Brian Nicholson: Reasons to run: FIRST system offers variety for runners

Published: Friday, July 8 2011 8:17 a.m. MDT

A few years back, I read about a marathon training program that virtually guaranteed that by following its system, runners could shave 20 minutes off their fastest marathon time. I know you’re thinking, “Yeah, right, and you can be rich in 30 days too, right?”

I was intrigued, since at the time I was trying to make it to the Boston Marathon. It’s called the FIRST system and, in a nutshell, it has people running only three times a week, with one day of non-running between each.

The first running day is for speed work, the second a tempo run at a 10K pace, and the last day, the weekend, would be for the long run. The caveat to this system is that on two, or at the very least, one of your non-running days you are supposed to train really hard on a bike, in the pool or on a rowing machine, giving your running muscles a break.

I tried it out but found I wasn’t as committed to riding a bike as I was to running. And swimming was out of the question. Last year, I finally purchased a road bike and spent the summer half running half biking, not really excited about either.

This year seems to be different. In training between the rain and snow of spring, I’ve found that riding a bike on the non-running days has really helped. I feel better and stronger, and it seems I have more endurance. Not only that, the occasional calf and hamstring pain I once had has all but disappeared.

Not being a doctor or any kind of expert in medicine, I can’t explain why I feel better, I just do. I assume spending three hours with your calves flexed on a bike pedal has to help. And although biking seems less strenuous, the endurance of cycling with an elevated heart rate for hours couldn’t hurt either.

But the most noticeable benefit, I’ve found, is the variety. There’s nothing like being able to participate in multiple sports and doing so with confidence.

After all, isn’t variety the sweet raspberry energy gel of life?

Brian Nicholson has completed marathons from Boston to Beijing, a host of Ragnar relays and has developed a keen taste for all things Gu.

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