Three Day Per Week Marathon Training Plan

After the birth of my third child, I realized my previous marathon training plan would no longer be possible. We simply had too much going on to spare that kind of time for running.

I decided that all hope was not lost though, I would change my plan and see if I could get more efficient and take another shot at running a 2:37 marathon.

Here is how I adjusted my previous plan (If you haven’t read that yet – you might want to start there: here is the link)

Things That Stayed The Same

Season Schedule

My season would progress the same way it always had – see the previous plan for details.

I want to note however this is one piece I have fully tested since I only implemented this plan for the eight weeks of September and October, between when my daughter was born & the NYC Marathon. I started those eight weeks in pretty good shape, having run a 2:42 marathon in July and maintaining about 40 miles per week after that.

The one thing I am concerned about if I try this for a full season is building up to mileage on three days a week. The typical advise is to add one mile per week per run you do – so a five day week could add five miles per week during the build stage. Running three days a week would mean that building to 50 or 80 miles would take a really long time if you were only adding 3 per week. I’m hesitant to go faster than that though for fear of injury.

Variance In Pace

This stayed the same, I tried to span a wide range of paces across my days, hitting easy running as a warm up & cool down, marathon pace on a few days and some fasters bits on speed days.

6:00 Pace

I continued to emphasize target marathon race pace. One of my strategies was to build up the number of miles I could run at that pace until I could comfortably hit 15 in a single workout. The idea is that if you can do that mid-week, once you taper, doing 26.2 should be possible.

Rest A Lot

I continued to emphasize rest and active recovery on days where I was not running, there were just more of those since I was running fewer days per week.

I also continued my plan to take every 4th week as a 50% week.

Things That Changed

Weekly Template

This was my area of biggest change. I went from running about 5-6 days per week to two.

During the weeks of the season, each followed a general workout template – though the total distance, speed & quality volume of each day was determined by where in the season that week fell.

The template is 1 long quality run of around 18-22 miles and 2 medium quality runs of around 10-15 miles. I would do no training on the other days but as much physical activity as normal life could allow for, which included bike commuting, walking to the park with my kids, etc. Note that even though that is only three days of running, I was still able to hit 50 mile weeks due to the high volume.

The quality long runs were the same as what I had run before. Instead of going out to do 20 miles slow, my long run would consist of some miles at or close to marathon pace. This was designed to train my body to work at a high intensity, even when exhausted. Some examples include:

  • 120 mins w/ last 4 @ Marathon Pace
  • 130 mins w/ last 20 min progression (MP down to 10k pace)
  • 22 miles @ 45 seconds per mile slower than goal MP
  • 21 miles: 3 warm up, 15 @ MP, 3 cool down

For those medium quality days I had two different types, marathon race pace & speed. Both days my goal was to go run a few miles to deplete my glycogen stores and then complete a workout. Total miles for those days was in the 10-15 range.

For race pace days my run might look like:

  • 6 easy, 6 at marathon pace, 1 mile cool down
  • 3 easy, 8 at marathon pace, 1 mile cool down

For speed examples, my run might look like:

  • 6 easy, 10 x 800 @ 5k w/ equal jogging rest, 1 mile cool down
  • 5 easy, 90 seconds 5k effort/90 sec jog x 10, 1 mile cool down
  • 6 easy,  8 x 1k @ 10k with 1 minute rest, 2 mile cool down

Run As Much As Possible

I explicitly removed this from my training plan when I dropped to three days a week. My goal was to run less in order for it to be less time intensive.

To some degree I increased the miles per day, because running a few extra miles on days I am running actually takes less time than what I am saving from not running on other days. Every run comes with overhead for getting dressed, stretching, showering, etc., so you can actually run 50 miles in 3 runs in less time out of your calendar than you could run 50 miles in 5 runs.

I knew I couldn’t hit big miles though, that just requires running a lot of days and even doubling – neither of which I was going to be doing.

To state it really clearly, my goal with this training plan was to get 90% of the benefit of my previous training plan with ~60% of the time investment.

Go Long

I continued to emphasize the long and medium long runs as great ways to get my body used to running depleted. I failed in execution this time to run >20 more than once, but the plan called for more.

What I do what to mention is that previously my plan included ~30% of days being >10 miles. This new plan with reduced days and extra miles per day meant that during peak season, 100% of my runs were >10 miles.

Key Learnings and Next Steps

It is going to be really hard for me to judge the results of this plan based on the results I have. I only used it for one solid three week block and the race I ran after it had a lot of caveats. I did manage to put up a 3:11:37 though (with a 1:27:31 half) – not bad for three days a week of running in the two months leading up to the race.

What I can judge is how running three days affected my life. I felt like I had so much free time – I would do my long run Sunday afternoons and the other two runs at night, mid-week. That meant that I had five nights a week with no running, where I could focus on getting things done at home, let my wife have the night off or spend time with her.

It felt so relaxing as opposed to the stress of having to get a run nearly every day. At one point my wife even commented that I wasn’t running enough and should go do some more – that is a huge metric of success. Perhaps some of it was due to us just being used to five days a week of running, and this being a delta, but that didn’t feel like all of it. Something about three days a week just feels normal and sustainable. My wife goes to the gym about the same amount so my hobby became much more like her fitness routine and less like a giant challenge. That is important to being able to do it long term.

What I would like to do is continue to use this training plan in 2017 and see how I perform at Boston Marathon and a few other races I’m signed up for. My goal is to be 90% of the runner I was last summer with 60% of the training time. I’ll report back in a few months.

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