Minimum weekly mileage for sub 3 marathon

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08/12/2011 at 11:27

I’ll put my cards on the table first, I don’t fully buy into the more is always better mileage view – train slow = race slow doesn’t it + why have the added injury risk? I also have a vague and (lofty) ambition to get close to a 3 hour marathon by the end of 2012. So with that in mind what’s the lowest weekly mileage anyone has run to get a sub 3hour marathon (or convince me why I have to run 100mpw to get there)?

As background I have a good base coming off a year of Half Iron Man training and 2 marathons this year, while for the early part of 2012 I am focussing more on speedwork as the 40min 10k barrier is teasing me. In reality from where I am now then I could realistically get up to 60-70mpw by the end of 2012 without injury.

08/12/2011 at 12:06
Glad you asked this Rob, i'm in a similar situation.I want to climb everest, and am hoping somebody can tell me whats the smallest amount of training i can do to achieve my goal and also the least amount of preparation/equipment i can get away with. I dont buy into this whole climb smaller mountains first crap, i mean practise on small mountains will only prepare you for small mountains.....i've already climbed several peaks up in the lakes, took me about 5 days each.i'll probably climb snowdon first as its been slapping me in the face for awhile,but i think i can get up to the himalaya's by next year if i can be bothered. Im sure my friends will be impressed, just not sure i like mountains.
Edited: 08/12/2011 at 12:13
08/12/2011 at 12:23

Back to the OP though - if you've already done 2 marathons and a half ironman this year you should have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn't.

It sounds to me like you are a long way off and maybe your training up to now hasn't been great. What did you run your marathons in ?

The mileage someone else can achieve sub3 in is really irrelevant - there are some talented runners who can do it on 20-30 miles a week but if you were in that category it sounds like you'd already have done it.
08/12/2011 at 12:34
I would build a base of 50 miles per week, with most runs, being at slow pace, it is all about getting the miles in
08/12/2011 at 13:27

Popsider – I’ve only done two marathons in my life! The first was 2 weeks after the Half Ironman, on a trail route in the middle of summer, 4:13:10, walking parts of it. The second was a road race, where my aim was to finish without walking - 3:44:15, first half 1:40:00, second half 2:04:00ish. PBs are 1:29:25 for the half and 40:03 for 10k. 15:07 for 4k. All off 30mpw max, with additional cross-training.

Obviously I need to improve and particularly the endurance side (the second marathon splits paint the picture at the moment). What I was hoping to get a view on was if it’s 50, 70, 90 or whatever that’s the consensus for getting sub 3 and therefore where I should aim to get to. (I’m going to switch almost entirely to running next year.) If it’s really high mileage then I will move targets and ambitions back.

Edited: 08/12/2011 at 13:46
08/12/2011 at 14:14

I was pretty close to sub-3 (3:04) with a max weekly mileage of 54, but I was well within 40 minutes for 10k at the time.  Over the course of a year and following the introduction of regular interval work + more base mileage, my second marathon training went up to 67mpw max (typically ~55-65 mpw over the final few weeks not including cut-back weeks) and got me 2:44. (10k time would've been down to 35-36mins by this time.)  There was very little else going on other than the odd spinning class, so it's not like I had an enormous amount of cross-training substituted for running although I did have a good base from previous cycling/gym etc.

If your PBs suggest that you are under-performing at the longer distances then there's not much substitute for big mileage IMO but I don't think 90 - 100 mpw is necessary.  In fact to get up to that sort of level you'd need to be looking at regular doubles, but as long as you're running 5/6 days a week and getting in the key sessions - LR, mid-week longish run, maybe one other quality (tempo/long intervals...) plus easy/recovery runs, this will likely take you into the realms of 55 - 70mpw.

Also FWIW I think you'd need to be getting the 10k time down to 37-38 mins, which in itself probably suggests more overall mileage.

08/12/2011 at 15:28

Thanks Phil – I know I’m off the mark in all respects at the moment and particularly the conversion to long runs. It’s an odd situation really as I have been running casually for years, but only competitively this year (when all the PB’s were set), and even then I haven’t focussed solely on running. That’s why I am comparatively poor on the marathon PB and not really sure where I’ll end up. The training you suggest is more or less what I was thinking of (didn't plan a mid week long run), but didn’t really know if the mileage was sensible (simply can’t see how/ why anybody would do 100 miles a week) and it is re-assuring that you don’t think doubles are needed so often, since that wouldn’t go down very well at home!

(I am softening/ converting to the big mileage view, given how often it comes up as the key).

Edited: 08/12/2011 at 15:35
08/12/2011 at 15:57
Rob – Slightly bizarre post given you question the benefit of increasing mileage then immediately go on to suggest that you are thinking of moving from a maximum of 30mpw to 60-70mpw over the next year! Anyway as you have acknowledged, doing more than 30mpw is almost certainly going to be necessary for you to break 3 hours given your current PBs. There is clearly a big drop off from you HM to FM time which is what you would expect from someone on limited mileage. Having said that I wouldn’t be recommending moving up to 60-70mpw over the next year. It’s too much of an increase too fast. Extending to 50mpw by the end of the year would be a more sensible and safer approach. As to your comments re 100mpw, I’ve never heard anyone say that kind of mileage is necessary for a sub 3. Though its generally acknowledged that this kind of mileage is needed for those at the pointy end. 
08/12/2011 at 16:11
Mr Viper - Again, thanks for comments - I was trying to say that at that point I had mixed views on the benefit of increased mileage (I was doing ok on the half and 10k), but if the consensus was you need to do it then theoretically I could move to 60-70pw. Given the responses now then I guess It's getting pretty clear I have it wrong and need to write more mileage into my plans, although note your caution about too much too soon.
08/12/2011 at 16:20

I probably should have emphasised the point that if I'd stuck with a maximum of 55 - 60mpw for my second marathon I'm pretty sure the cumulative benefit would have seen me through sub-3 comfortably.  (Not that I'm making excuses but the 3:04 was the warmest London marathon on record and I was pretty much there anyway.  Honest!)  My typical schedule for the first marathon looked a bit like this:

Mon - x-training (spinning class)
Tue - easy (max 5M)
Wed - longish run (max 12M)
Thu - easy (max 5M)
Fri - rest
Sat - tempo or MP run (max 10M)
Sun - LR (max 22M)

It may be you can manage something similar, or that you need to keep gradually adding more to get closer to 60M or beyond (e.g. an additional easy run instead of x-training or just more easy miles).  But I agree with Mr Viper about not increasing overall volume too soon.

08/12/2011 at 16:54

I was in a similar situation this time last year.  In 2010 I ran VLM in 3:04.xx off of an average of 31mpw and a maximum week of 39 miles.  I was running most of my runs between 6.40-7.30 pace with no proper speed/tempo sessions.

This time last year I was mentored as one of the RW Thread 6.  The first thing I was told was to do all "easy" runs at a pace around MP+60s or slower.  I found it incredibly difficult to adjust to the drop in pace.  However, with a bit of perserverance I managed it and it allowed me to increase my weekly mileage. 

In 2011 I managed an average of 51mpw and a maximum of 59miles and ran 2:58.34.   Running slower on the "easy" runs helped to improve my endurance as it meant I could run more miles.  Speed will come in the latter stages of training when you do the "proper" speedwork.

08/12/2011 at 17:00

Phil - That makes a lot of sense. I will use something like that after the 10k and see what happens. (I'll have about 10 months before the 'A' race marathon, so should be able to get to those volumes). Thanks.

09/12/2011 at 07:53
I've done this low mileage marathon thing myself. One year I managed a sub 3 off around 30/week but 6 months later beat that with a 2:46 averaging 18.5/week. I should add that I cycled 7 miles each way to work each day. The running was made up of one long run a week at 7:15 min mile pace and 2 speed sessions which was 5 x 3mins almost full out effort with 1 min recovery. I've also run over 100mpw but personally found that anything over 50mpw made no difference at all.
09/12/2011 at 08:07
Happy days Martin

Rob - Marathon running is about balance. There are times to run fast but you need that aerobic base and to get that the reality is you have to run slower to build the aerobic engine.

I could tell you I ran 2.51 off an average of 44 miles a week with a max of 58miles over a 12 week build up period but in the grand scheme of things it gives very little away. I will say that through my life I ran faster more often the more miles I did.

Mileage is an individual thing.
09/12/2011 at 09:22

what mileage were people doing before the 12 week build up though?

even with a cycling commute 2.44 off 18.5 miles per week seems unfeasible 

09/12/2011 at 10:28
CE - in my case during the year in question I averaged 52 miles a week if I calculate back to Jan 1st I was training for a longer event so spent a few months doing 60 - 80 miles a week April-May.

I was probably in better marathon shape at the end of May really and the 2.51 was almost what I had left from a better first 5 months of the year.

This is why I said the 12 weeks tells very little.

Even looking at the year doesn't give away much about natural ability or training for the year previously.
09/12/2011 at 11:55

I agree with Gobi, mileage is a personal thing, I have run sub 3 off 80-90 a week and just over off 110 a week and 50-60.  So I hope I have found a sweet spot for me.  For Rob, he needs to get the pace first as the 10k & half times really need to be 37 and 80mins respectively and the keys to that are speed and speed ensurance so reps and tempo runs.

 Most of all good luck and enjoy

09/12/2011 at 13:32

Some helpful comments in there, although not really one size fits all - thanks. I don’t think it will hurt to experiment with higher mileage and see what happens.

As a result, I think I’m actually going to drop the February 10k attempt now and get straight on the ‘Phil’ type training, targeting 10ks in late summer/ early autumn as speed tune ups for the marathon attempts. Probably gives a better chance of improving the 10k and marathon, although it requires patience – which I’m not always that good at!

09/12/2011 at 14:44
Runners World had a training program with less is more in the December issue that I read quite interesting it echos what has been said above............interesting article to check out. Hanson 70.
09/12/2011 at 17:42

For me 6 days of training has actually meant - 3 days running and 3 days cross training. The long "endurance" sessions have either been 6-8 hours on the bike (mainly road biking), 8-10 hour hill walking or fell runs of about 4-5 hours.

Last year I managed to wobble round London Marathon in a PB of 3:09:51 and my longest road run was a 10 miler. The is qualified by lots of longer trail / fell runs (longest being a 20 mile trail run).

I fully accept that to gain another 10 minutes is a big step and will require more road and more fast miles. 

Interesting thread this one !

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