range. JD has me around 4:00, sometimes I run 4:10 if that’s what feels “comfortably hard” that day. JD has my M around 4:15, sometimes I run 4:25. I believe it is possible to combine perception of effort with the prescribed paces in order to run your Q workouts effectively and get the same results. Personally, I love the prescribed paces because they give me a target for my quality sessions. I believe that quality days should be hard – not moderate, but really hard. I run relaxed four out of six days a week, so I have to get bang for my buck on those two days.
If you are not familiar with VDOT, I would read the book or any one of the million resources on JD and VDOT so you can have a general understanding of what it is.
However, you do not have to be an exercise physiologist to follow VDOT. I used the Run Smart Calculator to determine my E, M, T, I, and R paces. I didn’t care about the E pace because I do those runs by feel. The rest of the paces I used to set my paces for the workouts. If they seemed like unreasonable targets for the particular workout I was doing that day, I would throttle back a bit.
Easy Mileage and Strides
I’m a huge fan of high volume, mostly low intensity training. I was stuck in the moderate intensity rut for a long time, but now my easy runs are the most enjoyable part of my day.
Fulfilling your easy mileage around the Q sessions is going to be highly individual. I try to run at least an hour (12k) a day, with some recovery days only 6 - 8k. At least once a week aside from the Q sessions, I’ll extend my easy run to 90 minutes (16k or more). My goal is to eventually make most of my easy days 16k, but that has proven more difficult than expected. Some runners will do doubles instead. JD basically says “whatever works for you … just make sure you’re running them easy.”
There’s not much consensus around what constitutes an “Easy” paced run, but in my opinion, it’s not a very informative debate. JD provides a range, and I find that most of my effort-based easy runs fall within that range anyway, so I go by feel. If it’s a bit slower, how much does it really matter? There’s negligible benefits to running an easy run at a moderate effort. In this video, JD explains that the main risk of running too slow is if your biomechanics and stride are unnatural. Other than that, “feel free to run slower on easy days.” Works for me!
JD, like Pfitz, also recommends strides twice a week after easy runs. I do not do strides because I find them tedious. I realize that I won’t improve with that attitude, and that strides are incredibly useful, but it is what it is.
What I will add to my regimen in the future?
As far as I can tell, JD doesn’t prescribe any hill work or core work in his plans. He may mention somewhere in the book the importance of core work but I can’t recall. He says in a video lecture that hill work is the equivelant of R running (his 200-400m repetitions).
I know that my neuromuscular system and strength are weaknesses in my running, so I plan on adding variations of hill work to my schedule in the future. Whether it’s hill sprints or longer hill repetitions, I really need to get some benefits out of hill work. My stride and mechanics at HM race pace feel unstable. I don’t really care about “running form” persay but I want to run relaxed and smooth, and things just don’t feel right when I’m running fast for extended periods of time.
I used to do core work and ITBS prevention routines, but I’m lazy and running 9 hours a week so I stopped. I’m thinking about incorporating a Medicine Ball Workout as well. However, it may be challenging to “keep my hard days hard and my easy days easy” when I incorporate a strength routine. I cannot imagine doing anything remotely demanding after one of JD’s Q sessions – it’s up to two hours of running, with lots of intensity spread throughout.
You’re ready for this plan if:
The 2Q program is fairly flexible because of how it’s structured. Nonetheless, I suggest you need the following to get the most out of it:
- You can dedicate two hours on a weekday and two hours on a weekend for the quality sessions.
- You’re running close to, or have run, the mileage in your chosen plan.
- You’ve run a race or a time trial recently that reflects your current fitness.
- You’re willing to work out your training paces and align them with the Q sessions.
- You’re ready to do speedwork on fatigued legs.
- You feel confident you can recover from the medium-long run (a Q workout) in time for the weekend long run (another Q workout).
- You can bounce back mentally after not hitting your paces in a workout.
I would also add that you should be knowledgeable enough about coaching and training to be able to coach yourself, but I think that’s a prerequisite for any plan.
There’s some anecdotal talk that JD’s plans increase injury risk. Although the Q sessions are quite difficult, I don’t see how the plan is anymore of an injury risk than any marathon training plan with 2-3 workouts a week. Speedwork on fatigued legs is probably the biggest injury risk; however, it’s also one of the most beneficial components of the plan, so it’s up to you whether it’s worth the risk.
The biggest problem I had was with fatigue. Relatively high mileage with 2 hard workouts is, well, hard. This plan probably isn’t sustainable for year-round running.
I started this plan without any expectations. I wanted to see what I was capable of if I committed to 18 weeks of moderate volume training with highly marathon-specific workouts and long runs. Running and marathon training have so many benefits besides the number on the clock at the end of the race.
That said, chasing improvement while I still can is an easy way to keep myself motivated and interested in racing. Searching for my own personal limit has been a rewarding journey, and I’ve surprised myself along the way. Two years ago, 4:00 /km pace felt like an all-out sprint. It stills feels sorta like that, but somehow I can hold it for nearly 80-90 minutes without fading, despite feeling like I’m on the verge of blowing up the whole time. That breakthrough has been eye-opening beyond just my physical abilities as a runner, and I have training to thank for that.
In any case, here’s a summary of where I am now compared to where I was before I started this plan. I’m not saying that JD’s 2Q marathon plan is the answer for everyone, but it has definitely worked for me. Although my marathon wasn’t quite a home run, I don’t blame my training or fitness at all. I ran effortlessly at marathon pace for 20 miles. My downfall was fueling.
|Training||Peak Volume||Length||Weeks Over 100k||Half-Marathon Result||Marathon Result||VDOT|
|2016||100 km||12 weeks||3||1:32:24||3:34:39||49.5|
|JD 2Q||110 km||17 weeks||6||1:26:14||3:07:02||52-53.5|
JD’s 2Q program is the most challenging training cycle I’ve ever attempted. I enjoyed the relative simplicity of having 2 quality days a week and building easy runs around them. I could run more or less volume depending on how I felt coming off of those days. And, more importantly, I got the results that I wanted. Improving my HM time by 6 minutes speaks for itself (more if you count the the 20k race in 1:19:51). I had been trying to break 90 minutes since I started racing and suddenly I’m running 1:26?! I’ve been in a state of disbelief since it happened.
However, I think that some of the Q workouts were ultimately too difficult for me, and I did not adapt or tweak the plan as much as I should’ve. For example, the plan starts with a long run of 2 x 10k at marathon pace. For me, that was a long, tough workout – far too difficult for the first week of a training plan. It seemed designed for someone with 5 years of consistent mileage and experience with marathon buildups. I knew better than to “just follow the plan,” but I started with a goal to “follow a structured plan,” so the training process was the goal. However, I think being adaptive would be a more effective approach. I have a suspicion that JD’s 2Q program is adapted from his elite-focused training plans. Although that approach can work, you have to be very careful that you’re not stressing your body more than it can handle.
If I were to do the plan again, I would probably choose some workouts from the lower-mileage plans. I wanted to run 100k a week, so I chose a plan based on that. However, weekly mileage is secondary in JD’s program to the Q workouts themselves. It’s a tricky balancing act to choose stressful workouts that are within your ability and fitness, but overall fatigue and fears about overstressing my body led me to believe that I was a little in over my head. I also needed a better base to start this plan, and my lack of base building over winter really affected the first 5 weeks of marathon training.
All that being said, I am more than satisfied with my decision to go with JD’s 2Q plan. I learned about the importance of the medium-long run and the importance of hard workouts on fatigued legs. Never again will I train for a marthon with fewer than 2 long efforts a week (preferably 3, with 1 being easy). Also, despite the difficulty of the quality days, the schedule gives you lots of time to recover between workouts.
I credit this plan for helping me figure out how to train properly for a marathon!
- “Quality” is a misleading term, as easy days are just as important as workouts in the plan.
- Even if this is your second or third marathon, you need a solid base to start this plan. The first long run is 2 x 6 miles at marathon pace.
Discuss this post on r/AdvancedRunning.