Can you REALLY train for a marathon on 3 runs a week?

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08/10/2013 at 10:55

Hello fellow forumites,

I have just completed Chester Marathon, for which I trained 4 x a week. The training went well and I got round in 4:27. 

I have now entered the Manchester Marathon for next April and I am considering using Furman's FIRST marathon training plan as I like the idea of training 3 days a week, it will fit in better with family life. 

Does anyone have any success stories/horror stories about this plan? It does seem pretty gruelling! 



08/10/2013 at 11:01
It does say include 2 x cross training sessions per week so you are in effect still training 5 days a week.
Cheerful Dave    pirate
08/10/2013 at 11:03

I don't know about that plan but you can certainly get round a marathon on three runs a week.  You might not be quicker than your first marathon but if you're not worried about that and the plan fits in with life then there's no problem.

08/10/2013 at 11:04

I'm not sure if this is the plan for you as it does specify that it's to make runners that are already pretty quick go even faster. Unless knocking an hour off your PB really is your goal.

But yes, it is possible to run a marathon on 3 runs a week on a less gruelling plan. 


08/10/2013 at 11:10

I think it depends on your goals, and what the three running sessions in the week are.

Certainly if you look at something like the P&D Advanced marathon trainign schedules they are effectively three sessions per week with an additional two recovery runs. If you like, you're effectively replacing the recovery runs with cross training / cycling, swimming, etc. I'm sure you could argue all day long about the relative importance of recovery runs versus other non-running cross training sessions, but my intuition tells me the difference over a 16 week period would be marginal, assuming you get the most out of the 3 sessions and don't skip the cross training.

If it works for you, then do it.

08/10/2013 at 14:02

100% yes you can run a marathon on 3 sessions a week. Never done it mind. Ran my best on 4 a week.

08/10/2013 at 14:05

Every run 'counts' on this system.  Instead of easy runs, you do cross training.  The plan would still work if all you did was 3 runs per week.  Unless you thrive on mega miles, chances are this will work well for you.

09/10/2013 at 13:14

Porky, I followed this  plan this year so will give you my insights into it:-

Can you run a marathon on 3 x runs a week? Yes, I ran VLM in 4.07 and then Edinburgh 4 weeks later in 3.58 (that's another story). Previous PB was 4.27....

Is it easy to follow? No, it becomes very boring and rigid as you miss the easy recovery runs to just "do as you like", without trying to follow the pace it sets - imo!  

Why do it then? I had previously suffered a fractured bone in my foot so didn't want to be running constantly and putting additional stress on the bone so I could run the Marathon. Also, work / family etc etc....

Would I do it again? No, I really felt it took the "enjoyment" out of running and half way through I felt the runs were all becoming a chore?

Downsides? As above. Also I missed a couple of weeks through colds / travelling etc and felt it more difficult to get back into! It is also too easy to change your "rest / Xtraining" days into "rest" days.

Upsides? I ran a half Marathon very comfortably about 1/2 way through the plan so would potentially do it for next half, once I have achieved Marathon time goal....

Additional comments? If you follow it - stick to your pacing on Marathon day - I set off far too fast at VLM and blew up badly. Was a bit more conservative at Edinburgh and got the sub 4 I wanted but still went too fast and suffered again in last few miles - but you know that anyway, one day I will learn!!

Hope that helps you and good luck  



09/10/2013 at 22:58

in short yes

10/10/2013 at 20:17

I agree with Miggito, I did it for Edinburgh a few years ago and ran 3hrs 48mins, but every run session is hard and pushes you, so the long runs lose their enjoyment and you miss the enjoyment and ease of the recovery runs, having to push hard on the cross training. I adopted it as I was struggling with injuries at the time, so 3 runs a week let my body recover and it did get results but you lose some of the pleasure of running.

10/10/2013 at 22:25

Yes my.asics.co.uk that's your plan sorted. 

my first two marathons were in 3 days a week. 

11/10/2013 at 11:09

I considered this plan but after asking similar questions on this forum, and also reading other related threads, decided that it didn't sound much fun. Sometimes a nice easy mid length run reminds you why you run in the first place. But - as others have said, it can be done.

11/10/2013 at 11:54

I started out using this plan for my f.i.r.s.t. marathons but had  a bit of trouble keeping to the programme . I've now taken out one of the sessions and replaced it with a brisk two hour walk.   


11/10/2013 at 12:10

I trialled a couple of weeks of this. Firstly, get in your head from the beginning that it is 5 sessions per week. The 2 cross training sessions are not optional. So does 5 sessions fit with your lifestyle is the question?

Try out the sessions - all 3 are intense workouts, heavily structured. I struggled with the pacing on the intervals as my speed work is out of balance with endurance on all the calculators. That would mean either failing to hit the targets every week, or concocting my own paces. As 15W says, some of the more enjoyable runs can be those easy paced runs - they don't exist in FIRST.

It just wasn't for me and I preferred to put my own plan together.

11/10/2013 at 12:27

I know what you are talking about Also-ran but don't think this is it. The three runs and two cross training is in the RW book "Run Less, Run Faster". Makes a lot of sense for runners who are becoming less able to handle 5 or 6 runs a week. 

This plan is just a straight 3 runs.

11/10/2013 at 13:17

If we are talking about FIRST, then "Run Less, Run Faster" is the same, except they have revised the 2006 plan that is linked to by the OP. It is a Runners World/Rodale publication authored by 3 guys from the Firman institute.  The book would have the cross training as part of the plan. The 2006 web article is very bit wet as it says "encouraged to cross train on two further days"

When I looked at it , I couldn't quite see where gerneral aerobic development would come unless you did the cross training days.

If I was going to do this I would used the revised 2012 publication.

11/10/2013 at 23:08

Don't know about that plan particularly, but I have just trained on three days a week for this years kielder marathon, which was my first. I got round and would happily follow my schedule again. I can't even entertain the usual plans of 4, 5 days a wk as I do a very physical job every day and it's too much. I don't do any cross training, as I say I do a very physical job. I also have two children ( one who has complex needs ) and my hubby works very odd shifts. Three days a week for me works brilliantly, I'd use my plan again to train for further races. I thoroughly enjoyed the mix of interval sessions in the week with long runs on a weekend. Hope this helps. 

12/10/2013 at 06:24

I'm a believer in the 3 runs a week approach... Helped to to break 3hrs in NY back in 2011. It basically just cuts out the junk miles and keeps to quality over quantity.

12/10/2013 at 23:15

I followed their half marathon plan back in the spring and am thinking of using their full marathon plan next year. It can be a bit rigid as another poster mentions but I generally enjoyed it and felt I improved as a runner by following it. This feeling was supported by significant PBs (for me) in both the half I was training for and a 10k race the following month. Whether it'll be as effective for a marathon I really don't know.

The three scheduled runs are indeed all intense workouts but I really enjoyed both the tempos and long runs. The intervals were hard going (as I guess they should be) and I had to miss two of these sessions due to the legs being very stiff and just did slow recovery runs in thier place. Some weeks I also converted one of the cross-training sessions into a slow 6 to 8k run and will probably do something similar if I decide to follow their marathon plan. One of the things I like about the plan is that the training paces are based on recent race times rather than the time you want to acheive in your target race.

14/10/2013 at 19:26

I have followed sort of an adjusted version of the First beginners program for my five marathons with good results. I just added one extra 30 km (18-19 miles) run to the program. Often I even just did two runs a week and let key run # 1 out. Instead I did boxing two times a week.

For my next marathon, Rome in March 2014, I am thinking about following the full program. But I have also get hold of the Shades marathon program which seems a bit less demanding than First. I shall compare them soon and maybe I mix them and make up my own three days a week program.

If you want to find out about Shades there is a long thread in the Training forum. PM the user "Shades" to get the program.


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