Posted by: Ingrid | June 21, 2010

Reflections on the FIRST Training Program

I meant to write a few thoughts on the FIRST training program that I followed for 5 weeks before running the Sunburst 10K.  But as soon as I finished the run and began a week of recovery running I realized that the pain I’d been having in the tendon behind my left knee on and off for two weeks did not appear to be going anywhere.  So after a few days of trying to push through it I decided to cross train for a while, icing my hamstring, and taking Ibuprofen in hopes that I wouldn’t be laid up for too long.  But you runners know how it is.  When you’re unable to run you don’t really want to write about it because you miss it so much.  Plus everyone in the world seems to decide to go running which leaves you envious and annoyed.

But for what it’s worth, here are some pros and cons that I came up with.  As I didn’t follow the entire 10K training program I didn’t have the same experience that I would have had if I’d completed my training in the recommended twelve weeks but I do think I was able to get a feel for it enough so that I would know if I’d want to use it again for another race.

First, I would definitely use this program again.  Even though only running three days a week messes with my concept of being a runner, the training runs were challenging enough that I felt I was still training hard and working on the important aspects of running (speed, endurance at a faster pace over a long distance, etc.).  I think it actually might be easier to follow the marathon plan since I’m used to running 30-35 miles a week.  While I felt like the 20-ish miles I was running for the 10K program seemed a little skimpy in the running department, the average 35 miles per week for the marathon program would probably feel okay overall.

Some of the downsides to the FIRST Training Program include:

–         If you are a runner who runs for fun and doesn’t like to push yourself, this is not your program!  In training you will probably spend more time looking at your Garmin than the scenery around you unless you have some sort of innate ability to know how fast you’re running at any given moment.

–         If you can’t drop the nagging thought that a runner must run X number of miles per week and run almost every day.  If you are training at the appropriate pace you will probably be grateful for the day of recovery (cross-training) between runs.  There is the option of running a few miles on those days but it’s not recommended.

–         If you have no access to cross training equipment, specifically a bike, indoor bike, pool, or rowing machine.

–         If you are running for weight loss.  Because you are supposed to hit and sustain a faster pace than normal I found that I needed to make sure I was well hydrated and fueled for my runs.  This is not a program that would work well with a very restrictive diet, in my opinion.  Recovery and sustaining a certain speed have to take precedence over calorie restriction.

–         If you are the type of runner who needs to run with a partner (unless your partner runs at precisely the same speed).  All of the runs are done at a very specific pace which means it’s much easier to go it alone.

In my opinion, though, the pros definitely out weighed the cons:

–         Running less frequently means that you run less of a risk of overtraining and getting injured (So why am I injured?  I want to know!).  The cross training that you do on the other two to three days also helps prevent injury by building up the muscles that running doesn’t use.

–         By running fewer miles per week you can buy shoes less often.  And any runner who has recently looked at shoe prices knows that this is a good thing!

–         With only three running workouts to fit into the week it is less stressful if you oversleep on Monday morning and don’t make it out to the track.  I found that it was nice to have the flexibility to change up my schedule without having to compromise training or get stressed out trying to double up on workouts.

–         The FIRST program strikes an interesting balance of encouraging rest while challenging you to push as hard as you can when you run.  For any runner who has slogged through day after day of mediocre running that doesn’t seem to get you anywhere, it’s a nice change!  You work hard but you’re supposed to rest which then leaves you ready to work hard again.  I always looked forward to my next run because I’d had a break.  Funny how that works!

–         Following this plan and hitting the challenging workouts left me feeling more confident as a runner and what I am capable of.  There were some days I finished my run and felt like I could do just about anything!

–         If you’re the type of person who gets a lot of satisfaction out of meeting particular goals, this program is great!  Not only do you have your end goal, but all the specific runs in between feel like an accomplishment as well.

–         Following the FIRST program really got me to pay attention to things I normally let slide: warming up and cooling down, stretching, and easing into a faster pace.  The book also had some good thoughts on goal setting that I found helpful.

–         The book has all sorts of nifty little running charts and pace equivalents for various distances.  I just think those are fun but maybe I’m a little weird.

–         I felt like I got great results for the minimal mileage that I put in.  I finished my 10K in 42:55, a full minute faster than the fastest time I was training for (43:56).

–         During training I got to PR in the 5K and 10K while still getting to tell people, when they asked, that I was only running three days a week.  That earned me some weird looks!

So yes, the short answer is that I would definitely recommend this program and I loved the book!  I will hopefully be using another plan soon when my tendon decides to cooperate and let me run again!



  1. Thanks for that review! It definitely sounds like it worked for you. But I am curious if you weigh the same now as you did in your previous 10k and also if the courses were equally fast.

    I am really sorry about your tendonitis. I am battling something similar right now and, yeah, there is just no miracle cure. It’s about giving it time to heal and making sure that your cross training doesn’t aggravate it. That latter is always something I have trouble with! I’m sure you’ll be running again in no time :).

    • This course was actually more hilly than several other courses I have run. It was not flat and I don’t know that I would run it again chasing a PR! I also was a few pounds lighter than I was at a few other 10K’s (somewhere between 2-5 depending on the 10K in question, but nothing significant.

      Sorry to hear that you’re injured as well. I hope that you heal soon!

  2. Great review. I like the way you laid it out.

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