Are Furman long run paces sensible?

A week ago I embarked on the quest to establish if the Furman program is likely to be a suitable preparation for my target half marathon in September, or alternatively, that I should adopt a program based on the Lydiard approach.  I have discovered a lot of interesting things about the Lydiard approach – both practical observations and also relevant evidence about physiology – and I will return to discuss Lydiard in future blog postings, but today I want to explore the feasibility of the Furman approach for me.

 

 

The Furman program is a high intensity, low volume program based on an interval session, a tempo session and a long run each week.  The thought of a weekly interval session and a weekly tempo session is not too worrying.  Two such sessions are typical of many moderate or high intensity programs.  However, the Furman session that most concerns me is the long run.  The Furman program emphasizes the importance of achieving the designed paces for all sessions.  In the 18 week half marathon program, the pace for the majority of the long runs is HMP + 12 seconds per Km or faster.   My target pace is 4:41 per Km, so HMP+12 sec/Km is 4:53 per Km.  I would regard that as a rather fast pace for a long run, especially if I am planning to do a high quality interval session or tempo session two days later. 

 

I would need to start the Furman in about two months time, so I decided that today I would try to establish just how much I would need to increase my aerobic capacity in order to be fit enough to do long runs at 4:53 per Km without undue stress.  In the past I would have regarded HMP+38 sec/Km (equivalent to HMP+ 1min per mile) as a suitable pace for a long run, so I set out to do a 16Km run at 5:19 per Km this morning.  Forty years ago that pace would have been an easy jog, but there is no point wasting emotional energy lamenting the ravages of the aging process.  For today’s purpose it would appear to be a reasonable pace for a long run.

 

Before setting out, I did my usual test of aerobic fitness on the elliptical cross trainer to establish whether or not my aerobic fitness has changed over the winter.  This test consists of consecutive 2 minute epochs with 7 step-wise increases in resistance at cadence 80 (i.e equivalent to 80 left steps and 80 right steps per minute) designed to span the aerobic range.  My heart rate at each resistance level was about 10 beats per minute lower than when I first did this test in November 2008.  The chart presented below shows the average of three tests performed in November and the average of three tests performed in February and March 2009.  It is clear that my aerobic fitness on the elliptical has improved.

 

In the 6 months since the Hardrock Challenge in  September, I have typically done 4 elliptical sessions and two running sessions per week.  The majority of the elliptical sessions have included at least 15-20 minutes in the upper aerobic zone, with occasional more energetic bursts taking me into the anaerobic zone (indicated by a marked increase in respiration to a rate greater than 60 breaths per minute).  The running sessions have been mainly runs of 8-15 Km in the lower or mid-aerobic zones.  Asthma prevented me from doing more than two or three of the interval sessions I had planned.  I also spent a half an hour each week doing body-weight resistance exercises focusing on core strength,  In the past week, I added in some trampoline sessions to prepare my leg muscles for a larger amount of eccentric work.  Thus, I set off on my 16 Km run today with the expectation that my aerobic fitness would be adequate to allow me sustain my intended pace for at least 10Km but unsure about how easily I could maintain that pace for 16 Km. I intended start at a pace around 5:30 per Km; gradually increase to the target pace; and then if I felt strong in the final few Km to increase to a somewhat faster pace.

Elliptical test of aerobic fitness: 3 test averages, Nov2008 & Mar 2009

Elliptical test of aerobic fitness: 3 test averages, Nov2008 & Mar 2009

 

 

 

 

As anticipated, the first few Km were easy.  The sun was shining, the hawthorn blossom was spectacular, and the emerging catkins on the riverside willows created an atmosphere of freshness.  My heart rate of around 118 BPM indicated that I was in the comfortable lower aerobic zone.  After a few Km I increased the pace to around 5:20 per Km and heart rate went up to around 122 BPM.  I was still feeling quite comfortable, though whenever I ascended a hill my heart rate ascended to the mid- aerobic zone and then returned to a slightly higher baseline, so over the middle stages of the run, my average heart rate crept slowly upwards.  When I increased pace a little more for the final 4 Km, my perceived effort level increased to about 5/10, where 10 would represent peak effort, and heart rate rose to around 128.  I finished with an average pace exactly on the target of 5:19 per Km, and a mean heart rate of 126.  In a HM race, I would expect to maintain a heart rate around 138-140, so clearly I can expect to maintain a much faster pace in a race.  However, there is little doubt that at my present level of fitness, the pace of 4:53 per Km recommended by Furman for the majority of the long runs would be far too stressful in a weekly program that also includes an interval session and a tempo run. 

 

It is too early to draw any definite conclusions.  However, it appears that the target long run paces specified by the Furman program are quite grueling, and unless I can enhance my aerobic base substantially in the next two months, I suspect that I will find the Furman program too stressful.  Nonetheless, I feel satisfied with the outcome of my elliptical sessions in the winter and am quite pleased with my run today.  I am confident that my target for the half marathon in September is achievable, though I might have to incorporate a greater amount of aerobic base building than the Furman program would recommend.

 

 

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6 Responses to “Are Furman long run paces sensible?”

  1. Ewen Says:

    Canute, those are good results from the aerobic test. Your 16k run went pretty well too – glad to hear Spring is on the way.

    Those long-run paces do sound very grueling. Is the 12 secs + per km for runners of all standards? It seems very hard, especially for slower runners. I can recall doing half marathon training runs in the 80s in 86-87 minutes, so that was about 12 secs slower than my race half marathons of 82ish. They were hard runs though, and I was almost 20 years younger.

    My last half marathon was 1:40, and the thought of doing 16k runs at 4:56/km sounds very difficult. I’d certainly have to find a flat course and have my mind on the job to do it. For me they’d be well and truly in the upper aerobic zone too.

    Looking forward to your thoughts on Lydiard.

    By the way, that was a good observation about my training for 6′. With the track racing and fewer aerobic miles, I do feel my aerobic condition and basic endurance has declined a little. That’s something I want to remedy!

  2. rick Says:

    HI Canute, I guess you could try the McMILLAN approach to long training runs alternating weeks of one week long slow run and on the other week running the second half of your run at h.m.p. this would give you more recovery time while still getting good quality at your training!
    Another way would be to make your long run into a progression run setting off well below h.m.p. but finishing faster!

  3. canute1 Says:

    Ewen,
    I think you are correct to assume that the Furman recommendation of HMP+12 sec/KM for the majority of the long runs is only sensible for runners whose target HM time is 82 min or less. Amby Burfoot’s article in Runners World reporting that a high proportion of runners achieved a marathon PB using the Furman program implies that the runners who took part were ordinary mortals. Among ordinary mortals one might to find a substantial proportion with HM times of 90 min or longer, so if you are right, the Furman tables appear to be misleading. It would be interesting to know if the ordinary runners who have done well with the Furman program achieved the target times recommended in the tables during training. At this stage I am beginning to think that the Furman program might only be sensible for runners who already have a very good aerobic base.

  4. Paul Says:

    Hi Canute (me again, just replied to your previous post too)

    I found the long run pace to be pretty hard too at first. That said, is your target pace based on a recent race effort as Furman suggests? Of course, if it is not, then it may be based on a “wish pace.”

    Again – with my sample of one – I had only a basic fitness base prior to starting the program. Maybe that worked out better as when my fitness improved the sessions became more manageable.

    Certainly (and you can get a sense of this in my blog posts), some of the earlier long runs seemed rather epic in difficulty. But achievable. You gotta have faith!

    Cheers again, PB

  5. canute1 Says:

    Paul, Thanks for your comment Well done in the Sri Chinmoy HM. I am encouraged to hear that the Furman program worked for you, though not without some grief along the way. I am prepared to be convinced that the Furman program works, but think it demands both determination and faith. Forty years ago, I trained mainly in the mid aerobic zone with a small amount of upper aerobic work, and that worked well for me, though I think that was because I had a fairly sound base developed by an extensive range of sporting activties since childhood. Even in my heyday I think that my training pace for longer runs was probably a bit less than Furman’s recommended pace. In my present state I find Furman long run paces (even based on a relatively modest HM goal) very tough. Maybe in a few months time I will try to step up my long(ish) run pace to the Furman level.
    Good luck with your marathon preparation.

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