FIRST Method- Marathon/Half Marathon Training Plan

I just completed my 6th full marathon, and it was by far my best time, and biggest PR thus far. I’ve had a lot of people ask me what I did/what plan I followed. So here are my answers.

It was also the first time I really didn’t a) overthink everything b) I changed my plan around c) added more cross training/less running, and d) spent more running alone to focus on the mental aspect of running

I also just really wanted to like running again. After Chicago last year, and being so disappointed, I really kind of stopped loving running for awhile.

For my first marathon I followed a beginner plan by Hal Higdon, for my following marathons I had a friend help me create a marathon plan. One thing always though, with running 4-6 times a week by the time my second 18 miler or 20 miler came, I was burnt out, and a 3 week taper usually wasn’t enough.

When I say burnt out I mean both mentally and physically. Usually for me, by that 12-14th week of a training plan, running is a CHORE.

I figured I wanted to try something new, and worst case this marathon only cost me $40 so if everything went to hell in a hand-basket I would just not finish (DNF). I didn’t want that, but I made peace that that could happen, and just tried something new.

Enter the FIRST plan, from the Furman Institute of Running & Scientific Training. I was originally intrigued by this about a year and a half before trying it; after seeing an article from Runner’s World on Facebook.

This plan has you running 3 days a week, or rather there are three key workouts each week: a track workout, a tempo run, and a long run. I was running 4 days a week, maybe 5 some weeks. So I modified it a little. I also started doing more cross training in the form of HIIT classes 1-3 times per week. I do admit to scaling back on these as it got closer to my marathon both due to travel, and I wanted to make sure I was not too sore/breaking down too much muscle.

The plan walks you through how to set up each of your key runs. I liked it because I could tailor it to my busy work/travel schedule for the spring.

I would say an average week was:

Monday- key workout #1 usually on the treadmill

Tuesday-cross training/HIIT class

Wednesday – key workout #2, usually with my run club, this was nice because I can almost always find someone faster than me, that allows me to push my pace.

Thursday – cross training/HIIT class

Friday- Rest day or HIIT class depending on how I felt, maybe a very easy effort 3 miles

Saturday- long run

Sunday- recovery run (3-5 miles) or rest

The plan does say it is for first time marathoners, which I am not but overall with where I was at with regard to fitness and mentality, this worked really well for me.

So you’ll notice I’ve been really carefully about stressing this worked for me – so just because it worked for me, it may not be your cup of tea. Also, I mentioned I was traveling a lot this spring, the treadmill workouts, while difficult were easy to plan for while being on the road/staying in hotels.

A couple of things I noticed: I felt as though I had better endurance and speed over 13 miles. I haven’t raced a 5 or 10k since doing this, so I’m unsure about speed in general.

I was very nervous during my taper, feeling like I didn’t hit these super high (50+) mileage weeks was going to be detrimental. I started to really doubt my training, and get nervous, despite that mental doubt, my legs felt as good as they every did during my taper, and I consistently had to dial pace and workouts down.

The final thing that I think I worked on the most, was my mind game. I worked on not just finishing a work out but finding ways to turn less than ideal circumstances into positives, or at the very least, think about things that were better than what I was currently feeling during a workout. I purposely ran more alone, knowing my target race would be small.

The day of the race I did wake up really nervous and apprehensive, my neck had been so stiff the entire day before and I just didn’t know if it was the day. I made a conscious decision at our campsite that if DNF-ing was the worst thing that happened to me over that weekend, I would survive, and find another race. So I started the race, with tentative smile on my face.

It got easier to smile and wave as a few points on the course I met up with my friends and was able to see them passing on the other side of the road. I found ways to focus on when I’d see my friends again.

I know things were starting to click into place when I ran into two of my friends at mile 20/21, and my friend Jen said “if you’re still smiling after mile 20 you must be doing ok”, and I realized I was. I was fatigued, but knew I could last another hour or less on my legs.

It all clicked.

Again because this worked for me, it may not work as well for you. Also I may not pr again by 24 minutes using this plan, and I am ok with that. If you find that by the time you’re getting ready to taper for a goal race that running is a chore – you may want to consider this.

Here is the link if you want to try it!

http://www.wu.ece.ufl.edu/marathon%20training-first%20marathon.pdf

Happy Running!!!

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