Friday, October 26, 2007

A Review of the FIRST Half Marathon Training Plan

Before I review the FIRST plan let me briefly explain what it is. The focus of the FIRST plan is quality not quantity which loosely translates to more intense runs but less of them, this is also supposed to decrease your risk of injury. Under the FIRST plan you run only 3 times a week - when I heard this I was all over this plan like hair on soap. There are no easy runs, you run one speedwork session, one tempo run and one long run. Where are the easy runs? They’re relaxing on the beach somewhere with a Corona, changing their latitude.

The schedule calls for Tuesday and Wednesday to be your speedwork and tempo runs consecutively... on back-to-back days, and then your long run is either Sat or Sun. I should note that after being too physically exhausted to complete my tempo run the day after my speedwork, I amended my schedule to be Monday, Wednesday, Saturday, instead of Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday. On the 4 other days of the week the plan calls for 2 to 3 cross training days to maintain fitness.

Results/Review: You've probably all read my Denver Half Marathon race report, so you already know that I achieved my goal using the FIRST plan. I am faster now than I was before I began training and I have run longer than ever before. I also did not get injured during this time, but who can say whether or not that is attributable to the FIRST plan or whether that was just dumb luck. Knowing me, the latter sounds more likely.

Given these results you would think that I would be willing to endorse the program and sing its praises, and you’d be correct. However, I will add that you'd better be mentally tough if you plan on doing the FIRST training. There is some real speed involved in the workouts and I consistently failed to complete all the miles in a workout at the required pace, often having to slow down towards the end. During a couple of the runs I even outright quit and walked home. Hey, I’m not proud of it, but it happened. This frequently created nagging feelings of failure and doubt which are even evident in my goal setting post when I predicted a time of 2:06 for myself.

Prior to running the Denver Half Marathon I was actually prepared to write a bad review of the FIRST plan due to the fact that I felt the runs were too demanding and too unrealistic. However having had some time to reflect on my half marathon and comparing my running in June with my running today, it is painfully obvious that I am faster now than I was then. I am a better runner today, and you simply can’t argue with a plan that helps you accomplish that.

For more, see the FIRST Half Marathon Training Plan at Runner’s World.


  1. Thanks for the review. This is actually my plan for the 2nd half marathon. I think my marathon plan had too many days of running in a row and thus contributed to my hip/IT band issue.

    My first half in feb 07 was 2:04. My goal for my 2nd half is under 2. I need to do the speed work even though I would rather go to the dentist. I might post my plan - take a look and let me know if it is, in fact, what you did.'

    Happy Friday. Ciao

  2. Is it something you'll stick with or will you try something different next time around?


  3. This is the plan that I am loosely following for my first 1/2, too. Okay, I just say loosely because I don't want all those feelings of failure weighing on me, causing me to sit on the couch eating pounds of junk food and wallowing in self-pity :P

    Glad you gave it the thumbs' up ;)

  4. That is why you totally have to pick a 5K pace that is slower than what you can run LOL. That's what I did with that plan, it was great HAHAH!

  5. I also followed FIRST. I confess I do not do the speed work in an "orthodox" way, but I find the plan very good.

  6. I've been looking for a 3 day plan and to do speedwork so I really appreciate this post and your honest review.

    Did you do anything besides run? It seems like you got a bike... just wondering if you added anything else.

  7. I was the same way with my training plan...and mine was nothing like FIRST. I think that's part of it: training plans are hard and you won't get every single run 100% right, but it's all to prepare you for the difficulties you'll face on the race.

  8. Mother Smuckers, I will probably use it again when I'm training for another race that I want to perform well in. For now I'm going to enjoy some easy runs.

    Runner Nancy ;) I play indoor soccer once a week and I tried to additionally either bike twice or mix in some weight lifting on other cross training days. Swimming would have worked too but I didn't want to drown myself. I suck at swimming.

  9. Vanilla, I used the FIRST program to train for my first marathon. I was predominantly a sprinter (400m & 100m) before switching to distance, so my sprints actually got slower, but my distance running improved.

    During my training period, I ran an almost PR 1:38 half marathon and then a 3:39 marathon. My only problem with the program is that I don't think it had enough long (18-20+) mile runs, so I hit the wall harder than Pink Floyd.

    That said, if I can ever get un-injured, I'll be using FIRST to train for Boston in the spring.

  10. Thanks for posting this, Vanilla, as well as your review. I'm now training for my second half and would really like to improve my time. That being said, I find it really hard to get out more than three times a week. I'm going to try this plan. I'd cross train by swimming, too, if I could figure out a way to do so without getting wet.

  11. I agree wholeheartedly. I've used FIRST to train for 3 marathons and I've gotten consistently faster in each one so I know it works. It just takes some faith and dedication especially during those killer speed workouts.

  12. When I saw the words "half marathon training" next to an image of beer, I thought I had finally foudn the perfect training plan. Damn you for including running in it!

    The search continues...

  13. Interesting, I'm awful at following any specific plan but I've been very interested in how this one might work. Thanks for the info!

  14. Hey Vanilla,

    I have been using this basic program for the past two years as well. I've had pretty good results with the run 3 days a week thing. I've learned a lot since I started, but you are right, those longs runs are not easy :)

  15. i'm new... anticipation to post around more regularly!


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