The only thing you can control is the present. When you focus on that and remain consistent in your training, you’ll find your greatest success.

Running is unique in its simplicity and unwavering in its democracy. On or off the track the greatest adversary a runner will face is himself. For coach Dr Jack Daniels, running is a career, an education and above all, a calling. Over the last fifty years, the former Olympian and distance-running coach has competed and trained with the running world’s elites, counting track stars like Jim Ryun, Joan Benoit Samuelson, and Amy Hastings among his pupils. Named the ‘World’s Best Coach’ and celebrated for his contributions to exercise physiology, he has lived a life shaped by his study of human performance and driven by an unshakable passion for the sport. Looking back, Daniels reflects on the lessons he has learned from his fellow sportspeople and students that have framed his colourful career.


You just don’t know what potential people have.

Different people progress at different rates. I don’t care if you are the world champion, everyone has good and bad days. One of the most wonderful runners I have ever coached is Magdalena Lewy Boulet and she just liked to run a lot of high mileage. She was running 150 miles a week regularly and made the Olympic team. But I’ll tell you something, she ran her all time best time, at aged 39. She won the US 100 mile ultra-marathon the first year she ran it. The rate of progression varies a lot between athletes. I’ve even seen it with twins! One would progress faster than the other, and then the other one would catch up. In running, it’s all a matter of time and timing. 


Resistance training makes you a better runner. It builds your resistance to injury, which means you can run harder and you won’t get hurt.

To me, Jim Ryun, is probably the most talented runner there has been. He was sixteen years old when he took his first step in competitive running. When he was seventeen,  he broke four minutes in a mile. His coach Bob Timmons was initially a swimming coach when he started training runners in high school.  I remember, he would apply swimming type workouts to train his runners.  He would have his team do forty 400m runs in a workout. He shared that Jim used to do this same workout, starting one every three minutes. This type of exercise isn’t easy, but it builds responsiveness, stamina and endurance in an athlete. These lessons that athletes learn off the competitive track can be applied on when they’re on the track competing with the world’s best.

Altitude training

Jack Daniels tests a runner on the track at altitude in South Lake Tahoe, 1968. Daniels believes that training at altitude may shorten the time it takes for a runner to achieve his full potential. When training at a high altitude, runners experience difficulty breathing as one of the first symptoms of running at a higher elevation.




If you are progressing, you will stay with it

There has to be something positive you gain from doing what you are doing. I always say, when people are highly motivated, and if they have the ability, they are going to be champions

In America, forty years ago there was a big push to see what kind of muscles people had –  whether they fast twitch or slow twitch muscles. In one major swimming program, they were doing muscle biopsies on ten and twelve year olds, to assess if they were a sprint type athlete or an endurance type athlete . In the 1970’s, we had a marathon runner who was  placed fourth in the Olympic marathon. Following his win, they did a muscle biopsy on him and discovered he was 60% fast twitch. According to the test results, he should not have been an endurance athlete, but should have been a sprinter instead. Well, if he had known that, perhaps he wouldn’t have gone to the Olympics. I believe, you should always follow your instinct and do what you want to do.

I tell all my runners, I don’t care if you run a national championship of not, if you like running keep running and do it for health. Pursue what you want to do and enjoy doing it.


Having just won a championship in Stockholm, Daniels accepts a bouquet of hand-picked flowers from a young Swedish girl. This small gesture of human kindness left an indelible impression on the Coach. ‘ I cherish this picture more than my Olympic Medals.’


You would be surprised, how little work can accomplish major things.

I first started coaching college athletes in 1961, so it’s been a few years. But the mental attitudes of the athletes have not really changed that much. It’s more the attitudes of the coaches that have had to change in order to respond to the current climate. Coaching is a demanding job, and I can’t even say how good I am at it. I just like the athletes to know that I am supportive of what they want to do and achieve. From a psychological point of view , as a coach, you have to constantly think about how you are going to work with your athletes. The most important thing I have learned about training, is that as a coach, you must know the purpose of every workout that you do. 

I think as a coach, you continue to learn all the time. When coaching athletes, you should try to impose the least possible stress that produces the benefit desired. Imposing more stress doesn’t produce anything better. This is the same for most lessons in life. Most coaches think that if you work extra hard you will be better, but I say what’s the least you can do to accomplish your goals.

A Study in Excellence

Beginning under the tutelage of the eminent Dr. Bruno Balke, Daniels’s study of athletic performance strongly focusses on the scientific element of exercise physiology. This has helped to inform a coaching technique that has been adopted by runners around the world.

One of the greatest things about running is that it is the simplest sport in the world. You can run anywhere.  I’ve lived in sixteen different states in this country. I’ve lived in parts that get to thirty below zero in the winter and I’ve lived in parts of the country that reach 120 degrees above zero in the summer. And you can still run in all those different conditions.

It doesn’t cost anything to be a runner. All you need is a pair of shoes, shorts and a shirt, that’s about it. It’s simple and it can be enjoyable if you don’t have to work too hard at it. Like right now, it’s about forty degrees. We have had snow here, but I still run. Running in the snow is ok, if you learn how to do it. There are so many interesting things to learn if you live long enough to do it.


Jack Daniels (1933- ) is an Olympic distance-running coach, professor of physical education, and former Modern Pentathlete. After a long coaching stint at the State University of New York at Cortland, Daniels became the head distance coach at the Center for High Altitude Training at Northern Arizona University. When the center closed, Daniels coached at Brevard College until 2012. In 2013, he became the cross country coach at Wells College in New York. The third edition of his popular training book, ‘Daniels’ Running Formula’, was published in 2013.