It is sadly ironic that as I write this post, I am sitting at home with a ridiculously miserable cold and am about as far from being able to run as I can get. But that hasn’t stopped me from dreaming, planning and scheming about my next races!
The basic concept
As someone who seems susceptible to injuries — running related (IT Band Syndrome) and otherwise — I was intrigued when I heard about the FIRST training plans, and quickly read their book Run Less, Run Faster. Their basic training concept is 3plus2: 3 quality training runs + 2 quality cross-training sessions per week. While it may sound like an easy way out (most training plans have you running 5-6 days per week), it is anything but. The three training runs consist of one speed work session, one tempo run, and one long-run, all at slightly faster paces than usual. Because these runs are more intensive, the authors maintain that they shouldn’t be done on back-to-back days. To allow recovery of the muscles used for running, but to still maximize aerobic fitness, they recommend that two intensive cross-training sessions and two days of rest should be interspersed with the running.
A typical training week
- Monday: Cross-training
- Tuesday: Speed work
- Wednesday: Cross-training
- Thursday: Tempo run
- Friday: Rest
- Saturday: Long run
- Sunday: Rest or optional cross-training
The authors present a fair amount of evidence based on experimental studies they did with runners using their training plans, demonstrating improved performance and better race times. And in case you’re still in doubt, the book is also heavily sprinkled with anecdotes from other runners’ success stories using the plans. I have to admit that they really sold me on the idea of simultaneously getting rid of the “junk mileage” (i.e., those miles without any specific training purpose) while increasing overall training volume through cross-training. I really appreciate the focus on reducing overuse injuries, while still improving overall running performance.
Pace charts and training plans
The book is full of useful pace charts based on your most recent race performance so you can accurately assess what pace you should be using for their suggested speed work, tempo runs and long runs. It also includes training plans for 5K, 10K, half marathon, and marathon distances. For beginning runners, they also offer 5K training plans that allow you to slowly build your training up to the point where you can use the more intensive standard plans.
Also helpful are their very specific suggested cross-training workouts (typically involving swimming, biking, or rowing) so people like me who have no idea what a comparable aerobic activity would be can get a clear picture of: what they need to do, how long, and how intensive an effort it should be.
The authors also include chapters on nutrition, strength training, recovery, and stretching. If this is the only book you’ve read or are planning to read about running, then there’s probably some useful information in these chapters for you. But if you’ve been running for awhile and have done your research, there’s nothing new in these chapters that you haven’t heard before. (Although I appreciated that they chose what they consider to be the key stretches and strength moves for runners, especially if you have limited time.)
Although I’ve had to take a bit of a break from running recently, I plan to try out one of the FIRST plans for my next race, incorporating cycling (and maybe rowing at the gym when the weather is bad) as cross-training activities. I’m even toying with the idea of actually racing a 10K, which in the past I’ve only run with minimal training. In any case, I’m happy to have a plan that sounds feasible for me, and I’m looking forward to testing out the FIRST theories for myself!