Marathon Training Program With Only Three Runs a Week

Train Less, Run Faster

Achieve your marathon goal with only 3 running sessions per week – a speed workout, a tempo run, and a long run – plus 2 cross training sessions.

This marathon training program appears to defy conventional wisdom because it tells runners they’ll get faster on fewer workouts.

The training program was developed by the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training (FIRST) and was featured in the August 2005 issue of Runner’s World magazine. The program has been tried with real runners (average joes – not pros) who followed the program and got results.

To read more about the background to the FIRST marathon training program click here

To go straight to the “Three Runs a Week” marathon training programs please click on the following links:
Novice Program
Experienced Marathoner’s Program
Half Marathon Program
To go back to our traditional marathon training program with 5 – 6 runs per week please click here

Anyone can adapt and use the FIRST program’s basic principles and the 16 week training plan of 3 running and 2 cross-training workouts a week by following the eight rules below.

1. Run Efficiently, Run For Life

A 3 day running week will make running easier and more accessible to many potential runners and marathoners. It will also limit overtraining and burnout. With several days of cross-training it should cut your injury risk substantially. This may lead to faster race times. It is also a program that many time-stressed people can follow healthfully for years. A key objective of the program is to help runners develop and maintain lifelong participation in running. Secondly, to help runners achieve as much as possible on minimum run training.

2. Run Three Times a Week…and No More

This is the crux of the entire program; runners doing only three running workouts a week. This decreases the overall time commitment of the program and risk of injuries – important considerations to many runners. Each of the three running workouts has a specific goal, which is something few runners have considered. Most runners have no idea what they are hoping to accomplish on a given run. The three workouts – a speed workout, a tempo run, and a long run – are designed to improve leg speed, lactate-threshhold running pace and endurance.

3. Build Your Long Run to 20 Miles

The FIRST marathon traing program builds up to two 20 mile workouts, the second one takin place three weeks before your marathon race date. But covering 20 miles is the easy part of the FIRST program. The harder part is the pace – 60 to 75 seconds slower than your 10K race pace. Many other marathon training programs allow you to run slower than this, by as much as 30 to 40 seconds per mile. The long runs in the FIRST program will not allow you to admire the scenery as much, but they aren’t painful either. They just push you a little beyond your comfort zone. If you’re going to race a marathon you have to do some hard long runs to get the toughness and focus that you’ll need on race day.

4. Run Three Different Kinds of Tempo Runs

The tempo run has been the mainstay of many training programs, but the FIRST program carries the concept a little farther than most, adding more variety and nuance. Under the FIRST program runners do three different kinds of tempo runs – short tempos (three to four miles), mid tempos (five to seven miles) and long tempos (eight to ten miles). Each of these is run at a different pace. The long tempo run is particularly helpful as you’re basically running at your marathon goal pace, so you’re getting maximum specificity of training, and you’re improving your efficiency at the pace you want to run in your marathon.

5. Put More Variety in Your Speedwork

Many runners do no speedwork at all. Those who do often fall into a rut, running the same workout time after time. This approach makes speedwork harder than it should be. Speedwork is much easier when you change it around a lot. With the FIRST program runners do many different speed workouts at different paces, generally taking just a 400 meter jog in between the fast repeats. For the sake of simplicity the speed workouts have been narrowed to a selection of four distances at four paces. Try and be creative when doing them. An important rule with the speed training is to start modestly, but after a month try to get the total distance of all the fast repeats to equal about three miles or 5,000 meters (ie: running 5 x 1,000 meters or 12 to 13 x 400 meters).

6. Cross-Train Twice a Week…Hard

It is important that you do not cruise through the cross-training sessions. If you do you will miss out on some potential training benefits. If you do your cross-training correctly you can use it to increase your overall training intensity without increasing your injury risk. This allows you to go out and run hard the next day.

7. Don’t Try to Make Up for Lost Time

During a 16 week marathon training program lots of stuff happens. You get sick; you sprain your ankle; you have to go on several last minute business trips…and so on. Result: You miss some key workouts, maybe even several weeks of workouts. Then what? You can’t make up what you missed and you certainly shouldn’t double up on your workouts to catch up with your program. Often, if you had a slight cold or too much travel you can recover and get back to where you want to be relatively quickly. But if you have foot pain or ITB syndrome or something like that, then you’ve got to take care of your injury first and get healthy again. This can take weeks, which is really tough if you are looking forward to a big race. Unfortunately you have to accept this though and often you can recover enough to run the accompanying half marathon. You should not try the marathon until you’re fully prepared for it. Reschedule another in a few months time.

8. Follow a Three Week Taper

The FIRST marathon training program builds for 13 weeks with the second 20 mile long run coming at the end of the thirteenth week. After that the program begins to taper off with 15 and 10 mile long runs during weeks 14 and 15. The speedwork and tempo runs taper taper down just a little with a final eight mile tempo run at marathon goal pace coming 10 days before the marathon. The three week marathon taper is designed to ensure you have the maximum spring in your step. If you feel sluggish doing just the easy running in the final week (which is common) just do five or six 100 meter strides or pickups after the Tuesday and Thursday workouts. Get in some extra stretching afterwards as well.

To go to the “Three Runs a Week” marathon training programs please click on the following links:
Novice Program
Experienced Marathoner’s Program
Half Marathon Program