FIRST's Run Less, Run Faster

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The FIRST (Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training) plan is an evolution of the Jack Daniels Running Formula's approach and is described in the book "Run Less, Run Faster". Its unique feature is that it uses only three days of running per week with two days of cross training. The three days of running are a Long Run, a tempo run, and an Interval Training session. This makes FIRST a tough training plan, as every run is a hard workout, with no easy "fun" running. It is possible to use this training plan without the two days of cross training but according to the Furman Institute their research has shown that this is less effective. FIRST is also the only plan I have come across that actually attempts a scientific evaluation of their training methodology. Like Jack Daniels it provides specific training paces based on fitness level for clearly defined workouts. This article should be read in conjunction with my Comparison of Marathon Training Plans.

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1 Marathon Training Plan

The FIRST book includes not only the main marathon plan, but also the same plan with the paces filled in for various Boston Qualification paces. However, those BQ plans don't have different workouts, they just save you the effort of filling in the paces. Note that this is not a plan for beginners.

  • Key Characteristics
    • Run 3 days/week, cross train 2 days/week.
    • Each week includes a tempo run, an interval run, and a Long Run.
    • Ramps (mileage increase/week): There really isn't a ramp for this plan and you need to be running 16-20 miles before you start.
  • Pros
    • Training pace based on fitness.
    • The Long Runs are not at a slow pace, but between marathon pace and marathon pace + 60 seconds. While there is no speedwork per se in the Long Runs, the Long Runs at marathon pace are good idea.
    • Precise training paces and distances provided for all runs.
    • A great option for a triathlete or other multisport athlete.
  • Cons
    • This plan is for someone already pretty much trained up to the marathon level.
    • Some runners find the workouts too hard, especially if they are not used to speedwork.
    • No easy, fun running.
    • You have to like cross training.
  • Modifications
    • This plan does not require any obvious modifications.
    • It might be reasonable to add some speed work into the Long Run based on the Jack Daniels program.
    • I would suggest using a percentage offset from Marathon Pace rather than a fixed time offset if you're a faster runner.
    • Converting the Tempo Runs into a medium long run or a High Intensity Interval Training workout.
  • Overtraining risk
    • Only running three days per week does help reduce the risk of Overtraining. However, because those three runs are all extremely tough the risk of Overtraining may be a little higher than you'd expect. Also, the risk of Overtraining is likely to depend on the nature and intensity of the cross training you do. Overall, I would rate this plan as low to moderate risk of Overtraining.
    • It is critical that you select training paces based on your actual fitness measured by a previous race. Using training paces based on your target finish time will increase the risk of Overtraining and likely reduce the effectiveness of your training.
  • Good For::
    • Beginner: 0. There's no build up, so beginners should look elsewhere.
    • Novice: 1. There's no build up, so beginners should look elsewhere.
    • Ringger: 2. Unless you're an established half marathon racer who has done enough Overdistance training to be used to 16 miles Long Runs, look elsewhere.
    • Maintenance: 2. This plan is typically for someone wanting to improve, and is more work than you need for simple maintenance.
    • Improver: 4. This is a great plan someone looking to improve, but be careful if you've not done a lot of speed work before. You'll need to start this plan at a point where you're comfortable with 16-20 mile Long Runs, so don't leave a big gap between your prior marathon and using this plan for your next race.
    • Enthusiast: 4. This is one of the top plans if you think you can handle two speed work sessions per week. However, I think the speed work during the Long Runs gives the Jack Daniels Running Formula plans an edge over the FIRST plan.
    • Elite: 2. This is a reasonable contender for elites, but you're probably better off with the Jack Daniels Running Formula's Elite Plan.
    • Limited Training Time: 4. This plan requires three days per week, but he needs to do two days of cross training as well.
    • Traditionalist: 2. This plan is rather different from the traditional marathon training plan by only having three days of high intensity running per week.
    • Triathlete/Multisport: 5. This plan naturally incorporates to cross training days per week, making it a good choice for multisport athletes.
    • Prior Overtraining: 3. While reducing your running to three days per week will help prevent Overtraining, having all three runs as high intensity does increase the risk of Overtraining. I would rate this plan has a low to moderate risk
    • Sub 3:00: 5. This plan adapts well to fast runners.
    • 3:00-4:30: 5. This plan adapts well to mid-pack runners.
    • 4:30-5:30: 3. This plan could work, but you're probably better off with Galloway.
    • 5:30+: 0. Use Galloway.
    • Speedwork. This plan has two speed work sessions per week, and no easy running, so you have to really like speed work.

2 Novice Marathon Training Plan

The novice plan has the same speedwork as the main plan, but rather different Long Runs.

  • Key Characteristics
    • Run 3 days/week, cross train 2 days/week.
    • Each week includes a tempo run, an interval run, and a Long Run.
    • Ramps (mileage increase/week): The ramp up is a fairly moderate and comparable with other plans that would suit a new runner.
  • Pros
    • Training pace based on fitness.
    • The Long Runs are not at a slow pace, but between marathon pace and marathon pace + 45 seconds. While there is no speedwork per se in the Long Runs, the Long Runs at marathon pace are good idea. Note that while the Long Runs are shorter than the main plan, the paces are slightly faster.
    • Precise training paces and distances provided for all runs.
    • A great option for a triathlete or other multisport athlete.
  • Cons
    • Some runners find the workouts too hard, especially if they are not used to speedwork.
    • No easy, fun running.
    • You have to like cross training.
  • Modifications
    • This plan does not require any obvious modifications.
    • It might be reasonable to add some speed work into the Long Run based on the Jack Daniels program.
    • I would suggest using a percentage offset from Marathon Pace rather than a fixed time offset if you're a faster runner.
    • Converting the Tempo Runs into a medium long run or a High Intensity Interval Training workout.
  • Overtraining risk
    • Only running three days per week does help reduce the risk of Overtraining. However, because those three runs are all extremely tough the risk of Overtraining may be a little higher than you'd expect. Also, the risk of Overtraining is likely to depend on the nature and intensity of the cross training you do. Overall, I would rate this plan as low to moderate risk of Overtraining.
    • It is critical that you select training paces based on your actual fitness measured by a previous race. Using training paces based on your target finish time will increase the risk of Overtraining and likely reduce the effectiveness of your training.
  • Good For::
    • Beginner: 2. This is a reasonable approach for a beginner, but your lack of speedwork is likely to be an issue. Either look at Galloway/Higdon, or use the FIRST approach for a shorter race to get used to the intensity .
    • Novice: 3. The ramp-up is pretty gentle , but you probably have to be trained up for a half marathon distance before starting this plan, as it is quite short.
    • Ringger: 4. The novice plan could work well for you, though it only gives you three runs that I would classify as Long Runs; a 16, 18, and 20 miler. It's a good choice if you only have 16 weeks, but if you have longer, I'd suggest looking at Higdon or Jack Daniels Running Formula 4Week program.
    • Maintenance: 2. This plan requires more speedwork than you probably want, and is more targeted to beginners.
    • Improver: 3. This might be a worthwhile option if you've let your Long Run distance slide and need to build up again.
    • Enthusiast: 2. Probably not ideal as this brings you back to a shorter Long Run than is ideal.
    • Elite: 0. Look elsewhere.
    • Limited Training Time: 4. This plan requires three days per week, but he needs to do two days of cross training as well.
    • Traditionalist: 2. This plan is rather different from the traditional marathon training plan by only having three days of high intensity running per week.
    • Triathlete/Multisport: 5. This plan naturally incorporates to cross training days per week, making it a good choice for multisport athletes.
    • Prior Overtraining: 3. While reducing your running to three days per week will help prevent Overtraining, having all three runs as high intensity does increase the risk of Overtraining. I would rate this plan has a low to moderate risk
    • Sub 3:00: 5. This plan adapts well to fast runners.
    • 3:00-4:30: 5. This plan adapts well to mid-pack runners.
    • 4:30-5:30: 3. This plan could work, but you're probably better off with Galloway.
    • 5:30+: 0. Use Galloway.
    • Speedwork. This plan has two speed work sessions per week, and no easy running, so you have to really like speed work.

3 Marathon Plan Characteristics

The table below shoes the key characteristics of the plans. For more details and a comparison with other training plans, see A Comparison of Marathon Training Plans.

Plan Name # Runs 16+ # Runs 20+ Total Miles Over 16 Starting Mileage Weeks To 16 Weeks 16 To Max 16 To Race Max To Race Initial Ramp (First To 16) Core Ramp (16 To Max) Overall Ramp (first to max)
FIRST Novice 3 1 6 8 8 4 7 3 0.88 0.90 0.75
FIRST Marathon 8 5 25 13 2 1 13 12 2.00 3.00 2.30

Notes on the columns

  • # Runs 16+. I consider that the 16 mile mark defines the beginning of "the long run". While this is somewhat arbitrary on my part, I believe that counting the number of long runs that are 16 miles or more is a useful metric. The first run the diesel 16 miles or more is highlighted in green in the weekly section.
  • # Runs 20+. There is some limited evidence that suggests that runs over 20 miles provide important adaptations for marathon running, and help prevent "hitting the wall". This column gives account of the number of runs that of 20 miles or more.
  • Total Miles Over 16. Another way of evaluating a training plan is to look at the number of miles run in excess of 16 miles. For example an 18 mile long run would count as 2 miles in excess of the 16 mile Mark. This metric reveals some dramatic differences between some of the advanced plans.
  • Starting Mileage. This column shows the mileage of the first long run, and may be useful in selecting a plan based on your current fitness.
  • Weeks To 16. This is the number of weeks from the start of the plan to the first 16 mile long run. This section of the training plan I've called the "initial ramp up" that brings a runner from their initial level of fitness to what I consider the threshold of performing long runs.
  • Weeks 16 To Max. This is the number of weeks from the first run of 16 miles or more to the longest run in the plan. If the longest run is repeated more than once, I use the first instance, which is highlighted in red in the weekly section.
  • 16 To Race. The number of weeks from the first run of 16 miles or more to the race itself.
  • Max To Race. The number of weeks from the longest long run to the race itself.
  • Ramps. One key aspect of any marathon training plan is how quickly it increases the mileage. It seems likely that one of the biggest factors behind excessive fatigue and injury from the long run is at this rate of mileage increase. Therefore I have attempted to quantify this rate of increase as a "ramp", which is approximately the number of miles per week the long run is increased by. (For those interested in the details I use the least squares approach to calculate an approximate slope between the two points on the training plan. This approach has some obvious limitations when the training plans have cut back weeks.)
    • Initial Ramp (First To 16). This is the ramp from the first run to the first 16 mile or longer run.
    • Core Ramp (16 To Max).This is the ramp from the first 16 mile or longer run to the longest run.
    • Overall Ramp (first to max). The ramp from the first run to the longest run.
Plan name week
16
week
15
week
14
week
13
week
12
week
11
week
10
week
9
week
8
week
7
week
6
week
5
week
4
week
3
week
2
week
1
FIRST Novice 8 9 10 11 12 14 10 15 16 12 18 13 20 13 8 race
FIRST Marathon 13 15 17 20 18 20 13 18 20 15 20 15 20 13 10 race

4 Plans for Other Distances

There are plans for different levels of runner:

    • Novice runners training for their first 5K.
    • Intermediate 5K runners.
    • Competitive plans for 5K, 10K, and half marathon.

5 Changes for the Second Edition

Note that the second edition is remarkably similar to the original, but it has been updated based on feedback and questions for the first edition. It's probably not worth upgrading if you're reading the book as general training advice, but if you're going to follow the program, I'd recommend the latest copy. The second edition has 5K training paces that now include 30-40 min 5K, don't cover 15-16 min 5K pace. Also the novice marathon plan is now in the book rather than just on the web.

6 Comparison With Other Plans

Main article: A Comparison of Marathon Training Plans

  FIRST
Marathon
FIRST

Novice

Jeff Galloway's
You Can Do It!
Hanson's
Marathon Method
Just Finish
Hanson's
Marathon Method
Beginner/Advanced
Hanson's
Marathon Method
Elite
Jack Daniels
4Week
Jack Daniels
2Q
Jack Daniels
Plan A
Jack Daniels
Elite (AKA 12 Week)
Pfitzinger's
Advanced Marathoning
Hal Higdon's
Ultimate Training Guide
Waitz's Run
your first marathon
Running With Lydiard
Beginner 0 2 5 2 0 0 1 1 1 0 0 3 2 0
Novice 1 3 4 1 1 0 3 1 2 0 0 3 1 0
Ringger 2 4 2 0 2 2 3 3 4 1 1 2 0 2
Maintenance 2 2 3 2 2 0 3 2 2 0 0 4 0 0
Improver 4 3 3 0 3 0 3 4 4 3 3 2 0 1
Enthusiast 4 2 3 0 2 1 3 5 5 4 3 2 0 2
Elite 3 0 1 0 1 3 1 3 3 4 3 0 0 3
Limited Training Time 4 4 0 3 2 0 5 5 5 4 0 2 2 0
Traditionalist 2 2 2 0 0 2 3 3 3 3 4 4 4 1
Triathlete/Multisport 5 5 4 0 0 0 5 5 5 3 0 2 3 0
Prior Overtraining 3 3 4 1 4 1 5 4 4 0 0 0 0 0
Sub 3:00 5 5 2 1 2 3 4 5 5 5 4 2 0 3
3:00-4:30 5 5 4 2 3 0 5 4 5 3 3 3 2 1
4:30-5:30 3 3 5 1 2 0 2 2 3 0 0 2 2 0
5:30+ 0 0 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Like Speedwork 5 5 0 0 3 3 5 5 5 5 3 1 0 5
Hate Speedwork 0 0 5 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 4 5 0