January 6, 2008

How does it work for me: Recap of using the F.I.R.S.T methodology for running training

FIRST.jpgYou may have heard or read about the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training program that has been documented on-line and also in the recently published book Runner's World Run Less, Run Faster: Become a Faster, Stronger Runner with the Revolutionary FIRST Training Program. The program is based on three weekly runs (interval session, tempo run and long run) complemented with two (or more aerobic cross training sessions). The runs are done at prescribed pace in order to achieve speed improvements, improve lactate threshold and VO2max.

I was very excited when the book came out, because the traditional "run every day" program does not work with family, triathlon training, full time job, and all the other stuff that life throws at you. I decided to start the F.I.R.S.T. training plans for the 5k race right after the triathlon season was over (after the September 23rd race). Unfortunately I injured myself in the week before my last triathlon race (a stupid mistake when I stepped off of the running treadmill) and I had to take things lighter over the next few weeks to heal the ankle sprain. For the training I used my 5k PR from the September sprint triathlon to determine the training paces. The book recommends to use recent 5k race results or longer distance race that is then converted to the 5k equivalent.

First training sessions felt quite hard as I used to run little slower even on hard days. So it took some adjusting. Especially the interval session was hard to do and I found myself feeling sick from my stomach after the sessions. I did majority of the interval sessions on treadmill to force myself to stick with the prescribed pace for the whole interval duration. In the recovery part of the interval I keep moving, but quite often need to resort to fast walking to catch my breath and sustain the next interval work. The tempo training is fairly manageable and I alternated it on the treadmill and outside (depending on the weather and the time constraints). The long runs are generally fine as the pace is little slower than tempo, but they get harder in the last 1-2 miles. In all the sessions I found myself checking the watch more often in the last part of the session. I complement the running with bike, swim and strength training to reach the planned number of training hours in the week (determined by my training plan on trainingpeaks.com).

So how did it all worked for me. Let me just say that my 5k PR improved from later September to mid November from 22:15 to 21:35. That is 40 seconds improvement on the 5k race which looks good to me considering that I was unable to train through all the 5k plan sessions due to the injury. I lost about 2.5 weeks when I was unable to run at all or I had to run slower than prescribed pace. Later in December I ran another race - 5mi in 35:10 which translates approximately to 21:15 for 5k. So there is certainly good improvement after just few weeks of training. I continue using the F.I.R.S.T. plan for the upcoming half marathon. I hope the speed gains will continue and I'll be able to run the half in under 1:45 (well maybe even faster). We shall see how the speed translates from the short distance race to the longer distance race.


Who is SLB+? said...

Kxux, sounds like a great plan, I got the book for Christmas and glanced through it. It seems to be the plkan of choice for many this year (abelisle, mightyweezie, databasediva are all on it) I was already underway with a Higdon plan but that is up in April so I may well go back to it for another look in the Autumn, the problem I find is that there are plenty of plans up to the marathon distance but there are few beyond that, admittedly a marathon plan would work for a 50k, it's only (ha ONLY!) 6 more miles, but a 50 miler is not two marathons if you see what I mean. Still the 5k plan would be tempting, just to see if I could go sub 20mins, which would mean adding 7 seconds to your improvement; I would be very happy with that :-)

kara said...

I'm using Galloway's method again. But maybe I should check out this book too.

kxux said...

Yeah I noticed that the FIRST program is being used by quite a few folks at the Nike+ site and forum. It seems like a good plan for people that already built good base (1-2 or more years of running). I picked-up triathlons to get out of the monothony of running (don't get me wrong I love running, but running 5-6 days a week was getting little repetitive). With the tri training it is hard to follow the traditional running program. If you look at the different plans Daniels, Fitzgerald, Pfitzinger - the runs they recommend are - intervals, tempo, long distance run, easy runs and some recommend repetition runs (Daniels). If you look at what you need to improve the three runs the FIRST recommends make a lot of sense. So you end up doing only the quality sessions and instead of easy runs you do other aerobic training. I'm not sure how well this will work with the tri-specific training as there you would need to balance hard/easy sessions for all three sports. Therefore after the half marathon plan I'm switching to the Olympic Tri training which focuses on speed in all three sports. I guess I can get better speed on the bike and if I keep the run speed I can get better Olympic distance times than last year. We shall see.

As for the ultra training - well this is not as well mapped. You may be better off looking at Noakes and selecting all running + strenght plan. It may be more appropriate for the long distances. He is talking about plan for the long distance training for Comrades Marathon (http://www.comrades.com/). I highly recommend the book (The Lore of Running) if you don't already have it. It is very technical, but has great info on all aspects of running.

kxux said...

@kara: are you doing the run-walk thing? I did it in my half ironman last year and it worked quite well. I guess thanks to it I was able to almost get through the whole run without bonking (well I bonked at mile 8, but after 2 miles walk, pretzels and chicken broth I ran again). I think if I did not use run-walk approach I would have bonked much earlier. It was 95 that day and very humid so we had few people DNF due to lack of salt and messed-up nutrition on the course.

Who is SLB+? said...

It's funny you should mention the Comrades as I following a modified; shortened with added cross training, Higdon plan.

It has more running days than the FIRST but maxes out at 5 days with the highest weekly mileage of 75, 75% of which is long runs at the weekend.

I've keep picking up The Lore' but it's such a tome I keep putting it back.

kxux said...

Yeah the book is huge. That is also a reason why this is second year I'm reading it - and I'm not half through yet. I would like to take it with me when I travel, but it is just too big. I actually have two - one at home and one in Europe.

Good luck this weekend. I hope the run goes according to your plans.

Database Diva said...

I think so many of us are on the FIRST plan this year because of the injuries we sustained during the mileage madness of 2007. I have completely stopped looking at my challenges and the Nike+ leaderboard. It would only frustrate me, and tempt me to run until it hurts, and then run some more!

I am fascinated by the intervals, because I'm pushing myself to do things that aren't comfortable. On the other hand, I didn't feel sick either, so I guess that is something to feel good about.

Everyone seems to be very happy with the results they are getting from the program. I will be happy if I can get through the 20 mile runs without getting hurt. I've had problems with the 20 mile run in other programs, so I'm hoping the reduced mileage will do the trick.