Endurance Skating

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Reconciling my MAF with Jack Daniels VDOT

As I’m getting more into the running side of things again, I thought I’d have a look at comparing and contrasting the two training methods that I am most familiar with, namely MAF training and Jack Daniels’ VDOT.

MAF Recap

1st old geezer

1st old geezer

As you might know this is the approach that I normally use.

MAF is HEART RATE based, and training by this method is easy as pie – you use the “180 formula” to determine your maximum aerobic (ie fat-burning) heart rate, then stick a heart rate monitor on and make sure you stay within 10 beats of this number.

It’s simple and it works. I’ve done it for the last 2 years and have seen regular progress in both speed and endurance, without ever feeling knackered, overtrained or burnt out.

Calculation of my MAF heart rate:

180 – 38 + 5 = 147

Therefore, the prescription is simply to maximize training time spent between 137 to 147bpm to build the aerobic system.

The other part of MAF methodology is regular self-assessment using a sub-maximal testing protocol such as his 5-mile MAF test to make absolutely sure that you are progressing in the right direction.

The relevance of MAF to race performance is that the level to which you are able to oxidize fat for energy is the biggest “long term limiter” in endurance sports.  Your “pace at MAF” is highly predictive, so if you know your how fast you run at your maximum aerobic heart rate, it will give you a very good estimation of how fast you can expect to race at any given distance.

Jack Daniels

2nd old geezer

2nd old geezer

Jack Daniels’ approach is the de facto running plan for many serious runners. Rather than using heart rate, PACE (ie mins/mile or mins/km) is the currency of Daniels’ VDOT system.

Having read his book Daniels’ Running Formula I have to admit that initially I was not very impressed with it. I found his philosophy of regimented training plans and highly structured workouts a big turnoff. It’s purely a book about running, and he has nothing at all to say on the bigger picture of health, diet, and lifestyle. However, there is no denying that he knows his stuff, and some of what he has to say must have rubbed off on me, because I now find myself using the VDOT calculators all the time.

The VDOT system is simple – you take your most recent race performance and plug it into the online VDOT calculator, from which you are given a VDOT rating, which is a simple numerical value. Larger numbers indicate a better ability to process oxygen, reflected in faster pace and better race times. It’s takes into account both your body’s maximal oxygen carrying capacity (VO2max) and your running economy, as well as other possible factors such as pacing judgement and race execution. VDOT scores have been calculated for all common race distances up to marathon distance.

The beauty of the VDOT system is that it is once you know your current VDOT score, it also becomes prescriptive – telling you how fast you should be training at for the following workouts:

  • Easy/Steady pace
  • Marathon pace
  • Threshold (LT) pace
  • Interval pace
  • Rep pace

The various intensities represent a classical training pyramid – with most of your running done at the Easy pace, and less and less at the higher more anaerobic paces.

The Easy Pace (E) is the primary zone for maximal aerobic system development, and most Daniel’ training plans typically prescribe 70-80% of your mileage to be done at this pace.

Very importantly in Daniels’ system, recent race performance is used to determine your current training pace (many people do not understand this), ie VDOT tells you what pace to train at given your current performance level.  It does not mean you should train at the suggested pace for a target time you want to achieve in your next race.  Daniels doesn’t tell you how to train to reach a target race time – he tell you how to train to improve from where you currently are – if you want to train faster, you must first prove it by racing faster.

180 formula vs VDOT prescription

Maffetone’s approach is “get healthier and develop endurance and speed is the byproduct.”  Daniels is purely about doing the right workouts to get faster – his approach is “get faster and your additional speed with carry through to longer distances.” The two are approaching the subject from very different angles.

So can there be any common ground between them?

Let’s work out my VDOT…

Taking my recent half marathon time of 1:46:47 and plugging it into the VDOT calculator gives me a VDOT rating of 41.8. Given the course and conditions on that day, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that I could have gone 3 or 4 minutes faster on a better course, so let’s say my true VDOT rating is 43.

A VDOT of 43 prescribes the following training paces are:

Easy Pace 09:45 – 09:12 (9.9 – 10.5km/hr)
Marathon Pace 08:10 (11.8km/hr)
Threshold Pace 07:40 (12.3km/hr)
Interval Pace 07:04 (13.7km/hr)
Rep Pace 06:39 (14.5km/hr)

For the purposes of this article, the component that I care about is the Easy Pace (E), as this is the one that is targeting the aerobic system: 09:45 – 09:12 min/mile (9.9 – 10.5km/hr). Remember, this is the “base building” zone that Daniels prescribes for as much as 80% of your running and the one most similar to Maffetone’s MAF zone.

Now for my MAF…

From very recent training runs and treadmill tests, I know that my pace at MAF heart rate (the 1st mile after warmup) is:

137bpm – ~10:45 (9.0km/hr)
147bpm – ~09:30 (10.2km/hr)

So (and here’s the bit you’ve been waiting for), comparing them we get…

  • Daniels says I should build my aerobic base by running at a pace between 9:45 – 9:12 mins per mile, ie 9.9 – 10.5km/hr.  In heart rate terms, this roughly works out at 145-150bpm.
  • Maffetone says build my aerobic base by training at a heart rate between 137-147bpm, which in pace terms translates to approximately 9.0 – 10.2km/hr.


As you can see, despite their wildly differing approaches, we can find common ground where the higher end of the MAF zone handily overlaps with the lower end of the Daniels Easy pace zone.

Caveat: If training by heart rate (MAF) then pace will drift (ie fall off) as your run progresses. On the other hand, training by pace (Daniels), it is heart rate that will drift (ie rise) as a run progresses… the overlap will tend to decrease as the length of a workout progresses, so choose the flavour of your poison.

My N=1 Conclusion

Even giving myself the 180 formula’s discretionary +5, there is no getting away that using MAF works out slightly more conservatively than Daniels; for others they might find the reverse is true. We know that Maffetone tends to be is very conservative, given his clinical background, in comparison to Daniels’ experience mainly with elite level athletes, so this should not be a great surprise.

Whether you are training by pace or heart rate, the window of aerobic development is probably bigger than you may realise. Don’t get too hung up on a particular methodology… Daniels and Maffetone are largely saying the same thing, albeit in very different ways.







4 comments on “Reconciling my MAF with Jack Daniels VDOT

  1. Ralf
    August 23, 2015

    Hey Van,
    I really like your posts on endurance training.
    I to competed in the Olimpic park marathon August 2015. I loved it! 1:45hr
    My training programs leading up to this event were a bit sketchy to say the least.
    Back in the day I trained as an athlete and held a few county champion titles. It was old school training! Keep going til you throw-up!!
    I also became a fitness trainer. So you would think I should have know better!
    Don’t get me wrong, I have some knowledge around the theory of the training zones. And to some point unintentionaly practiced it, however I still held that belief of train hard n fast to get results!
    To date I’ve always keeped my fitness levels up. I started inline speed skating about a year ago. When I started training, I noticed It was becoming harder and harder to stick to my training schedule each week. Some days, I was just too tired and achy. When I did train I felt like lead. I even missed weeks at a time due to injury and fatigue. I just seemed to hit a wall.
    I thought it might be due to my age 49 or my diet; I eat 99.9% Totally RAW Vegan food (I eat poached fish occasionally) I don’t eat any grains; wheat, rice, rhy, barley etc. so no mainstream carbs here! So you can see the dilemma there might be with endurance training!
    Firstly, my diet is great, I have done extensive research on food and diet. I have lots of NRG, My diet totally complements me and my active lifestyle. Check that one for yourself’s….raw food for athletes!
    Secondly, I thought it might be the development of the speed skating technique. Skating demands the focus of body and mind it’s like no other sport, very challenging.
    Last but not least, I hate using my age as a factor. I’m aware that My body has changed over time! Not Uncomfortable with that phase “Master!”
    So when I read your post about MAF training, it made sense. Especially the points about over training and the effect the stress can have on the endocrine system. I had been training like this for years. It also highlight the possible causes of developing Hashimotos hypothyroid! Check out Facebook – Autoimmune conditions.restoring balance.
    In hindsight I always felt better after my slower training days, and yet never considered them as training session. Can I ask this one question… Do you continue to stay in your MAF zone whilst competing?
    I look forward to starting MAF training. Next marathon FISS Olimpic park Oct.
    So thanks Van, a great post.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Van
      August 24, 2015

      Hey Ralf, great that you are going to give the MAF method a try. I believe that just about anyone can benefit from the principles set out because it is a wholistic approach that will lead to long term sustainable improvements in both health and fitness. The slow days perform an important function in a complete training plan – they are certainly not just fillers. One of my mantras is that “we often over-estimate what we can do in the short term and under-estimate what we can achieve in the long term.” – ie the value of consistency can not be overstated.

      I do not RACE at MAF or any other cap, because racing is racing, and the point is to leave it all out there on the course. However, I will typically keep an eye on my heart rate during race to ensure that I am not pushing too hard in the early stages. It’s very easy to go off too hard in a race when you have tapered and the adrenalin is flowing. Training is different to racing – we train to elicit an adaptation that will lead to greater fitness, that will then allow me to go out and perform better in a race.


  2. Jeremy
    September 22, 2015

    Nice read, thanks for posting. I’ve been training with Maffetone method from Dec/14 to around April/15, but let fun and adventure allow me to go beyond that during the summer (while always falling back on MAF as my default easy run pace). I’m actually the same age, and have a similar pace as you. I recently joined a 10 week run clinic and have started following the VDOT method. I’m glad to have your take on this as I try to piece the two together. My default easy pace will still be around my 180-age +5 formula, but now I have weekly steady state and bi-weekly 1-mile time trials. It will be interesting to see what adding speed work will do to whatever aerobic base I have (currently around 5:20/km at MAF).

    Feel free to email me if you want to chat some more or compare training plans/history!


    Liked by 1 person

    • Van
      September 23, 2015

      Hey, thanks for the comments Jeremy. It’s always good to hear from new and improving runners who share the same philosophy. As you know MAF is very conservative, and some of his disciples such as Mark Allen & Stu Mittleman have been known to recommend adding up to +10bpm which would potentially bring things into line with Daniels even more.
      Maybe you could pop back after your run clinic and give us an update. I’ve been completely self coached up to now but and been wanting to get some help from a coach to actually improve my gait, which I know still leaves plenty to be desired.


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This entry was posted on August 16, 2015 by in Endurance, Running, Science and tagged , , , , , .

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