This is the second post in a series of reviews of marathon training programs. Each review is based on my experience and opinions. Your mileage may vary.
Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training (FIRST) experts Bill Pierce, Scott Murr, and Ray Moss– with the backing of the folks at Runner’s World– have put together a 3-run-a-week training program in their book Run Less Run Faster.
Now, before you go thinking that I’m just going to regurgitate the information from last week’s post about Jeff Horowitz’s book Smart Marathon Training, I am not. While both plans center around three quality runs and cross-training, their differences are significant.
The FIRST plan is described as 3PLUS2: three quality runs per week and two days of cross training. The three runs are track repeats, a tempo run, and a long run. There are multiple pace charts throughout the book, and the program is specific about what pace each of these three runs is completed– and it changes weekly as the program progresses. The cross training component of the plan is well-explained as essential, and swimming, cycling, and rowing are offered as options.
The FIRST plan is the most specific, customizable mass-market plan I have ever come across. The book provides training plans for all 16 Boston Marathon qualifying times (3:05 to 5:25), which allows the majority of marathoners to find a plan that will work for their current fitness level. In addition to the discreet pace charts in the book, there is a FIRST app that can create a personalized training plan in seconds (for $2.99). The idea is that by following specific paces for each run every week of the program, you know you can reach your goal.
Furthermore, the cross training component of the 3PLUS2 plan is well-laid out. The book includes specific workout charts for cycling, swimming, or rowing for the entire 16-week training plan.
For those who like to use a GPS watch while they run, the book includes a section about how to preset a Garmin for all of the workouts in the plan. While I’m not a Garmin wearer, I know that I’m in the minority– a lot of people will find this section particularly useful.
Three hard runs a week plus two days of cross training is ideal for a balanced body. I liked that the authors even discussed the merits of varying the cross training activities, explaining how each could contribute to overall fitness and running success.
The program charts are easy to read, and with all of the options for pace (by following the BQ charts), there’s something here that will work for almost everyone.
The book includes several sections of Q&A about everything from running basics to issues specific to the FIRST plan. I thought these FAQs were a good way to distill a of of information clearly and concisely. Also, there were a lot of success story letters from FIRST followers, and I liked the human “feel good” aspect of their inclusion.
One downside to running such a pace-specific plan is that it can put a lot of pressure on the runner. What happens if I’m 2 seconds off pace? 10 seconds? What happens if I’m slow two runs in a row? Ugh. You can feel the pressure mounting, and in something that is supposed to be fun (or at least stress-relieving), this plan doesn’t leave much room for a purely recreational runner.
My greatest pause regarding the FIRST plan comes from the FIVE 20-milers. If these are to be completed at the paces set out, even a sub-4 hour runner would be logging five long runs of nearly 3 1/2 hours. This seems excessive to me, especially for a plan that espouses injury prevention as one of its hallmarks.
Also, the book tries a bit too hard to be all things marathoning. There are very short chapters devoted to common injuries and nutrition and trail running/ultras. I didn’t feel like these chapters added anything to the book, and in a novice they might open up a lot more questions and concerns than they answer.
The Bottom Line
If a BQ is what you’re after, this is the plan for you. The FIRST plan, while tough because of all the at-pace (or faster) running and the numerous near-goal pace 20 milers, will likely get you to Hopkinton.
If you’re a novice marathoner who enjoys cross training, this plan will allow you to get trained for the distance while still allowing you to participate in your other fitness activities.