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Marathon Training- less is more?

I've been looking a number of different marathon plans, and I've come across a lot of "Less is More", which I guess is also the idea behind the FIRST method. From what I can tell, there is an emphasis is "quality over quantity" and three runs a week- a speed/ track run, a tempo run and a long run, with cross training twice a week. All the workouts are supposed to be full intensity. 

A plan like this seems to fit with my schedule, and I really like the idea of cross training for injury prevention and to prevent burn out. But does it work? I've run three half marathons (with 2 more next month) and I'm looking at a marathon in October. Do you really need 5+ days of running a week to get ready for a marathon? I will, if needed, and will have at least short easy jogs daily because of my dogs, but is it necessary? How many miles a week do you really need? Of course there is anecdotal evidence that you need to run close to 100 miles a week, but that is unrealistic for me.  

I'm not trying to break crazy records or qualify for Boston or anything. I just to make it through and not feel like I'm going to die. However, with this race, I have to finish in less than 5 1/2 hours.  

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Re: Marathon Training- less is more?

  • I run three days a week. Just like you described. A speed (track) workout, a tempo run and a long run. I also "cross train" on the other days. I'm training for a triathlon so I don't really consider the other days cross training, it's just training.

    I would think that your track workouts should be 5-6 miles, tempo runs should be built up to be at least 6-8 miles (maybe more?) and then you build your long runs every week.

    I think what has really helped me not have injuries during the past year is that I swim, bike and run. I don't do one activity exclusively.

    I think you can train for a marathon 3 days a week. But you need to get in enough mileage during those2weekly runs so you aren't doing the bulk of your mileage on your long runs. KWIM?

    Maybe someone can chime in and give better advice.

  • There are a couple of ladies on this board that have trained using the FIRST program (myself included).  I didn't buy the book, I downloaded their novice plan for free right off the website. 

    For me, the 3 days a week is PERFECT.  I am right at the tail end of my program (marathon is May 6th) and I feel very prepared.  The tempo runs range from 6- 10 miles, the speedwork is around 5-6 miles and the long runs start at 8mi and build from there.  I loved the fact that I wasn't running back to back days and was able to put my full effort into each running workout.

  • I think it's pretty well known around here that I'm against three-day a week training plans. Mainly because the total weekly mileage does not support the framework for the growing distance of the long run or the "speedwork" you are doing.

    What you are essentially saying is you do one day easy, one day of hard running and a long run. There is no basework and no active recovery built in.

    Maybe I'm totally old school here but no I don't think this is the most beneficial way to train for a marathon.

    I think it's A way to "get it done." In 5.5 hours or less. 

    I don't think it's the way to get the most from your training.

    ::shrugs:: if your goal is to finish, yeah it works. 

    I also think it has the potential to set you up for injury....but yeah I suppose that's "anecdotally." 

  • For my 1st marathon, I loosely followed Hal Higdon, with emphasis on the long runs 1x per week. Due to my schedule it was near impossible to get any runs in over 3-4 miles during the week.

    I usually ran 1-2 short runs of 3-4 miles during the week, then my long run on the weekends. Sometimes I only did the long runs.

    My time for that race was 4:28 and I felt so good during and after it that I signed up for a 2nd marathon. I trained even less for the 2nd one and finished in 5 hours.

    Definitely not world record times obviously but I was happy with how I did and how I felt. The marathon is such a long distance that for me, I'm just happy to finish and push my self a little bit, but not concerned about trying to qualify for Boston or anything like that. Good luck!

  • I am only speaking from personal experience, b/c I know people love it. I tried it for 6 weeks, adding an extra easy run, and I burnt out quickly. The paces it had for me were too aggressive, I think. Plus, it had something like 5 or 6 20 milers. Over time I've learned my body excels on higher mileage, and those easy recovery runs ( called junk miles by some) help me a ton. I do cross training and strength training, but that is for injury prevention. The only thing that seems to make me faster is running more miles. I do like the speed work in the book, and do tempo and interval runs twice a week, but I need runs where I just run too, if that makes sense.

     

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  • Add me to the list of FIRST fans. I did a more traditional training plan for my first marathon last spring and finished in 4:13. I started training for a second one in the fall using FIRST and finished in 4:00. I'm running a third next weekend and I'm hoping to finish in 3:55, I know I could do better but time isn't my goal for this one.

    I really like the 3 day/week structure because it fits in well with my lifestyle and gives me time to do all of the other activities I want to do (biking, lifting, etc) without feeling like I do nothing but exercise.

    The three runs are challenging - speedwork one day and a short, medium, or long tempo run at a somewhat uncomfortable pace on another, and the prescribed pace for long runs is faster than what you usually see. I don't see myself ever using another training plan.
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  • image foundmylazybum:

    I think it's pretty well known around here that I'm against three-day a week training plans. Mainly because the total weekly mileage does not support the framework for the growing distance of the long run or the "speedwork" you are doing.

    What you are essentially saying is you do one day easy, one day of hard running and a long run. There is no basework and no active recovery built in.

    Maybe I'm totally old school here but no I don't think this is the most beneficial way to train for a marathon.

    I think it's A way to "get it done." In 5.5 hours or less. 

    I don't think it's the way to get the most from your training.

    ::shrugs:: if your goal is to finish, yeah it works. 

    I also think it has the potential to set you up for injury....but yeah I suppose that's "anecdotally." 

    Looking back at races I have run, I would have to say that I agree with this. No, I haven't trained using FIRST, but by building my base and putting in more mileage I have seen substantial gains. I did it slowly and still haven't peaked to the mileage I would like to, but by taking my weekly mileage up to 50 miles for a few weeks this past training cycle (versus something like this where it sounds like you might peak at 35mpw) I knocked 22 minutes off of my time. For my next cycle starting this fall I plan to see some 60 mile weeks and judging by how this increased mileage seems to be affecting my runs, I don't think another 10-15 min PR will be out of reach.

    I actually saw less aches and pains from doing this because my body had time to adjust. It wasn't an, "Oh, I've only run 15 miles total this week, but now I'm going to go knock out 20." My body didn't feel nearly as stressed. I went for my 22 miler and wasn't stiff, I wasn't sore, I didn't need a nap, DH and I went for a bike ride that evening....basically, I just felt so much stronger.

    This isn't to say that you can't do FIRST or that it won't work for whatever your goals might be. I know everyone is different and if this training works best for your schedule it can certainly get you to the start line, but by seeing how extra mileage is affecting my running and the people I run with I would wonder if it will get you to your highest potential. To be fair though, I really don't know...this is just what I'm learning from my experience. Good luck! :) 

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  • I ran two marathons and followed Hal Higdon's training programs -- ran 5-6 times a week.  I ended up with injuries both times and finished both in 4:45.  I trained for NYC two years ago and ran three times a week (used FIRST).  I didn't have any injuries and I finished in 4:15.

    I am prone to injuries and I work hard to avoid them, but I just think my body isn't made to pound the pavement as much as I'd like.  :)  So FIRST (less training) works for me. 


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  • my husband has used FIRST three times for his three marathons and is a devotee of the program.  I think though, that for his next one, he's going to try a more traditional five or six day a week program and see how that works (or try a program from Brooks-Hanson which I think is four days a week?)

    FIRST uses intense cross training to replace the easy runs in other programs, not to replace a strong base mileage.  In the book (which the free programs and Runner's World articles omit) they specifically say it's not for beginners (the marathon program) and that you should have a solid eight to ten years of training behind you.  Obviously, a lot of people have great success with it and a lot of other people don't, but I think you'll find that for every program.

    If you follow the book program, you will have 5 different 20 mile runs.  The longest tempo run is two ten milers (I'm pretty sure) and you average between 25 and 35 MPW.

    The downfall to program (which I know firsthand) is that it's not a three day a week running program and if you think of it that way, you're going to fail.  It's a 3+2 program and those two intense cross training sessions are just as important as your three runs.  The paces are crazy fast and you have to hit the paces if you want to make your time goal.

    But really, the only way to find out if it's for you is to try it.

  • Thanks for all the feedback and experiences. I fully understand that the cross training is a huge component of FIRST. I train 5-6 days a week right now, but the daily running is tough sometimes because of scheduling issues, and I am enjoy yoga, swimming, biking, weight lifting, which is hard to fit in devoting so much of my limited time in the evenings to running. I also enjoy doing these activities with my non-running friends. I still have to fit in at least a walk or easy jog daily for my dogs. 

    I was/ am a little concerned about using this type of model for my first marathon, so I'm happy to see that some of done so. I've run 3 half marathons (have 2 more next month), so I'm not starting from the very beginning running wise. I still have about 5 months, so I think I'm going to try it out for a few weeks, and if it falls apart, I have no problem switching to another program. 

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  • I do like the fact that it has you do a decent amount of higher mileage runs. So many beginning marathon plans have you do one 18 and one 20. This past cycle I did two 18's one 20 and one 22. I think that really helped. Especially with it being your first, you're body is likely to give you a big WTF on race day between miles 18-20. It's good that you will have at least seen that distance a few times during training.
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