5 Reasons to Try the F.I.R.S.T Training Method

I’m back with another review of a different marathon training method- this time it’s the F.I.R.S.T Training method by the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training. This training program is billed as an ideal way for runners to train for a marathon if they don’t have the time or energy to complete the higher mileage programs where you run for 5-6 days per week (like the Hanson’s Method I reviewed in an earlier post). I’m linking up with Fairytales and Fitness and Running on Happy for Friday Five 2.0!

1. “Less is More”- Run only 3 times per week

  • This appeals to many runners because it focuses on time crunched runners. If you are super busy and don’t have extra time to run more than a few times per week, this program builds you up to still be able to complete a marathon or run a different distance race at goal pace without needing to train too many days. You do 3 “key” workouts- a track workout, tempo run and a long run every week.

2. Cross training 2 x per week

  • If you enjoy cross training, this program may be for you. This program incorporates two days of cross training at high intensity. In the book, it recommends swimming, rowing or cycling as cross training workouts, all of which can help you become a stronger runner. If you are into triathlons and don’t want to lose fitness in the other two disciplines of triathlon training during the off season when training for regular road races, this is also a good program because it incorporates swimming and cycling workouts as well.

3. Running fewer miles at high intensity to improve pace

  • If the thought of running 5-6 days a week and crazy mileage weeks makes you cringe, you may also find this program appealing. According to the Novice marathon training schedule, the peak week of training tops out at around 33 miles as opposed to some other plans that easily get into 50-60 mile weeks.

4. Pace specific workouts to improve speed and fitness

  • One thing that really appealed to me in this plan was the fact that it was very pace specific. I am historically pretty bad with target pacing- I always end up going too fast and killing myself trying to maintain pace. With this book, it is very specific on the pacing you should be using. In fact, at first, I was baffled because the paces for the track workouts and tempo runs were much slower than I thought they should be. However, FIRST plans are adamant about not training faster than your current ability in order to avoid injury.

5. Long runs are done at or close to goal marathon pace

  • This was another component of the plan that appealed to me. Being able to practice my planned “race pace” in long runs would build confidence for the marathon itself. This plan goes up to 20 miles for the novice marathoner and several 20 mile runs for the advanced marathoner looking to improve their time.

So what are the downsides/less appealing aspects to this plan?

Personally, I feel like 3 runs a week is pretty minimal for marathon training. Even if the runs are done at or close to goal pace, I still feel as if it’s just not enough time spent on your feet when marathon training. I have successfully used this program for half marathon and 10k training and enjoyed it, particularly when I had two jobs and was unable to commit more time to running. To its credit, the book does say that its possible to add one or two easy running days to add more mileage and days spent running if that’s something you wish to do; however, they caution against this as it can lead to injuries according to them if you aren’t careful.

I’m also still undecided on the value of a 20 mile run- many programs and coaches I’ve talked to in the industry argue that running more than 3 hours isn’t good for your body. They say it breaks your body down too much, and, while this is ok during the marathon itself, doing this too much in training isn’t advisable. Since it takes the average person more than 3 hours to complete a 20 mile training run, it increases the risk of injury for the average runner, especially those on the time goal plan required to run multiple 20 milers. However, many well respected athletes such as Jeff Galloway and Hal Higdon advise that running that distance in training prepares you both physically and mentally to go the distance during the actual marathon. Seeing as I’ve used both the Galloway method and the Higdon training plans to great success in my running, I’m inclined to believe them.

Finally, I’m a bit skeptical of training at consistently high paces during running. Even though this program gives you multiple recovery days in between runs, I feel like having easy mileage is key to avoiding injuries, and with the FIRST program, all your runs are at or faster than goal marathon pace. As I said before, the creators of the plan do say you can add in easy mileage days, but it’s not a part of their plans.

While I do enjoy the intensity of tempo and speed workouts, I’m not sure I’d be able to handle every running workout being pace specific (especially long runs)- the pressure might be too intense!

Have you ever used the FIRST training plans? Did you experience success with this program?


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4 thoughts on “5 Reasons to Try the F.I.R.S.T Training Method”

  1. Right now I’m only running 3 days a week for half marathon training. While I like it because it gives me an extra day to do strength training, I do worry if 3 days a week of running will be enough for marathon training, especially with the higher mileage!

    1. That was my same question. I think when I get into the higher mileage I’ll need at least 4 days of running.

    1. I feel like I’m good sometimes and not good the other half of the time. I’ll get really into cross training and be all about it and then sometimes all I want to do is RUN.

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