Interview with Scott Murr

Guest Blogger Thomas Denning

The San Francisco Marathon will be run this year on July 29th. Is that enough time for someone to start a training program?

The FIRST (Furman Institute of Running & Scientific Training) marathon training programs are 16 weeks long.  Beginning the program at the beginning of April will provide time to complete the training for the July 29th S.F. Marathon.  The FIRST marathon training program assumes that the runner is running at least 25 miles per week and can complete a long run of 15 miles.  The new edition of Run Less, Run Faster (available April 10th) also has a novice marathon training program, which has been used by runners we have trained with success, for runners who have weekly mileage of 15 miles and capable of a long run of 8 miles.  The month of March can be used by runners who don’t meet these criteria to increase their mileage so that they are prepared to being the programs in early April.

The race will have 35,000 runners this year. Like many big races there is a tendency for runners to start off too quickly. We all get caught up in the excitement and go out faster than we should. I personally use a Garmin 405 and monitor my pace so I don’t get caught up in running too fast. Other than monitoring your pace, how do you coach runners to keep the overall race in mind and not blaze out too quickly?

A marathon is a long run.  I suggest that runners use their long training runs to focus on their how their body really feels when starting out on those runs.  Strengthening that mind-body connection, really getting to know your body, is important for successful endurance performance.  Most runners entering a marathon tend to have a competitive nature and seeing your competitors run away from you those first few miles can be hard.  I like to call it “patient pacing.”  Focusing on your breathing and doing some body checks (thinking about leg turn-over and stride length) can help a runner keep from getting sucked into too fast of a pace at the start of a marathon.

In a marathon, going out too fast those early miles, even just a few seconds faster than goal pace, will come back and bite you in those later miles.  Going out even 1 to 2 seconds per mile too fast those initial miles will cost your 2 to 4 seconds per mile those final miles.  SO don’t do it!  Start off slightly slower than goal pace and ease into your target pace; you’ll finish much stronger.  You’ll be the passer rather than the passee!

For most runners, a marathon is three or more hours of running. What advice do you give to that 4 or 5 hour runner to help them make it to the finish line happy and still somewhat refreshed?

Most marathoners started running for good health and the camaraderie of the sport.  I think all runners would by well served be keeping that in mind.  Most of us don’t make our living by running so keeping our running in perspective is important.  Whether a Boston qualifying effort or focusing on getting to the finish line, enjoying your efforts, the scenery and the friendship of those around you is important.  And that is where I would suggest a marathoner direct their attention and focus.  I have met some great people and enjoyed our conversations in many of my marathons; it sure makes the miles go by faster.

You have new book coming out in April of this year that devotes a lot of space to marathon training. Talk about some of the changes from the first edition of Run Less, Run Faster to the new one.

The book is really a revised edition of RUN LESS, RUN FASTER.  The aim of our book is to help runners achieve a high level of fitness while also helping them accomplish their running goals.  The book provides specific workouts and specific paces based on a runner’s current level of their running fitness.  One aspect of the revised edition is expanded tables for runners of a greater range in fitness.  Now, runners of a wider range of paces can determine just what paces they need to complete the 3 key runs detailed in the book.
We have heard from thousands of runners and one of the favorite features of the book are the specific run workouts in the 3plus2 program.  A lot of runners follow the three key runs of the training program but unfortunately, many over-look the cross-training component of the training program.  We consider the cross-training a vital aspect of the training program.  For the revised edition, we offer specific cross-training workouts.  Just as the FIRST training program details the 3 Key Runs, the revised edition also provides specific cross-training workouts for each of the 16 week training programs.  Two cycling workouts, a rowing workout and a swim workout are now included for each week.  The 3plus2 program is now much more detailed.  We have found that runners tend to like the specific details of the workouts.

The revised edition of RUN LESS, RUN FASTER also has slightly expanded strength and flexibility training exercises.  Strength training and stretching are neglected by many runners; however, both are important for successful and prolonged endurance performance.  This is especially true for the aging runner.  I am 50 and am convinced that the strength training is helping me avoid injury and keeping me where I want to be – out running on the roads.  It is also keeping those younger runners in front of me worried about how close behind them I am!

Finally, since Boston has modified and adjusted their qualifying standards, the revised edition reflects those new standards and has Boston training programs for all 16 qualifying times.

I live in Colorado. It’s cold and snowy in February and March. Other geographies may deal with rain or heat. How can I adjust my training and still be ready to run SF in July?
Weather is always an issue for runners; heat, wind, humidity, rain, snow, etc.  Of course, the races we enter are held outside subjecting us to those conditions.  If and when possible, I think runners need to complete their runs outside and learn how their bodies respond to various conditions.  I also think this helps runners develop their mental focus.
However, I say this with the mindset that our GOOD health comes first.  I will run outside as long as I feel I can do so safely.  I do not run outside during thunder storms and when I cannot get solid footing on the ground (I don’t want to slip on ice and fall, get injured and miss running for the next 8 weeks).  Days like these, completing the run workout on a treadmill is perfectly acceptable.  We have heard from many runners from cold weather climates that complete many of their workouts on a treadmill.

Running in the heat can be risky as well.  I complete most of runs in the summer here in S.C. in hot and humid conditions.  I know that I simply cannot run at my target paces.    On the hot and humid days, I use perceived exertion to determine my run intensity.  I recognize as I head out the door for my run that I am going to run slower.  And I also plan in advance my fluid breaks.  Being smart is the key when it comes to running in heat.
Depending on when you are doing most of your race training, mixing outdoor running for acclimatization with indoor treadmill running for speed may be a good race preparation strategy.

Folks have the option of running other distances in San Francisco. I am running the half marathon this year. Can you talk about some differences in training between 26.2 and 13.1?

I think there are numerous differences between running a half marathon and running a marathon.  I think the biggest difference between running a half marathon and running a marathon is that running a half marathon is quite predictable.  Running a marathon is full of uncertainty.

Most runners standing at the start line of a half marathon have a pretty good idea of how long it is going to take them to cover the 13.1 miles.  While racing any distance is tough, running 13.1 miles is not as depleting as running a marathon.  In fact, in the FIRST half marathon training program, runners complete a 13 mile long run, a 14 mile long run and a 15 mile long run.  So not only do they know they can cover the distance, they have a sense of what running 13 miles actually feels like.

Because a marathon is so depleting, most marathon training programs, including the FIRST marathon training program, do not include 26 miles training runs (or even 24 mile long runs).  So a runner at the start line of a marathon probably hasn’t done a 26 mile training run.  While most runners have a goal finish time for their marathon, most are unsure whether or not they will be able to achieve their goal (that’s why we run the marathon, right?).  So running a marathon is not as predictable as running a marathon; there simply are more factors that influence marathon performance than half marathon performance.

There are running programs that focus on heart rate. Some focus on periodization. Others might emphasize miles and cross training. What makes Run Less, Run Faster so unique?
There are many good and effective training programs available for runners.  I think there are two aspects to the FIRST training program that make it unique.  Lead author Bill Pierce and I have been running consistently since the mid-70’s.  We are not elite runners, we are like the readers of RUN LESS, RUN FASTER.  We are guys with jobs and families who enjoy running, who want to be balanced, healthy and fit runners and who have running related goals.  We feel that the training programs in our book are realistic training programs that our readers can actually stick with and follow.  We follow the training programs in RUN LESS, RUN FASTER when we are preparing for a race.
We are fortunate that our profession has allowed us the opportunity to really investigate our interests; running.  The 3plus2 training program was very different than most training programs when our book was first published (2007) – there are now several training programs that look very similar to ours!  We were able to actually research the effectiveness of our ideas about training.  We conducted three training studies to investigate the FIRST philosophy and we discovered that runners actually can improve their running performance by running less.

I do not know what, if any, research is behind the other training programs but we have scientific evidence that supports the effectiveness of the FIRST 3plus2 program.  This doesn’t mean the FIRST training philosophy is better than other plans; it simply means, this one works.  I think this is one of the unique aspects behind RUN LESS, RUN FASTER that many runners like.

Scott Murr is a member of the faculty at Furman University (B.A., M.S. and Ed.D. in Exercise Science), teaches in Health Sciences Department and is one of the Directors of FIRST (Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training).  Scott is a competitive endurance athlete who has competed in numerous marathons, duathlons, and triathlons.  As a triathlete, Scott is a twelve-time Ironman Triathlon finisher with 6 of those being in Kailua-Kona, Hawai’i.  As a duathlete, Scott has competed in Powerman Zofingen (Powerman Zofingen is to duathletes what the Ironman Hawaii is for triathletes. The goal of every duathlete is to compete in the city of Thut (Zofingen) at least once in their life to run 10km (6.21mi), cycle 150km (93.21mi), and run another 30km (18.64mi)).  As a runner, Scott is a co-author of Run Less, Run Faster (one of Rodale’s best selling running books).  He did his first marathon in 1982 and has run 30 marathons.  Although his marathon PR is 2:48, that was 15 years ago; these days he is working hard to run a 3:15 marathon.

The website for FIRST is:


The book RUN LESS, RUN FASTER is available at most bookstores and can be ordered online from at:


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