Unstructured Marathon plan

I'm running the VLM in April as my first marathon and now looking at structured training plans to get me as close to 4 hours as poss. I'm new to running this year, but have now completed 3 HMs this year (best 1.50) and a few 10Ks, but want to perform well in April. 

My question relates to my work and family commitments meaning that I'll likely find it difficult to follow a precise plan, but will be able to run 4 times a week (just not sure which 4 days these might fall on).

The plans I've looked at have runs of differing lengths and mixed (Fartlek) activities etc and I'm worried that my lack of consistent days of the week may mean I'll struggle to follow such a mixed plan (and only do running).

My thoughts are that if I can run 4 times a week, with one of these a long Sunday run building up to 22 miles or so by March and the other 3 being between 4 to 8 miles will this be sufficient? If I ensure that one or two of the runs each week are trail or at least on hilly roads, will this meet other Fartlek type objectives?

I would hope to get to gyms of some X-training if working away etc, but can't really rely on any structure to this.

Is what I'm planning viable? Or does strictly following a plan make the best sense?





  • Hi Rattler

    I recently started following a training plan to the letter. Then, of course, one day I couldnt do the run the plan suggested. Having followed many threads on here I found that most people will use a training plan and tinker with it slightly so it fits in with what they want and their lifestyle.

    You have said that you can run 4 times a week with a long run on a Sunday; that obviously leaves you with 3 rest days so you should be able to follow a training plan in those 4 days if not necessarily on the specific days the plan tells you to.

    So, in my limited experieince and being in a similar boat to you I would say that you should be able to follow the plan. There will be more experienced people who I'm sure will post some really useful advice on here. I suggest you keep asking as many questions as you need and they will be happy to answer them.

    Good luck

  • RR - that will work to get you round No problem.  I suggest that you forget 4 hours for your first marathon...just get a marker on the board and enjoy the experience witha smile on your face....

    4 solid runs per week of 1 x 40 mins Plus 2x 60-100 mins + plus 1 LSR will get you round relatively solid as long as you pace yourself and if you ensure you are consistent in your training.  ( eg make sure you do your 4 runs a week).

    The main thing is to build your endurance and aerobic base rather than pure speed. However if this is increased mileage you will find your base speed is faster at the end of training plan than at the beginning by default.  Good luck


  • stutyrstutyr ✭✭✭

    RR just to confirm what the other guys have said, you don't have to follow the training plan to the letter.  If you take the four runs for the week and juggle them around to fit in with your plans, you should be fine.  The only thing to be careful of is that this might lead to having two consecutive days of "hard" sessions (e.g. intervals and long run on Sat and Sun) so you do need to put a little thought into it to prevent this happening.  However as you're only looking to train on four days per week this should be easily avoidable.  

  • Thanks for the fast feedback. Tinkering with the plan makes sense, one of my challenges may be that I may have to work away and where I run on a specific night may be on a route that I don't really know and may struggle to get the right mix of pace / distance. 

    But if I can have a plan as suggested by AGF above  1x 40mins, 2 x 60-100mins, 1 x LSR then this could work. I'll ensure that 2 of the runs take my off-road and into some hills. 

    The reason for aiming for 4 hours (and I take your point about enjoying the marathon as a priority) is that I'm target driven and this helps me set realistic pace and times for my training. 4 hours is achieveable, but I wan't do it at the cost of enjoyment of the Marathon.


  • RR like the others say, this should be possible. Try to avoid putting your "hard" sessions together (an interval session, tempo run or LSR should have either an easy run or a rest day after it, not one of the other hard sessions, if at all possible).

    I agree that having a goal in mind can be useful and motivating - just don't beat yourself up if circumstances (job, illness, injury, appaling weather on race day etc.) stop you from quite reaching your goal.

    Including some off-road and hills sounds good. From my experience (I went up to marathon and ultra during the last year), I'd say don't worry too much about doing lots of speed work while going up the distance like this. Getting those long runs in, however slowly, and the "time on your feet" is more important.

    Remember that "Mapometer" is really useful for working out routes & distances away from home in advance.

    And don't forget to enjoy the running!

  • Thanks again, great advice...

    I got a Garmin 610 for my Birthday recently and it really is a great piece of kit. It will help me ensure I'm getting the weekly mileage in and with the footpod, I can even get the mileage logged when in the gym (if I get stuck away in  a Foreign clime and the local environment is too hostile for outdoor running)image


  • I am following a training plan from Shelter - it is available to download from their website - and it is brilliant - really different to others I have seen.  You pick your target time eg for 4 hours - and it gives you three runs a week to hit a target for eg

    3x800m at 3.42 each rep

    3 miles at 8.28mins

    4 miles at 9.24 mins - that is week 2 of a 24 week plan.

    By eg week 11 you are doing 4x1200m at 5.39 , 5mils at 8.43 and a LSR of 11miles at 9.39mins and so it builds up. Eventually you do eg weeks with a 10 and a 20 mile run or a 8 and 22mile run.

    My husband is using it so if he can at least match those targets he can run however much he can fit in the rest of the week and that suits his feeling of progress and achievement without having to run on specific days or distances - he travels too so it also fits in better with an erratic lifestyle.

    I am doing the same for the 4.30 target and incorporating the short targeted runs into longer ones with easier running either side until they build to substantial runs in themselves.  It really suits me rather than do 'easy runs' or steady runs or tempo runs which I have to work out myself which pace they should be!

  • I agree with Debra... If your only doing only 4 runs a week a 100 min easy run ( 9:30-10 min mile for you) is better than 60 mins at speed.

    This is be because you already proven you have the speed to run sub 8:30 mm for 2 hrs ... But you do not have the endurance to retain this for 4 hours most likely...

    It's the last 6 miles that will determine if you break 4 hours and that means as many miles as possible in training( mainly slow to enduse more capillaries and efficiency etc etc)

    Good luck..
  • Rattler lots of good advice. Some things to add.

    Sub 4 is not a given off a 1:50 half. It's very tight in reality, running flat out. A few friends have done 1:46 halves, and still not gone sub 4. Over confidence is dangerous, respect the distance.

    Other point, worst thing to do is forcing your training pace, especially on the long run.

    Forcing yourself to run at pace X - race pace or near as will tire you out every week, increase risk of injury. Long run, slow, should always be able to chat for some of it, nearer the time, some miles @ MP or a fast finish.

    4 runs a week is fine, 3 some weeks. cross training is important too,

    You can manually add runs into Garmin connect even without the Pod.

    Coach said good advice to me at one point about plans -

    it's a flexible program not a prescription

    Enjoy the first one..
  • So if I've got this right, I should be running ny long Sunday runs at slower than Marathon pace? (i'd be almost walking!!!image )

  • Too right your long run should be slower than your marathon pace! 9:50min/mile for your easy pace would be about right. with your MP being 8:50ish based on a 1:50 half marathon. an equal performance would be 1:50 half, 3:50 marathon. although most people struggle with this conversion. lack of endurance.


  • Rattler, it's about building your aerobic fitness.

    I'm doing sub 3:30 & below and often do long runs at 8:30-9 or slower pace (trail & some hills there). That's off a sub 1:30 half last week.

    Worst thing you can do is race your long runs. It proves nothing.

    It's more can you run that distance in training as you get to 17-20 miles safely without injury and after effects in the days after, speed comes in the weekly tempo runs, speed session and later long runs.

    You would be doing good chunks of your long run at 9.30-10 min miles at a guess.
  • Hi RR

    It's worth understanding that although your marathon training may be starting now you won't be remotely training for a marathon until late February. 

    This isn't traditional advice but if you're running 4 times a week at the volumes you suggest and are relatively new to running I'd more or less forget any dedicated speed work and concentrate on increasing the duration (not distance) of your runs.  I think taking 2 hours to run X distance would actually be more productive than running the same distance X in 90 minutes.

    Aiming for sub 4 isn't that realistic to be honest, although your chance would be slightly improved if your recent 10k best was slower than 50:00, if you were a female and if you had a comprehensive background in other sport.  Best advice would be to forget a target for the time being as it will probably just increase your propensity to choose the wrong type of training run.  You can be target-driven without using your marathon time as the target.


  • I agree with Moraghans advise !!!image

  • Contrary to some of the others 4 hours may not be that unrealistic if you put in the right training. My speeds dramatically improved during my marathon training - half time went from 1 32 in Nov 11 to 1 24 in Feb 12.

    Speed will be driven by your tempo runs, aim to do at current half pace
  • Like Surrey Runner, I don't think you're necessarily aiming too fast, if you're prepared to put the training in. My HM PB was 1.43.44 (set October 2010) and I ran just outside that in October 2011 (five months after returning from a three-month injury lay-off) and aimed for a sub-3.45 marathon at the end of April 2012 (Greater Manchester Marathon). I was outside that on the day, but considering the weather (5 C before wind chill, gale-force winds, rain and hail), my sub-3.48 wasn't bad and I think I would have met my target if the weather had been more reasonable. I also ran a 1.40.11 HM four weeks before the marathon - so like Surrey Runner, I'd speeded up.

    I'll agree with Moraghan that lots of long slow runs would be good at this stage. I deliberately trained for and ran a 50K 10 weeks before my marathon, which meant that the time from October to mid-February was spent increasing mileage/time on feet and doing almost no speed work (some of my runs with the club might have counted as tempo runs, when I was feeling up to it). I then jumped into the RW sub-3.45 marathon training programme for the last couple of months before M'cr.

  • RR - I have been following a training plan for a 2:00 HM time and my LSR runs were at 10:00-10:30 range. It felt really slow some days but I stuck with it. I didnt have much time to do speedwork during my training but felt that I was in with a chance of beating 2:00 hours which converts to about 9:10 per mile, with a bit of luck. I started tapering about 10 days before my race and for the last 5 days, for one reason or another, I didnt run at all. Yesterday, I ran my race at 1:47.

    So, while I also felt like I was almost walking on my LSRs, I now have every confidence that these training plans work. I will certainly be following one when I step up to a marathon.

  • Hi Debra,

    I did the MK marathon on the same day as you did the Manchester one. The weather was truely horrific that day. Part of the MK course was flooded and they added an extra 0.25 miles for good measure.
  • carterusm: Well done on your HM time!

    Surrey Runner: yes, awful, wasn't it? No extra distance on ours, but there were flooded areas. The first time we reached a large (maybe 10-12 ft front to back) puddle/stream totally across the path, the people directly in front of me STOPPED. I yelled "keep going - we've got to get to the other side..!" Not sure what they were waiting for - someone to bring a bridge??? I started shivering violently the moment I finished the race and stopped running. With warm clothes on (assisted by my stepmother) it still took 40 minutes for the shivers to reduce enough that I was capable of walking to the car.

  • Many thanks for the advice here, looks like lots of LSRs for me (LOLSRs???)image

    Gotta build that endurance.

    This forum is great for advice especially for a novice like me and it's much appreciated.


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