A Better Way to Marathon Train – Run less.  Yes, you read correctly.  I am here to tell you that it is possible, and actually better for you, to train for a marathon by running just three days a week.  This may seem unconventional and downright crazy to most marathoners, however, studies have proven that running fewer days per week and adding cross training not only makes you a more fit individual but reduces the likelihood of overuse injuries. Does that mean it’s going to be easy?  No.  You still need to put in the weeks’ worth of training, speedwork, tempo runs and the grueling long run.  But what is better is that there will be more rest between running which will limit overuse injuries and burnout.

The most common marathon training plans have you running five to six days per week, up to 60-100 miles per week depending on your goal.  That’s a lot of running.  An intense three-day program along with focused cross-training is enough to maintain your running fitness; increasing your overall training intensity without increasing your injury risk.

I have found that incorporating cycling into my training has not only helped maintain my running but has improved it substantially. Adding cycling to my training this past year I was able to set PR’s in every road race I entered and increase my pace during speedwork exercises.  I was able to maintain my tempo runs easier and most importantly, by only running three day a week I didn’t get bored, burned-out or injured.  Cycling is a great compliment to running, working different muscle groups and allowing you to go out and run hard the next day.

Here is what my training schedule looks like for my next marathon:

Week

Monday

Tuesday
Speed

Wednesday

Thursday
Tempo

Friday

Saturday Long

Sunday

1

REST

4.25 miles total 6x400m

Bike 40 mins w/  4 x 30-sec sprints

3 miles

Bike 40 mins moderate

6 miles

Bike 20 miles

2

REST

5 miles total 4x800m

Bike 40 mins w/ 6 x 30-sec sprints

5 miles

Bike 40 mins + 5 mins hard

8 miles

Bike 25 miles

3

REST

6 miles total 4x1200m

Bike 40 mins w/ 8 x 30-sec sprints

7 miles

Bike 40 mins + 8 mins hard

10 miles

Bike 30 miles

4

REST (Recovery)

5 miles total 2x1600m

Bike 40 mins w/ 6 x 30-sec sprints

3 miles

Bike 40 mins + 5 mins  hard

12 miles

Bike 25 miles

5

REST

6 miles total 10x400m

Bike 45 mins w/ 8 x 60 sec sprints

5 miles

Bike 40 mins + 8 mins hard

14 miles

Bike 35 miles

6

REST

 7 miles total 5x1200m

Bike 45 mins w/ 6x 2 min sprints

5 miles

Bike 40 mins + 10 mins hard

15 miles

Bike 40 miles

7

REST

7 miles total 7x800m

Bike 45 mins w/ 4 x 3 min sprints

8 miles

Bike 40 mins + 10 mins hard

17 miles

Bike 45 miles

8

REST (Recovery)

6.5 miles total 3x1600m

Bike 40 mins w/ 6 x 1 min sprints

10 miles

Bike 40 mins + 8 mins hard

13 miles

Bike 35 miles

9

REST

7 miles total 6x600m

Bike 50 mins w/ 6 x 2 min sprints

3 miles

Bike 40 mins + 10 mins hard

18 miles

Bike 50 miles

10

REST

8 miles total 8x800m

Bike 50 mins w/ 5 x 3 min sprits

5 miles

Bike 40 mins + 12 mins hard

15 miles

Bike 50 miles

11

REST

7 miles total 5x1200m

Bike 55 mins w/ 4 x 4 min sprints

8 miles

Bike 40 mins + 10 mins hard

20 miles

Bike 50 miles

12

REST (Recovery)

2 mi easy/1 mi 5k pace/2 mi easy

Bike 45 mins w/ 5 x 2 min sprints

5 miles

Bike 40 mins + 8 mins hard

15 miles

Bike 45 miles

13

REST

8 miles total 6x1200m

Bike 20 mins  easy/hard/easy

5 miles

Bike 45 mins w/ 5 x 2 min sprints

20 miles

Bike 50 miles

14

REST

7 miles total 7x800m

Bike 20 easy, 25 hard, 15 easy

4 miles

Bike 45 mins w/ 4 x 3 min sprints

15 miles

Bike 45 miles

15

REST

6.5 miles total 3x1600m

Bike 15 easy, 30 hard, 15 easy

8 miles

Bike 45 mins w/ 8 x 1 min sprints

10 miles

Bike 40 miles + 10 miles hard

16

REST

30 min easy w 5x60s

Bike 10 easy, 10 hard, 10 easy

20 min easy w 3 or 4 pickups

Bike 45 mins w/ 5 x 30 sec sprints

TRAVEL

MARATHON!

Speedwork = 1 mile warm-up and 1 mile cool-down + main set + recovery
How fast to run each set:

  • Main Set – 400 meter repeats = 5k race pace – 25 seconds or 10k race pace – 55 seconds (yes, this is suppose to hurt!)
  • Main Set – 600-800 meter repeats = 5k race pace – 15 seconds or 10k race pace – 45 seconds (this doesn’t feel much better!)
  • Main Set – 1200 meter repeats = 5k race pace – 10 seconds or 10k race pace – 40 seconds (don’t start out too fast – maintain pace for 3 laps!)
  • Main Set – 1600 meter repeats = 5k race pace – 5 seconds or 10k race pace – 35 seconds (you ran a 5k just 5 seconds slower, you get to take a rest after just one mile here – you can do this!)

How far or long for recovery in between each set:

  • 400 meter main = 200 recover
  • 600-800 meter main = 400 recover
  • 1200 meter main = 400 recovery
  • 1600 meter main = 800 recovery

Tempo Run

  • 3-4 miles = 5k race pace + 30 seconds or 10k race pace
  • 5-7 miles = 5k race pace + 45 seconds or 10k race pace + 15 seconds
  • 8-10 miles = 5k race pace + 60 seconds or 10k race pace + 30 seconds

Long Run

  • 10k race pace + 60-75 seconds

Long Bike

  • Easy/Moderate effort

Again, this training program is specific to my goals and from experience is a better way to marathon train.  I would love to read your thoughts, idea’s and any unconventional ways that have worked for you or that you are currently trying.  Please comment below!