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VDOT clinic with Jack Daniels

I had the privilege of being part of a running nerd weekend in Toronto  last weekend as part of the Run SMART Project’s VDOT Coaching Certification Clinic. I wrote a blog on the experience which was posted directly to the Run SMART website.…and the text below…

I also made a new friend, Michelle, who wrote a great piece on her perspective and learning from the weekend.  Check out her awesome website at


I am sitting on the brand new addition to the WestJet fleet, Juliet, thinking about my great weekend in Toronto as part of The Run SMART Project’s VDOT Coaching Clinic & Certification with Dr. Jack Daniels. The new airplane, a 676, is irrelevant information to this article, but as a fan of aircrafts and running, I think it is cool to test-ride this new giant addition that will allow WestJet to offer direct flights from Calgary to Glasgow next year!

The weekend was cool for a number of reasons, but mostly because if you put 60 enthusiastic runners and coaches in a room for a day, the energy is invigorating and contagious. People gave up their weekends – and in many cases traveled significant distances – to come and learn from Jack and hear his stories, as well as connect with other coaches. Despite the collective knowledge in the room, everyone was keen to listen, because the stories, anecdotes, knowledge and experience that Jack shared with us is a dream come true for a bona fide runner nerd.

The group was an educated crowd, and I think for many people, the presentations filled in gaps or provided a bit more detail about theories that they already knew. It was interesting to hear how Jack researched and developed his extensive VDOT charts, which are the cornerstone of his coaching, as well as how he applies the VDOT paces to different workout structures. To many, it also reinforces that they are on the right track and more or less doing the “right” thing with their athletes, but perhaps a few tweaks are in order. Three of the big lessons I relearned that I will file away in the back of my head are:

  1. Do as little work as possible to get the results you need. As an endurance runner and triathlete, it is easy to get obsessed with mileage and workload. Jack reminded everyone of the law of diminishing returns and how it applies to training, as well as the fact that for someone just getting started in running, or returning from running, a little bit of running is significantly more than what was previously being done; and therefore more is not better.
  1. Long Runs don’t need to be crazy long. A 4-hour marathon runner should not be attempting to do long runs that are longer in duration (not distance) than an elite runner, especially because they are not as highly trained or economical. Time, rather than distance, should be the focus of long runs for slower runner and he recommends no more than 2.5 hour long runs for anyone. He reminded us that an ultra runner would never do a 100 km “long run” prior to the race but that they are still adequately prepared through other training.
  1. Don’t over-reach on Intervals. Especially on Vo2 max workouts, there is no point of trying to run Intervals faster than the equivalent paces for your fitness (as per the VDOT Calculator) as the point is to be doing the Intervals AT Vo2 max, not ABOVE Vo2 max, because theoretically you cannot run above your Vo2 max – that is the ceiling! I know there were many times that I attempted to exceed my fitness level in a workout and ended up “failing” the workout because I couldn’t maintain the initial pace and suffered through the workout. In the end, it is less beneficial to start too fast and finish too slowly because then you spend LESS time at your Vo2 max than if you paced yourself appropriately from the beginning!

For those of you who have already attended the VDOT Clinic and are reading this blog, I wonder, what three things did you take away from the weekend? Please share!

The course was well worth my time (disclosure: I also presented but I am being objective – promise!) – and for people who haven’t attended one please check back on the VDOT Clinic webpage for more info on future events!