This last weekend I was at the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham for a very special seminar with the great Dr Jack Daniels, author of one of the best, most influential and comprehensive books on run training: Daniels’ Run Formula.

Dr Daniels has been described by Runners World as the Einstein of run coaching and the greatest run coach in the world.

Tri Coaches Fiona, Mark, Max and me with the man himself

Tri Coaches Fiona, Mark, Max and me with the man himself

Big thanks to Caroline of the Running Curve who had the vision of bringing Dr Daniels over for his first ever seminar in the UK.  Great to catch up with friends and fellow Level 3 course mates Mark, Fiona and Max.

And what an inspiring, engaging and deeply impressive coach – with a calm modesty and gentleness as well.

There was so much I took away.  I’m excited about putting into practise some of the ideas, sessions and approaches with the athletes I am coaching and in the Brighton Tri Club sessions I lead.  As I drove the 180 miles home through relentless rain I thought of several more general aspects that left a mark with me:

Passion about fitness and well being:  Dr Daniels exudes a sense of the excitement and pleasure of healthy, active lifestyles.  He opened his first two hour talk (the man has long distance speaking stamina) reminiscing about the extraordinary school life he had, growing up in an environment in which physical education and challenges were a key part of every day.  His many personal anecdotes, of somehow stumbling in to Olympic selection in the pentathlon (and subsequent Olympic and World Championship medal successes) were full of the excitement of the opportunities that came his way – and how he seized each one through a mix of good fortune and later on experience;

Solid research base: Dr Daniels was amongst the pioneers of scientific research and analysis of training methods and continues to apply a rigorous and questioning approach.   He tested some of the greatest athletes in the 1960s and 1970s – and has recently gone back to retest 28 of them in what must be one of the most fascinating longitudinal studies going.  For me it was great to understand better the Daniels’ Formula of VDOT – essentially a measure of lung capacity together with cardiovascular efficiency – that underpins his comprehensive tables of different paces for different types of run training.  I’ll be trying some of these out on myself and our Club runners so watch out!

Focus on the task at hand: a theme Dr Daniels came back to several times was about not allowing yourself to get distracted or caught up in what others are doing.  Instead focus on your own race and challenges.  “Do the best you can, don’t worry about the others and if you get beat, well the other guy was better.”

Graciousness and modesty: when it came to the Q&A sessions I was struck by the gracious way in which he answered people.  As often happens at such events, some of the questions were more like statements, some along the lines of “you have said x but I have my athletes/I do y” as if to say “so what do you say to that, huh?!”   Dr Daniels answered each first with a gentle challenge to the questioner to consider how the approach he advocates might work (without rubbing in how this is actually based on decades of thorough research and practice) and then, when the questioner persisted, a modest “well if it works for you – keep doing it”.

I really admire this sense in some coaches of the journey not being complete, of continuously learning, of wanting to find out more and test more rather than thinking anyone of us has arrived and knows it all – though its hard to think of any coach more knowledgeable, experienced and influential than the world’s greatest run coach Dr Jack Daniels.

What a brilliant day.