Reader to Reader: Train less, run faster?


Reducing your level of training to improve your race times might seem counter-intuitive but research exists to suggest that in fact, less can sometimes be more. This week’s reader is keen to put this theory into practice - can you help him strike the right balance between session-frequency and session-intensity?

"I ran this year’s FLM in 3:08, having averaged 60 miles per week (six runs/wk) over a five-month training period. I’d like to experiment with different training regimes and am particularly keen to hear from anyone who has run close to or under three hours for the marathon on three runs a week. What level of success have people had with this type of 'minimalist' approach to training? "it's time for a change

Your best answers

  • Work hard, rest hard
    I did 3:10 on three to four quality sessions per week, plus the odd recovery run, not quite three hours on three sessions but I was probably only averaging 40 miles per week. In theory increased rest means you should be more able to work harder (or more effectively) in your three sessions, so you should get more out of it. – Slowboy
  • Cross-train to boost your overall fitness
    I did 2:59 last autumn and again at FLM this year on four sessions a week - so not quite down to three. Basically, I never went over 45 miles in a week and did two quality sessions, a long session and a tempo session. I did do one or two alternatives as well though, like a swim or gym session for core strength. – Dad of Two
  • Build up your mileage as early as possible
    On a slower scale than the times quoted, I did a 22-minute PB at the Lochaber Marathon finishing in 4:28. When I looked back at my training log I was surprised to see that my January to March total mileages were 78, 76 and 77 miles (less than 18 miles per week). I did no more than three runs a week and maybe a three-hour bike session every fortnight or so, but I did start to do longer runs earlier on in the schedule. – fat face

  • Prioritise long runs to make sure you last the distance
    For the 20 weeks before my first marathon (Amsterdam 2006), I averaged three runs per week and a total weekly mileage of about 25 miles. I did the marathon in 2:57. A typical running week for me at that time involved one track session, one hilly run and one long run. In addition I typically swam one or two times a week and cycled one or two times a week. I did suffer in the marathon and found the last quarter very tough. I didn’t have enough decent long runs in the bank and I'm pretty sure my relatively low mileage didn’t do me any favours either. – MTriton
  • Be realistic about your training timescale
    I train with someone who averages well under three times per week, though due to injury rather than choice. Earlier this year he managed a 31:50 10K, but I'd imagine he currently lacks the endurance to convert it to a super-quick marathon. I needed to step up to five or six times per week to break three hours, then daily training to break 2:45, although perhaps I'd have got there anyway on three times per week, just at a slower rate of improvement? – JamesEarlJones
  • Learn about your lactate threshold
    A long time ago, I ran a 2:50 marathon off three or four runs a week (I guess I was probably averaging 25 miles a week), and then one 20-mile run the week before. I was never very scientific about it, I just ran hard a couple of times a week and made sure that I was carrying as little weight as possible (very important, I tend to think - though obviously there is a point at which one begins to lose muscle). I think I managed the marathon because I'd got relatively quick at 10K on this regime (sub-34:00), so probably wasn't building up much lactic acid at marathon pace and was able to keep going. – themoabird
  • Strengthen your muscles
    All my jealous running friends know me as an absolute minimalist trainer. I ran lifetime PBs last year at both marathon and half-marathon distance, and was only a minute outside my 10K PB of 10 years. The majority of it came from a job change that had me lumping heavy cartons (up to 53kg) in and out of a van, and up flights of stairs. I worked long hours and ate little, so I lost about 3kg. I usually only managed to run once or maybe twice a week, but my legs and upper body became solid muscle. – Ged56
  • Approach every session as a mental challenge
    Your plan is not too dissimilar to that I used to successfully crack three hours for the marathon (three runs a week and cross-training). The key for me was making the cross-training sessions harsh in their intensity - building to around one-and-a-half to two hours (effectively simulating a long run). The sessions will be boring and extremely tough - when I have put in sessions of over two hours on the trainer, they have been harder mentally than running a marathon. But I have turned this into a positive in that, when it comes to running (or racing) long distances, they seem an awful lot easier running than when I was on the trainer. I see all my gym sessions now as mental tougheners as well as good for the body. – GoKL

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