What Is VDOT? Understanding a Runner’s Most Important Number

When sharing your PR over a certain distance, have you ever had to offer up another PR from a different distance to explain that you are a better runner than that one PR indicates? Or, have you ever wondered how fast you should be running in training? In situations like these, understanding your VDOT number comes in handy.

Often times you will hear runners discuss physiological values such as the VO2Max, and use it as a measure of how capable a runner one is. The problem with this is that a runner’s ability to consume oxygen is not only a complex operation to measure, but it is also only half the equation. The runner’s economy, or how efficiently the runner is able to use the oxygen he or she consumes, is just as important as VO2Max to determine how fast that person can run a race. So, if we are looking for a number that explains how capable a runner is, what is that number?

What is VDOT, anyways?

You guessed it! The term VDOT was coined by renowned running coach and physiologist Jack Daniels and his associate Jimmy Gilbert. At its core, VDOT is an attempt to objectively quantify the shape of a runner across all the various distances one might race. And once you dive into it, it is a surprisingly simple, but very useful concept.

Understanding your VDOT number
VDOT is typically measured on a treadmill in a lab. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Nathan Thome, 4th Inf. Div. PAO)

To find your VDOT value, all you have to do is go out and run and make a note of the distance and the time. You can run any distance, but I suggest one of the traditional track and road racing distances between 1500 meters and a marathon. Did you run and time yourself? Great, now hop on over to the VDOT calculator and plug in your numbers to get your VDOT value.

If you ran a 10k in 40 minutes, the VDOT calculator will show that your VDOT value is 51.9. Excellent, but what does this tell you? As I mentioned earlier, VDOT is a very simple concept, because it is really just a collection of tables of equating values. But this simplicity is what makes it so useful, too. Because just by knowing your 10k time, and thus your VDOT value, you can find out what you should be capable of running in the 5k, a 10 miler and even a half or full marathon.

Further reading: Learn more about running training intensity

Using VDOT to Estimate Training Paces

But even more important, your VDOT number will give you suggested pace ranges for your training intensities. This is a very useful tool for making sure that you are running at the right pace for the type of workout you are trying to do, instead of overextending or sandbagging. As an example, that 40-minute 10k runner should be running his 1k intervals at just below 3 minutes and 50 seconds, whereas his easy pace should be somewhere between 5:00 – 5:15 min/km or 8:00 – 8:30 min/mile.

A word to the wise is that you should treat your VDOT values as guidelines, and not absolute limits. Some days you will be feeling great, and your VDOT suggested pace for the workout that day will be a breeze. On a hot and humid day, that might change, and it can be sensible to run slower than what your VDOT value suggests.

As for racing predictions, there will always be some variety between runners and how their best times at the various distances relate to each other. A runner focused on shorter distances will probably not be able to run a marathon in the time suggested by her VDOT value. Whereas, on the other hand, an endurance focused marathoner may struggle to post the mile time his marathon PR VDOT value may indicate.