- Our Sites
- The News-Gazette
- NewsTalk 1400 WDWS-AM
- Lite Rock 97.5 WHMS
- 107.9 WKIO
- Community News
The second edition of Daniels’ Running Formula is 285 pages long. It’s a rather dry read, charts and tables often dominating the landscape between the covers, blending intervals and repetitions that outline the training philosophy of Jack Daniels, who, the front cover proudly proclaims, possibly in an attempt to make sure you know it’s not talking about Tennessee whiskey, is the “World’s Best Running Coach.”
If you had acted quickly, you could have bought this book yourself for as little as $8.14 on amazon.com on Monday afternoon. “Glenthebookseller” has an approval rating of 96 percent, so he probably wasn’t hustling you when he wrote that it was in “very good” condition. Now it will cost you at least $10.50, plus shipping, from another buyer.
In the Meunier household a few miles south of Melvin, Daniels’ Running Formula recently sat on a shelf in the living room, tucked among peers of other books. Much like Glenthebookseller’s copy, it’s used but in good condition. Pull it out, and it’s full of sticky notes, reminders of what has passed but also what’s to come. Patti, the good lady who keeps that house and its tenants in line, uses the word “bible” when describing it to a visitor.
Her husband, Mike, bought a copy at a bookstore about three years back. He himself had been a decathlete at Millikin University in the late ‘80s, but that was just a means to stay in shape for football. Running wasn’t really his thing.
“He always jokes he’d go do the field events so he didn’t have to run,” says daughter Sydni. “He’d go practice pole vault or go practice shot put.”
That’s why Mike turned to Daniels’ Running Formula. “It assumes you know nothing about running, ” Mike says, which was a good thing.
Because he had a daughter big on dreams and hard work.
In tracing the roots of five-time state champion Sydni Meunier’s running prowess, the part that you get a kick out of is this: Physically, she is no different than so, so many high school athletes.
Standing 5-foot-1, the recent Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley graduate towers over exactly no one when she competes in her two main events, the 800 meters and the 1,600. She doesn’t bring an air of intimidation to the track. Meunier never looked any different from the rest of her Lady Falcons teammates. There’s not even a folktale we can pass on of her having an abnormal trait, nothing evoking memories of Triple Crown-winning horse Secretariat, who had a heart almost three times as large as his peers.
“I’m a guy who knew nothing about distance running, with a daughter who isn’t special in terms of lung capacity or height or natural ability. She’s just a hard worker,” Mike says.
That last part is important, because work ethic is so much what distance running is predicated on. It’s certainly true when following the Daniels plan, one of the three main schools of thought in the distance running world, Mike says. There’s a lot of overlap between the expert training programs, but Daniels’, consisting of four phases of six weeks each, seems to be marked by more thorough speed training than that of the Lydiard training program, another school of thought that involves logging more miles. The latter regimen also focuses on speed training at a threshold pace, but its founder, the late Arthur Lydiard, is famous for insisting his world-elite athletes run 100 miles a week as a baseline during the base training phase.
In the spring of 2009, during a freshman season in which Meunier would place 8th at Class 1A state in the 800, the father of Stephanie Brown, a top distance runner at Tri-Valley who now runs at the University of Arkansas, had mentioned to Mike that Meunier needed to “build a base.”
“What’s that mean?” Mike asked.
That meant logging miles in the winter, and soon a trainer out of Bloomington recommended following Daniels’ book that set forth how to do that, so Mike headed to the bookstore. As a sophomore, Meunier elected to not play basketball; instead she’d build a base in the winter.
“We really started researching it. I liked (running) and I would try to run more in junior high and freshman year, but after that, it was like, ‘I could really be good at this. Let’s see where this can go,’” says Meunier, explaining where and why it all took off.
It’s what followed that separates those like Meunier from so much of their prep competition. You have to really adhere to the plan for it to work, which means when you begin training on a 20-degree mid-December day, and snow falls in the coming weeks, you still have to pound out those six miles or whatever Daniels calls for on any given day.
Meunier would do just that, often on the empty country roads outside Melvin. Not every day would feel like the perfect run, but Meunier would go hard every time, another key, Mike says. Eventually, she and dad would paint lines to mark distances on those roads, then the neighbors would smile and wave when they saw her run by.
Mike would often bike alongside, providing encouragement and direction for his daughter. He might not have known much about running, but he was her coach, which was all that mattered to daughter.
“I owe a lot to my dad. He totally made me the runner I am today,” Meunier says. “He didn’t know anything about track before I started getting interested in it.”
Of her dad’s coaching role, Meunier adds, “He just figured it out, and I did it.” The result was that as a sophomore, following the training program for the first time, Meunier took fourth at Class 1A state in the 800 and second in the 1,600. As a junior and senior, Meunier would sweep the titles in both events, adding a fifth gold medal as a leg on a relay as well this last May in the final run of her high school career.
With each race, Mike was a bundle of nerves, wondering if Team Meunier had overtrained, undertrained or rested enough. Patti had to tell him to “calm down” during the state finals.
“To me, she’s like the average girl, and I’m the average dad who decided, ‘Let’s get good together.’ I took a girl who has average ability, is small and doesn’t wow you when you see her, and turned her into a state champion in 28 months … I’m just a dad who cares, whose daughter has a goal and wants to help her get there. I just followed the plan. I hate to simplify it,” Mike says.
Where does greatness come from?
It’s a question so often asked. The answer, no one can say with certainty, but most can agree that it’s as much mental as physical. To be the best, you have to have the right mindset, because talent only gets you so far.
In Sydni Meunier’s case, her ever-driven and successful running career has been fueled by a yes-sir, no-ma’am personality. She’s easy to talk to, not afraid to admit that she is a follower of rules and authority. Per her parents’ request, she leaves her cell phone downstairs at night when she goes to bed. There’s no late-night texting.
“I’m really compliant. If he tells me to do something, I’ll do it,” Meunier says of her dad. “It’s just how I am. I like being told what to do. It just kind of works that way.”
That explains in large part why the training program set forth by dad has worked.
“I’ll ask him, ‘What should I do today?’ He’ll say, ‘Do five miles at a seven-minute pace.’ I’m like, ‘OK.’ Then he’ll get home and be like, ‘What’d you do today?’ I did exactly what you told me, why would I do anything different? I always tease him, what do you think I did? I’m not going to switch it up,” Meunier says.
There is more to the success, of course. Meunier also has an inner discipline that serves her well in the monotony of training, a discipline that must be natural. How else do you explain her ignoring a fresh-baked batch of chocolate chip cookies, which Patti says her daughter does with regularity?
“It’s not like (dad) makes me do it. I really want to do it,” Meunier says of running. “He knows I trust him.”
Soon, Meunier will soon be putting her trust in a different running coach. In August, she will move into a dorm at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind., to where she has a partial scholarship to run cross country and track and field (collegiate Olympic sports don’t typically give out full scholarships). The college attention came from all angles after Meunier ran 4:58.48 in the mile as a junior at the state preliminaries.
Eventually, after also considering Arkansas and Purdue among others, Meunier would sign with the Fighting Irish in November, in part because she liked the people, in part because she liked the direction of a program that was this year’s Big East runner-up and in part because — in a nod to her small-town roots — “I don’t like when there’s big roads going through the middle of campus and it’s loud,” and Notre Dame wasn’t that. Its campus offered an intimate feel, and its coaches were all too happy to welcome her.
“In terms of the running part, the thing that I like is she’s very efficient. You watch her run, and mechanically, she’s really good. There’s not a whole lot of wasted motion,” said Notre Dame women’s distance coach Tim Connelly, who called Meunier an “impact” recruit.
Those mechanics were a big reason Meunier was successful early in her running career, before she dove into Daniels’ training, and why she has ascended to being probably the most accomplished athlete in GCMS history after ramping up the workout schedule. But what has her college coaches most excited is actually the lack of running she’s done in her whole career.
Unlike many college distance runners, Meunier didn’t compete in high school cross country simply because GCMS was too small to offer it. She played volleyball in the fall and thus didn’t log as many miles. Because of that, her room for growth is greater. She’s already registered some eye-popping times — her 4:50.75 clocking in the 1,600 at the state preliminaries about a month ago was the fourth-fastest time ever by a female at state — but she isn’t yet near her ceiling, Connelly said.
“She’s obviously not overtrained, and yet I think she’s learned how to work hard,” Connelly said. “There’s trick between learning how to work hard and overdoing it, and I still think there’s a whole lot of development left to take place.”
“There’s really no limit to how good you can be,” adds Meunier, who will likely start out at Notre Dame running the 800 and 1,500 in track but may eventually be best-suited for longer distances with more advanced training. “I mean, there is a point you can’t push your body any farther. But that limit is so far off. I know with more work, more years, more training, I can be a lot better.”
As a person, Meunier is both excited and nervous to go to Notre Dame. She liked the members of the team she met on her official visit but doesn’t know anyone well. She speaks wistfully of being away from her younger brother and younger sister, both to whom she’s close.
“It is scary going to a new place and not knowing anyone. It will be different,” says Meunier, who plans to major in biology.
She then goes on to laugh about how life will change. She’ll have to do her own laundry, and that small room she has at home will be a lot like what she’ll live in at college — only with another person tossed in. Most notably, she ponders her to grow as an individual.
“I’m going to work on my decision-making. I’ve been really trying to work on that, just doing it for myself,” says Meunier, who is renowned for soliciting everyone’s opinion on what food she should order at restaurants.
“Even through high school, looking back to freshman year now, I feel like I’ve grown so much, being more confident with my own decisions. So I’m sure it will build on that more the next few years when I only have myself to depend on. I’ve gained a lot of good life lessons.”
As his daughter readies to head off to college, Mike finally envisions a day where he can be “sitting in the bleachers with my hands behind my head and my feet on the bleacher in front of me, just relaxing and watching.” Somehow, that seems inclined to be the half-truth. You can’t help but picture him nudging forward to the edge of his seat on the homestretch.
But he can rightfully say this much: Daniels’ Running Formula will finally get some rest. There are two more Meunier kids, but the next in line, freshman-to-be Nick, is a sprinter. The book is only for distance runners.
Now at least talking like more of an expert if he isn’t one, Mike has already bandied about the idea of sharing his own experience of training his daughter. He’s handwritten three or four pages of notes on what he’s learned, thinking it would be cool to have it published in a magazine or online someday.
He’s already got the title: From Nothing to National Significance. It seems an apt description for a runner who four years ago was like so many others and now has had a journey to remember.
“It’s meant a lot to me,” Meunier says of running. “It’s given me all these opportunities I have, to go to Notre Dame and compete at a D-I level. It’s given me a lot of opportunities to meet a lot of people, too, and to have a lot of opportunity for people to hear my story and to hear what I have to say. It’s been really great all the way around.”