Crossing the line at the end of the Great North run I felt elated, 10 mins later I was sick and feverish.

Any fitness I had in September disappeared over the next 5 weeks as I feebly battled a chest infection. Now that I’ve more or less cleared my chest and started venturing back onto the treadmill or out for a Grid Run I find myself struck down once again, this time by a bolt to the back of the knee. I can’t run without yelping and trying to do so has left me with a permanent limp.

This really does not bode well for my marathon training plans.

I haven’t been resting on my laurels though. While my body may well have been degenerating rapidly my mind has been busy researching training schedules and drawing up plans.

Hal Higdon has a series of well respected schedules available but they are relentless and require you to commit to 5 runs per week and a max weekly mileage of 44 for the intermediate program. At my pace that’s a lot of my life to spend running.

I accept that marathon training is supposed to be gruelling, the reward doesn’t come after a days pain but after 4 months of commitment and then a days pain but if there are alternatives I’m going to be tempted.

Fortunately there are alternatives and plenty of them.

One of my overriding requirements for this marathon is that I’ve got to get faster – not fast, but I don’t want to be running around that course after 7 hours. There is one schedule on the market that claims to increase the pace of anyone who sticks to the plan and that is FIRST from the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training. It seems that even Boston qualifiers have achieved PRs using the FIRST method of 3 runs per week, and if it can work for someone at the top of their game its bound to do something for me.

Their method is based on a 3+2 schedule called “Run Less, Run faster”, not to be mistaken with “Train Less, Run Faster” because although you only run 3 times a week you are supposed to take part in some fairly energetic cross training on 2 other days in the week.

The key to the success of the FIRST plan seems to be related to the nature of the 3 runs. Each one is very specific and targeted at improving a key element of your running fitness. Key Run 1 is a track repeat session, ideally suited to treadmill workouts, Key run 2 is a tempo workout and Key run 3 is the Long Run a familiar staple of any marathon plan. RunnersWorld has a useful article giving an overview of the approach and Fetcheveryone has a very active forum on the topic.

The Furman website has the marathon schedules available to download along with the target pace charts.

I’ve spent a few hours knocking up a spreadsheet that includes the FIRST Novice Marathon Plan and the FIRST Half Marathon plan along with all the recommended paces for runners achieving 5k times anywhere between 15 and 40 mins. The spreadsheet personalises the schedule so that you can select from the drop down box your latest 5k performance and see each workout broken down with your specific target paces. I’ve gone to quite a bit of effort with it because I wanted to be able to print off a clear schedule for use on the treadmill.

If you want to try it out yourself feel free to download it and test it out:

FIRST Personalised Marathon and Half Marathon Schedule for Excel – 97.

FIRST Personalised Marathon and Half Marathon Schedule for Excel – xlsx.

Now all I have to do is get over my knee problems and start running.