Personlised FIRST Training Schedules – A Marathon in 3 days a Week

Crossing the line at the end of the Great North run I felt elated, 10 mins later I was sick and feverish.

Any fitness I had in September disappeared over the next 5 weeks as I feebly battled a chest infection. Now that I’ve more or less cleared my chest and started venturing back onto the treadmill or out for a Grid Run I find myself struck down once again, this time by a bolt to the back of the knee. I can’t run without yelping and trying to do so has left me with a permanent limp.

This really does not bode well for my marathon training plans.

I haven’t been resting on my laurels though. While my body may well have been degenerating rapidly my mind has been busy researching training schedules and drawing up plans.

Hal Higdon has a series of well respected schedules available but they are relentless and require you to commit to 5 runs per week and a max weekly mileage of 44 for the intermediate program. At my pace that’s a lot of my life to spend running.

I accept that marathon training is supposed to be gruelling, the reward doesn’t come after a days pain but after 4 months of commitment and then a days pain but if there are alternatives I’m going to be tempted.

Fortunately there are alternatives and plenty of them.

One of my overriding requirements for this marathon is that I’ve got to get faster – not fast, but I don’t want to be running around that course after 7 hours. There is one schedule on the market that claims to increase the pace of anyone who sticks to the plan and that is FIRST from the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training. It seems that even Boston qualifiers have achieved PRs using the FIRST method of 3 runs per week, and if it can work for someone at the top of their game its bound to do something for me.

Their method is based on a 3+2 schedule called “Run Less, Run faster”, not to be mistaken with “Train Less, Run Faster” because although you only run 3 times a week you are supposed to take part in some fairly energetic cross training on 2 other days in the week.

The key to the success of the FIRST plan seems to be related to the nature of the 3 runs. Each one is very specific and targeted at improving a key element of your running fitness. Key Run 1 is a track repeat session, ideally suited to treadmill workouts, Key run 2 is a tempo workout and Key run 3 is the Long Run a familiar staple of any marathon plan. RunnersWorld has a useful article giving an overview of the approach and Fetcheveryone has a very active forum on the topic.

The Furman website has the marathon schedules available to download along with the target pace charts.

I’ve spent a few hours knocking up a spreadsheet that includes the FIRST Novice Marathon Plan and the FIRST Half Marathon plan along with all the recommended paces for runners achieving 5k times anywhere between 15 and 40 mins. The spreadsheet personalises the schedule so that you can select from the drop down box your latest 5k performance and see each workout broken down with your specific target paces. I’ve gone to quite a bit of effort with it because I wanted to be able to print off a clear schedule for use on the treadmill.

If you want to try it out yourself feel free to download it and test it out:

FIRST Personalised Marathon and Half Marathon Schedule for Excel – 97.

FIRST Personalised Marathon and Half Marathon Schedule for Excel – xlsx.

Now all I have to do is get over my knee problems and start running.

21 thoughts on “Personlised FIRST Training Schedules – A Marathon in 3 days a Week

  1. Katarzyna

    Knee injuries suck – hope yours gets better quick!

    The three day training week sounds interesting. Definintely worth while for people who are busy but still want to run.

    Thanks for posting the link to the excel spreadsheet. I had a look at it and I’m tempted to give it a go.

  2. Highway Kind

    I will be interested to hear how you do. I find it hard to do intervals and tempo by myself, whereas I have no great mental barriers to getting out a lolloping along, even though it is more time consuming.

    I salute your self discipline of keeping going with hard sessions.

    BTW be careful with the knee

  3. Milou

    Fantastic tool for the geek runners amongst us and so pleased your drop-down 5K times are so reasonable!! Thanks for sharing.

  4. warriorwoman Post author

    I didn’t pay any customs charges so the cost was as stated. Can’t remember what that was but have about. £60 in mind. Cheaper than most of my running shoes.

  5. Pingback: Personlised FIRST Training Schedules – A Marathon in 3 days a Week | What a Palaver

  6. niamh

    Hope the knee heals soon!
    This plan sounds interesting – getting in a speed rut it is one of the problems with long-distance running for us mere mortals. Not that I run very long-distance but yeah, speed would be good. Thanks!

  7. Emmylou

    I’m following this schedule too for VLM 2011 too – it’s a winner for me as there’s no way my otherwise injury-prone legs would stand up to more days running than that. I’ve got at least one spin, and one pilates session in there a week too, plus either swimming or boxing. Interested to hear how it’s going for you. Maybe we can team up for some of the long runs – I’m in West Kensington and frequently run along the river. I generally run about 10 min miles, though probably need to slow down. Emma

  8. warriorwoman Post author

    Hi Emmylou. You are significantly faster than me so teaming up would not help your plans much. I’m looking forward to following your progress with FIRST though.

  9. citizenworld

    Thanks SOOO much for creating this! I’ve used the Furman training programs for 5 marathons and have always got faster. Recently I moved out of the US and have been starting to think and run in kms, but didn’t have a training plan to easily convert my old methods into metric paces. A simple search led me to you and your beautiful spreadsheet (the inner geek in me rejoices!)

    I’ll be doing the Stockholm marathon in May 2011. Good luck to you!

  10. Nicolas

    Thanks a lot for that spreadsheet !!
    I was going to have a go at it this evening, but you already did the work.
    Thanks again.
    All the best,

  11. Jenn

    For my last two marathons I only have run a total of 3 days a week. I find as my body ages anymore running and I get injuries. I am a two time Boston Qualifier using a 3 day a week running structure.

  12. warriorwoman Post author

    Thanks for the feedback. It’s great to hear some support for 3 runs per week from someone who is clearly a successful marathon runner.

  13. vicky

    Thank you so much for this, it’s really helpful. I’m signed up for VLM 2012; it’s my first marathon and I’ve been plagued with achilles tendonitis. I’ve been really worried about injuries, and think that less may definitely be more.

  14. Francisco

    Thank you for sharing the spreadsheet!
    The Rio De Janeiro marathon is 18 weeks away. I will use the spreadsheet! Great job 🙂

  15. Bob

    There is a code error in the cells for the 2nd & 3rd workout when you want to use miles (as opposed to metric units). It multiples KM running distance by miles per hour pace to get the duration time

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