I recently read Runner’s World Train Smart Run Forever by Bill Pierce and Scott Murr and would like to share some of my thoughts here. I’ve been a follower of the authors’ training program for several years and this is basically an update with some more details. Pierce and Murr established the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training (FIRST) many years ago and that has grown and evolved over the years.
FIRST began as four free lectures a month to help local runners with their training and running that has expanded to include laboratory assessments, gait assessment, nutritional advice, and much more. It’s not uncommon for there to be a waitlist for FIRST retreats. Laboratory fees range from $45 for body composition measurement to $425 for a combination consisting of VO2 MAX / Lactate Threshold / Gait measurements. A 3-day nutritional assessment seems like a bargain for $50. The May 18-21 2017 retreat (which was sold out months in advance) was $1500 and included all activities, assessments, etc. except lodging. All of the information can be found on this website. There are also many different coaching options from individual coaching to group clinics and team coaching.
Now to the book. As I said, I was already familiar with the FIRST running philosophy, which is geared more toward runners in their forties and older. The basic idea is to run less but work harder and add cross-training, resistance training, and stretching. If you follow their plan, you will be working out for a cumulative of 7 hours a week. This includes 3 days of running, 3 days of cross-training, and 3 days of strength training (some days include both cross-training and strength training). You stretch for 10 minutes every day except one where you stretch for 15 minutes following the long run. Every day you are doing some form of exercise, with a minimum of 25 minutes on a day you strength train 15 minutes and stretch 10 minutes. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is an easy workout plan just because you’re only running 3 days a week.
You may be saying, well this wouldn’t be enough for marathon training, and you would be right. The authors state this is a good base for beginning a marathon training plan. It also could be altered by adding longer runs. However, for my purposes, it works great for training for half marathons. It would also work well for shorter distances but I feel it’s perfect for half marathons and the only alteration I need to do is lengthen the long runs.
One notable thing about this training plan you notice right away is there are no distances listed. You run for time, not distance. There is also the FIRST Exertion Scale (FES), which goes from 1, “very easy and relaxed” to 10, “very, very hard; maximal effort.” Your run workouts are based on the FES for a certain amount of time. For example, one of the long run workouts is to begin running comfortably, progressing from a 1 to 3 on the FES scale for 10 minutes then continue the run at FES of 4 for 80 minutes. If I was a really fast runner, I could run for 11 miles pretty easily with this workout, but I’m not that fast so I alter the run workouts to make sure I’m getting in the miles to prepare me for an upcoming half marathon. I think a big part of preparing for a half marathon is mentally preparing yourself to run for 13.1 miles, so I like to go up to 12 or 13 miles for my longest run before a race. If I’m only running for 90 minutes, there’s no way I’m going to run 12 or 13 miles in that time.
I’m skipping ahead, though. The book begins with a lot of background and introductory information. Things start to even get a bit bleak when they go into all of the statistics on “aging runners.” Believe me when I say they don’t sugar-coat anything in this book. They lay it all out there and have many numbers to back it all up. Like it or not, every single one of us will experience the following: reduced lean muscle mass, reduced bone mineral density, increased body fat, reduced cardiac output, reduced metabolic rate, and hormonal changes. Yay! All of this of course impacts your running and other physical activity performance.
But there is hope as long as you are realistic and don’t expect your race times to always keep improving forever. There are also many things you can do such as stretching more, doing weight training, and cross-training. You can also look at your age-graded performance over time. There are many websites to calculate age-graded race times for all distances.
There is a chapter devoted entirely to the marathon and another chapter titled, “Is long-distance running healthy?” that addresses the numerous benefits of cardiorespiratory fitness and of running specifically. Spoiler alert- runners have lower “all-cause and cardiovascular death rates.” Moving on, there is a chapter full of Q & A that they have been asked over the years. There’s a section that discusses the pros and cons of running alone versus with others.
In the chapter on nutrition, I found an interesting idea that I’m still testing. The author states drinking an 8-ounce can of a meal supplement such as Ensure or Boost with 220 calories and 32 grams of carbohydrates before a race. The morning of a half marathon I usually have a nervous stomach so the idea of just drinking my breakfast before a race is appealing to me. I don’t want to have to mix powders or anything else. I already do that with my Nuun tablets, which I always run with. I’ve been experimenting with Boost before my last couple of long runs and so far I think it will work for me.
I also enjoyed and appreciated the chapter called “Don’t forget why you are doing this,” where the authors talk about the joy of running. I think it’s important to not take running and racing too seriously and just have fun; otherwise, what’s the point?
Now to the real meat of the book:
This is where they really get into the details of the 7-hour workout week. There are detailed workouts for every day of the week, with numerous options to choose from, so you’re not just doing the same exact workouts week after week. There are images and descriptions for all of the stretches, both dynamic stretches before you run, and stretches for after you run. There are also descriptions and images for all of the strength (resistance) exercises. In fact, there is an entire chapter devoted just to strength training and another chapter just on stretching. To finish the book, there is an Afterword and several Appendices.
What did I think of the book? I thought it was extremely in-depth, descriptive, and helpful. As I said earlier, I was already familiar with the authors and their FIRST training plans. I’ve been a believer in running less but running harder and incorporating strength, resistance, and cross-training for several years now. I know everyone is different but for me, if I run more than 3-4 days a week and/or longer distances, my body starts to break down in the form of injuries or illness. I’m no longer in my 30’s and I was not blessed with a body built for running 30+ miles a week. If I want to continue running well into old-age, I know I need to follow the philosophy proposed in this book. The authors state in the Afterword, “The 7-Hour Workout Week works for us.” Quite simply, the 7-Hour Workout Week also works for me.
You can buy the book on Amazon here.