Posts Tagged ‘Furman FIRST’

It ain't just a river...

Denial is often viewed as a negative word – one that implies that someone is hiding from an apparent truth. We’ve all been there. If you are a special needs parent, you know exactly what I am talking about – that stretch of time when you kept telling youself, no, not my kid…not my child…he/she doesn’t have XYZ!!!

We’ve all been in denial about our jobs or our relationships.

Denial, typically, is not a good thing.

But I’ve found a new way of using denial in a positive way. A while back I started using the Furman FIRST training program for my upcoming marathon (3 weeks away as of the day before yesterday – YIKES!!!) and I have come to the conclusion that denial can be good.

A regular reader of this blog will know that I went through a bit of burnout throughout the second half of 2011.  Sure I ran the Vermont 50 (as in 50 miles) in September and then New York in November, but the truth is, I did both of those runs on almost no training whatsoever – we’re talking a total of 180 miles in the 12 weeks leading up to Vermont (that’s 15 miles per week for a 50 mile race!) and 120 miles in the 12 weeks leading up to New York.  That’s 10 miles per week before a marathon.  No runner can expect to do well at the 26.2 mile distance on 10 miles per week.  Like I said, I was burnt out.

The training programs I had followed required five to six days of running.  I just couldn’t get myself out of bed to do the runs.  I would skip one, thinking there’s no harm in missing a run and before I knew it, the week would have gone by and I would have maybe run once.  Staying in bed, doing laundry, cleaning dishes, preparing dinner – all of these activities were much more appealing than dragging my butt out the door for the required run of the day.

Then I switched to the Furman FIRST program.  The first thing that struck me about the program was that I was only allowed to run 3 days a week.  That’s it.  3 DAYS ONLY.  And like anything that you are told you can’t have, I suddenly wanted to run more.

The program allows for one interval based run, one tempo run and one long run.  I mix in two days of cross training, be it swimming, biking, rowing or ellipting (is that the word?).  Throughout the program (I came in on week 5 of the 16 week program) I have regained my speed and endurance.  My race times have dropped and my legs feel relatively fresh.

So with my last 20-miler done this past Sunday, let the taper begin…sorta.  Funny thing about this program, because you only run three days a week, each run is done with a lot more intensity, particularly the long runs – which are generally run at 10K Race Pace + 60 to 75 seconds per mile.  That’s a good 30 – 45 seconds faster per mile than typical programs.  So that being said, despite officially being on my taper, I still have two interval sessions (one 7 x 800m at 10K – 45 to 50 seconds and one 3 x 1600m at 10K – 35 to 40 seconds), two tempo runs (a 4-miler at 10K pace and an 8-miler at 10K + 30 to 35 second per mile) plus a 15 and 10 miler.

A lot more intense than my past tapers.

Despite the increased intensity, I’m enjoying running again.

And I credit denial for my revival.

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Whenever I go to small, local races (all of 3 or 4 in total) I inevitably start looking around for who may be the winner.  I size the other runners up – she looks fast!  he’s definitely a speedster!  – and as I do, I try to place myself among them.  The Liver Lover 5K was no different.  Upon arriving, I immediately started sizing up those who appeared to be fast runners.  Over on a bench was a long, lean guy who looked like he could flat out run.  Over by the check in table was a shorter women who looked all of 100 lbs.  She pulled off her sweatshirt to reveal a Boston Running Club singlet.  Crap! Another speedster!  As I surveyed the crowd I tried to figure out who was faster than me.  I had myself coming in somewhere around 5th.  When my Race Menu teammate Lisa showed up, I knocked myself down another peg.  6th place.

As we walked over to the starting line, it became apparent to me that there was one kid who was not running the same race as the rest of us.  Tall, skinny, a runner’s body and a college singlet on.  Turned out he was 23 years old.  My plan had been to go out with the leaders and see where I was after a mile.  I was gonna have to let this kid go.  After a touching rendition of the National Anthem, it was time to go.


Six or seven us crouched at the starting line.


We put our hands on our GPS watches.


A multitude of beeps and we were off.  Tall, Skinny Kid shot off the starting line and for whatever reason, I gave chase.  After 25 yards, I looked down at my watch – 7:05 per mile pace – didn’t feel like we were running that slow, but I thought, okay, I can keep up with this guy!

At about 200 yards, my lungs really started to burn.  Something wasn’t right.  Tall, skinny guy was slowly pulling away, but I was still pretty close.  At 300 yards I looked at my watch -5:30 pace AND he was pulling away even faster!

Uh oh! I thought.  This is not good! I slowed down.  I can’t run that fast for much long than a 1/2 mile and if I do, I’m throwing up at the end.  Panic started to set in.  Back pain from the day before suddenly started to hurt (though I’m pretty sure it was mental).  A half mile in and I was filled with doubt and could now hear footsteps of people catching me from behind.

I had blown my race barely before it even got started.

The young woman I had spied earlier and a kid in a bright green shirt passed me like I was standing still.  I wanted to follow, but I had to let them go – I would just have to make sure that I didn’t let them get too far ahead of me.

I hit the first mile in 6:33.  Obviously much slower than the 5:30 I had gone out in, but worse, in my mind, 9 seconds slower than my planned 6:24 pace (I was attempting to finish in 20:00).

The young woman and the Green shirt kid were not too far ahead of me.  As we made a right turn, they initially started to go too far to the right.  For just a split second I thought of letting them go, but the true competitor in me wouldn’t have been able to live with that.  I yelled at them that they were going the wrong way.  They probably lost no more than a second or two off their time.

I continued to chase them as we went over a hill.  Lately, for whatever reason, uphills have been where I’ve been closing the distance on people, and this race was no different.  Very quickly I pulled within about 10 feet of the two of them.  They were able to maintain their distance on the downhill.

But just before 1.5 miles, we made another turn and hit another hill.  As we made the turn, Green Shirt Kid began to fade, but the Young Woman was pushing hard.

Now the race was on.

I caught up to her about 2/3 of the way of the hill.  Through her heavy breathing she asked me if mile 1 felt long.  I said it did and we continued to run in silence, listening to the pounding of our feet.  At about 1.8 miles we were flying downhill again.  I opened up a bit of a lead, but as soon as we flattened out, she caught and passed me again.

I had never been in a back and forth race, and quite frankly, I wasn’t sure if I had the mental determination to take it to the end.

As we passed mile 2 at 13:00, I started doing math again.  I had 7:00 to cover 1.1 miles.  I was gonna have to run a 6:36 mile the rest of the way – faster than 9 miles per hour.  I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do it.  I thought about letting the Young Woman go – she seemed to be speeding up (or was I slowing down?) – but I knew, once again, that I had to leave it all on the course if I wanted to get a true reading of where my fitness level was.  If I was opting to race a 5K instead of running my scheduled 18-miler, then dammit I was going to make it worthwhile.

1.1 miles – it was time to let it all hang out.  I could bear the pain for 7 minutes.

At about 2.2 miles, I caught the Young Woman on a turn on to a bike path and passed her.   I had the gas pressed to the floor.  I was just hoping I wouldn’t run out of gas before the end of the race.  As we came back out on to the road, I could hear her footsteps behind me.  I kept thinking that any minute now she was gonna find her final gear and blow past me.  We had a half mile to go and my whole body felt like it was on fire.

Her footsteps were getting closer – if I could just hold on.

With about 300 yards to go I could see the finish line.  It was time to completely empty the tank.

Trying to create some distance between me and the Young Woman

I found a final gear, covering those last 300 yards in sub-5:45 per mile pace,

Increasing the gap with one final kick...

crossing the finish line in 19:40 and finishing in a personal best 2nd place.

Not one of my more flattering race pics...and why am I slowing down BEFORE the finish line?

It turns out the Tall Skinny Kid finished in 16:18 – like I said, he was running a completely different race.  I must admit, I was pretty pleased with my finish.  There were plenty of moments where I wanted to take my foot off of the gas, but I pushed through the pain and was able to finish better than I had expected.  The 2nd place finish was fabulous (I even won a $30 gift certificate to a local running shop), but the best part is that I continued the validation of switching to the Furman FIRST program.  After Quincy 2 weeks earlier, McMillan’s Running Calculator put me at a 3:15:07 marathon – huge progress from the Superbowl Sunday 5-Miler that had me at a 3:25 marathon.  Last Sunday’s race, albeit it was a short one at 5K, puts me at a 3:11:43 marathon.

My continued improvement serves as a great confidence booster going into Sugarload come late-May.  I am just going to have to make sure that I don’t make the same mistake I made last year at Boston, where instead of running a disciplined race at the pace I had trained for (3:15), I ended up going for sub-3:10.

Kudos to Jess Rossman for putting together a well run race.  I will definitely be back next year to try and improve on my time.  Hopefully Tall Skinny Guy doesn’t show up.

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I remember way back in high school when I would get up in the mornings before a big test – I’d be a little nervous, wondering if I had studied what I had needed to, wondering if I’d remember anything…

…that’s how I felt two Sundays ago when I woke up before the Quincy Half Marathon.  Several weeks ago I made the transition from the Pfitz Marathon Training Program to the FIRST Marathon Training Program.  I’ve been fairly determined to make sure that I followed the new program as closely as I could.  The very concept of running less to run faster struck me as counter-intuitive, but I needed to do something to get me out of what had turned into an 8 month funk.

3 days a week – that is all I was allowed to run; complimented by 2 days of cross-training – it seemed insufficient, but I was determined to give the program a chance.  Really, what choice did I have?  What I had been doing before was no longer working.

On Super Bowl Sunday I ran the Super Sunday 5-Miler in Boston and finished with a 34:56.  My goal had been to comfortably cruise to a sub-35 minute finish, but in fact, I struggled to make it, pretty much leaving everything I had on the course.  That 34:56 translated into a 3:25:30 marathon according to McMillan’s Running Calculator.  A couple of weeks later I started the FIRST program.  Quincy was going to be my first real test of how much progress I was truly making.


Upon arriving, I looked for my buddy JB.  You may recall JB as one of the foursome I ran with at Vermont or the buddy who ran the Super Sunday 5 with me.  Our plan was to run about 7:15 miles throughout, with the hopes of scoring about a 1:35:00 for the race.  It would be a 2 minute PR for him, and would be an incremental improvement on my cardio-health from Super Sunday.  Although a 1:35 half-marathon only translates to a 3:20 marathon (5 minutes long of my goal), I figured that it would be a step in the right direction, especially for only 3 weeks on the program.

JB & I pre-race.

We made our way to the starting area and stood silently for the National Anthem – and then it was time to go, literally!  Not more than a second after the anthem was done, the starting horn blared.

We were off.

Fortunately for JB and I, we hadn’t moved too far to the front.  We were forced to start a little slowly.  After a quarter mile of jockeying for position, we turned up the pace and hit the first mile marker right on target at 7:15.


Without really realizing it, we slowly began to pick up the pace.  It was still a bit crowded, but the two of us maneuvered our way through.  Mile 2 arrived in a quick 7:07…maybe I was a little too enthusiastic?

We slowed it down just a touch for the next three miles, averaging about a 7:10 pace.  Somewhere around mile 5 we saw the leader coming the other way…he must have had a good 30 seconds on the guy behind him.  At this point, JB and I hit our first hill.  My philosophy on hills has been to attack them, lean into them and don’t let them slow you down too much.  For this first hill, that plan worked perfectly. I leaned in, JB followed and we passed over a dozen runners before cresting and allowing gravity to feed our recovery.

Once we flattened out, we hit the 6-mile marker (7:06) and we were able to see the rest of the field heading for the hill.  At this point, my legs started to feel a little heavy.  JB asked me how I was doing.  I feel like I’m fading, I said, but only 6 miles in, I knew that it had to be more mental than physical.  We continued to press the pace a little.  I knew we had some time in the bank to hit 1:35, but I also kept reminding myself that this race was a test of how I was progressing.  If I let up too early or left too much out on the course, there would really be no way for me to know just where I was with respect to where I want to be for Sugarloaf.  I needed to know if the FIRST program was increasing my cardio-fitness or if I was stagnating.

We covered the next three mile at 7:06 pace.  With just over 4 miles left to go, I started doing math in my head.  I realized that I could slow down significantly and still hit my goal – but what would that tell me?  I knew I had to keep pressing.

Unfortunately, that pressing came just as we hit a final group of hills – despite continuing to pass runners on a regular basis, we slowed into the 7:20’s.

starting to fade a little at mile 11

With 2.1 miles to go, JB started to pull away.  He looked back at me as if to say, come on dude! but the hills had taken their toll on me.  I shouted at him to just go.  He was well within range of not just beating his PR, but shattering it.  I pressed as hard as I could – I was determined to come in under 1:35 no matter what.  Mile 12 went by in a surprising 7:15.

1.1 miles to go.  It was leave it all on the course time.  I knew I was less than 7:30 away from the finish.  I also knew that I could suffer for that long too.  My legs felt heavy and my breathing was labored, but with each tick of the clock, I knew I was that much closer to being done.

As I made my way back into downtown Quincy, I could see JB in the distance.  With about 800 meters to go, he was looking great and I had run out of real estate to catch him.  I focused on finishing strong.  Coming out of the final turn, I realized it was literally downhill to the finish and let it all hang out.  Gravity pulled me along at a pace I hadn’t run all race.

With less than 100 yards to go, Racemenu Chief Alain stepped out of the crowd with words of encouragement and a high five.  I could see JB waiting at the finish.

Sprinting to the finish

I barreled through the finish, and without slowing down grabbed a bottle water being held out…I couldn’t brake…staring at a table that was closing in fast, I panicked slightly.  Fortunately a random runner stepped in to grab me and slow me down.  It was enough for me to get my footing and stop.

I looked at the clock.



I wasn’t convinced that I had run that fast.  I hugged JB, asking him his time.

1:31:59 – a nearly 7 minute PR for him.  When the official times went up, mine was a 1:32:31.  I had missed a PR by a mere 8 seconds.  In most situations, I would have been mildly disappointed in missing a PR, but considering that just 4 weeks beforehand I wouldn’t have even considered the possibility of PR-ing, and that I had come into the day with an expectation of finishing in the 1:35 range, I was thrilled.

The FIRST program was working.  My legs and lungs were getting stronger.

The very next day, I officially signed up for Sugarloaf.  To be honest, I had been putting off registering because I was full of doubt as to whether I could even potentially run a sub-3:15 in May.  Quincy convinced me that I was on the right track.  My 1:32:31 translates into a 3:15:07 marathon.  Just a touch on the wrong side of the clock, but a vast improvement from where I was on SuperBowl Sunday.

This Sunday I will face my next test of fitness when I was a local 5K.  The goal is to hit 19:54 – which translates into a 3:14 marathon.  If I hit 20:00, that still translates into a 3:15.


I still may ultimately fail at Sugarloaf come May, but I finally truly believe that I have a 3:15 or better in these legs – and that is a wonderful feeling.

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Stay the course…

Don’t change horses midstream…

Dance with the one that brought you…


On October 3rd, 2010, I ran the fastest 26.2 miles of my life.  My 3:19:19 at the Smuttynose Marathon qualified me for Boston 2011 and at least got me in the registration door for Boston 2012 (though ultimately I fell 33 seconds short of having my application accepted).  To get there I followed Pfitzingers 12/55 (12 weeks, peaking at 55 miles per week) plan out of his book, Advanced Marathoning.  Every subsequent marathon that I have run I have tried to follow one of Pfitzinger’s plans, be it the 12/55, the 12/70 or, most recently, the 18/55.  When people have asked for advice on how they can improve their marathon times, I’ve directed them to the book.  It really works.

But something happened to me last summer – call it burn out or fatigue, my body needed a break.  I just wasn’t listening.  I kept thinking that if I just continued to push myself, I’d break out of my funk.  Marathon after marathon, I set out to follow the Pfitz plan.

But I would miss a workout.

And then another.

And another.

My next three marathons came in at 3:26, 3:43 and my one and only DNF.  By the time training for New York City ’11 rolled around, I decided I was just going to run for fun.  I just couldn’t bring myself to hitting every run set out in the Pfitz plan.  5 to 6 days a week of running is not easy, especially when you’re in full burnout mode.


After New York, my running became even more haphazard.  I convinced myself I wanted to get back to Boston, so I searched for a fast, Spring marathon.  I set my eyes on Sugarloaf.

A little over 6 weeks ago, I began the Pfitz 18/55 plan.  I had to drag myself through the workouts from the very start.

Not good.

By sage buddy Mike suggested that I spend 6 weeks rebuilding my base and then follow the 12/55 plan.  As wise as his advice was, I was happier with the concept that I wouldn’t be required to run 4 – 5 times a week than the idea of pushing off the start of my training.

My wheels were spinning.

Then, about a week and a half ago, Mike inadvertently passed along another golden nugget my way.  He suggested that I take a look at the Furman FIRST program – essentially it is a Run Less, Run Faster program.  The key to the program is that there are only 3 runs per week – a speed workout, a tempo run and a long run.  Running is not allowed on any other day.  Cross-training on two other days is recommended.  Every run is based on one’s 1oK race pace.  I was particularly intrigued by the concept that long run needed to be run at 55 – 75 seconds slower than 10K pace – read that again – that’s a good 30 – 75 seconds faster than every other program I’ve followed.


Now, I know one is not supposed to change horses midstream and should dance with the one that brought ya, but I have also come to realize that the Pfitz program just wasn’t doing it for me anymore – I had just been unwilling to accept that.  I still believe in the Pfitz program and I still would recommend it to anybody who has the commitment and drive to run 5 days a week.  I’ve just come to a place where I realize that my body needs the cross-training but it can’t take the constant pounding 7 days a week.

The turning point for me was this last Saturday when I struggled through my run but felt a spark at the end.  That’s when I decided that I still had the desire to re-qualify for Boston.  At the end of the run I went back and read over the FIRST program again.  The more I read, the more excited I got.

I know I am jumping in late on the program – it is a 16 week program and there are now less than 12 week until Sugarloaf, but for the first time in a long time, I believe!

I believe!!!

On Tuesday I had my first speed workout – 10 x 400 meter intervals at 10K pace minus 55-60 seconds.  I hit every interval at under 6:00 pace, the last one at better than 5:45 pace.  Yesterday I put in 1000 yards in the pool.  This morning I have a 5-mile tempo run at 10K + 15-20 seconds pace.  The first real test will come this weekend when I put in my first long run of the program – 14 miles at just under 8:00 pace.

We’ll see how I feel after that run, but for right now, at this moment, I believe again…

…I have my plan…

…and I’m glad to be changing horses.

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