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FIRST Marathon Training Assessment

While reading the excellent Half-Fast running blog, I noticed that Vanilla was going to try the FIRST marathon training program.  This is a program in which you get to “run less often and still get faster”.  It’s the 3-day a week marathon training program.  Great concept.

I decided to give it a go this year to improve my marathon time for the Chicago marathon.  Here’s my assessment thus far.

Observations about the FIRST marathon training program


Legs don’t hurt as much. In every other marathon training program I followed, I would wake up sore all the time. For 20 minutes, I walked around like an old man. It felt like I should’ve walked with a cane. Following the FIRST training program, there is much less pain.

More time. It’s pretty obvious that when you only train three days a week, you’ll have more time for other things. I went from averaging 55 minutes of running per day to less than 42 minutes. And really that 42 minutes is deceiving because I had 4 days of no running per week.

Obvious improvements. When you first start the FIRST program you may recognize just how slow you are. But after a few sprint sessions, you actually see yourself getting faster. Whether a speed increase in a 400 or 800 sprint directly translates into a faster marathon is yet to be seen. However, I certainly feel happy that I can get around a track in about the same time I could when I was in high school.


Hard to stay focused. When you run every day (or almost) getting motivated is not too hard. It becomes part of your routine. When you only work out 3 times a week however, it’s much harder to motivate yourself to do each workout. I experienced this a bit with traditional marathon training the 1st training day back after a 20 miler. But imagine having to re-motivate yourself every run. It’s tough.

Hard to make-up days. When you only run 3 days a week, missing one feels awful. Of the 48 workouts I was supposed to do, I probably missed about 8. No big deal for a regular training plan (you can always make up miles) but for this one, I fear my performance may suffer.

Every workout hurts!. I love joggling. I love to get out there, joggle the sidewalks of Chicago, listen to my podcasts, and smile at people. Forget all that if you’re following the FIRST program. Every run kicks you butt!! On sprint days you’ll feel like you want to puke. On tempo days your legs and lungs burn. You actually start to look forward to your 18 and 20 mile days. Be prepared for this.

Uncertainty. I’ve trained in traditional ways for many years but now, it’s all mixed up. I have no idea how I’m going to do in this marathon. One day I’ll have a great run. The next it’s a struggle. Which joggling marathoner will show up to the Chicago Marathon? I have no idea. Hopefully, it’s the one that runs a Boston Marathon qualifier.

Overall Impression of FIRST Program thus far

I’m glad I tried this. I’ve only got 8 more workouts to do and then it’s marathon time. We’ll see if I’m still glad at the end of the marathon.

Want to try the FIRST marathon program yourself? Click here to get the book that started it all.

This Post Has 8 Comments
  1. First, thanks for the link!

    Second, I have really loved using the FIRST plan. I used it to train for a couple of half marathons and saw definite increases in my speed over the 13.1 distance. I agree wholeheartedly with all your assesments of the program. Many of the runs kicked my butt day in and day out, but so far I’ve been happy with the end results (race results). I hope that you’re able to see the same speedy results in your upcoming marathon.

  2. A few quick comments from someone who’s used the FIRST program successfully for his last four marathons:

    Yes, it’s hard work, especially the intervals. But there’s a real feeling that you’ve accomplished something at the end of every run.

    Missing workouts has never been a problem for me. If I have to miss a day due to travel, or illness, or whatever, it’s easy to squeeze an extra workout in because I have four non-running days a week to work with. So, if I miss a run one week, the next week instead of Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, I might run Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday.

    It’s also important to point out that FIRST isn’t a three-workout per week plan; rather, it’s a three RUN per week plan since you’re also supposed to include at least two serious cross-training workouts each week. I’ve found that if I slack off on my cycling I really notice it, both in decreased endurance and increased knee pain.

    Finally, for predicting your race time, you can get a pretty good idea by looking at how close to your target pace you managed on the last couple of 32 km runs. Or. You could try Yasso 800s for one workout and see what that tells you.

    Good luck on race day!

  3. FIRST is a very interesting program. I am a big fan of running just three days a week. You should throw in a little swimming and biking for cross training 🙂 It would do a joggler good!!

  4. Hi,

    Came across ur blog, found it interesting.

    I’m a juggler and am getting into running myself though I don’t think I’ll ever get into joggling – it’s just too weird to do that here and I don’t EVER want juggling to be viewed negatively. I’d be running my first marathon in December so I’ve been examining a few training programs.

    I’d proabably want to be trying out some recommendations from the site.

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