Training for faster marathon: 4 vs 6 days per week

I did the London Marathon this year and it was my first marathon. I enjoyed the experience. I have Ironman as my longer term goal but I want to knock a significant time off my marathon time while I have a running focus. 

I decided I would run 6 days a week to give myself the best chance of improving my running times as much as possible before I move on to multi-discipline training. I enjoy running so it's not really a chore but every time I see a person riding their bike there is a small feeling of jealousy image

Is this sacrifice going to make a difference? Does running 6 days vs running 4 days and riding 2 days mean that I am going to improve my running more quickly? I thought so, which is why I have started doing it, but I read a couple of things more recently that lead me to question whether I am doing the right thing. Keen to hear opinions.



  • 15West15West ✭✭✭

    well - most people can take 2 or 3 tough sessions a week...whether it's a long run, a tempo run or intervals..and the rest is just easy running. Running more miles during the week does give some benefit (to a point), will improve your endurance etc., but as much as doing the key/tough sessions. So, you could run on 4 days but still include the 2 or 3 key sessions, and then cycle the other days, or keep as you are. If you really want to cycle....then do benefit of cycling is it's a good aerobic exercise and will reduce the amount of impact your legs take so reducing injury potential.

  • If you're building to an Ironman, you shouldn't even be thinking of doing 6 days of running.  As I understand it, a normal Ironman program would have over 50% of your time on the bike, so how would that work out if you're doing running 6 days.

    6 is unthinkable.  3 would be better than 4.  

  • KhanivoreKhanivore ✭✭✭

    My training at the moment is purely for running - i want a faster marathon. The plan is to not train for ironman until after I have achieved that.

  • If you can cope with 6 days then you'd get faster.

    But only you can tell that. It's better to be 10% undertrained than 1% overtrained.

    What about a compromise of 5 days and see how you go ?

    If you pencil in some races along the way you can see how you're coping and adjust accordingly.
  • This is the sort of question where if you ask 6 people, you'll get 6 different answers.  I think most of them would caution you to not overdo it, which is very likely with your experience.

    Perhaps do 3 or 4 days and if you have energy to burn off, go for a bike ride.  You'll still get fit, but will stress your body differently, reducing the likelyhood of overuse injury.

  • KhanivoreKhanivore ✭✭✭

    Thanks guys. I certainly have found a range of opinions in my research on this subject. Here is what I have concluded. People generally fall in to two camps.

    Camp 1: More running will lead to a faster marathon. Run as much as possible. However, balance this with the likelyhood of injury by managing frequency, distance and pace to avoid that injury. For this camp the only benefit of non-running days is to prevent injury.

    Camp 2: Running more will not result in a faster marathon. Run less but run harder. The focus here is on quality sessions (tempo, long slow distance, and interval/hill). Running more than 3 or 4 sessions is a waste of time and that time is better spent on non impact cross training such as cycling or swimming. 

    I'm not qualified to say which camp is right.

  • You could get a faster marathon with either approach to be honest.  The thing is, once you've got those 'quality' sessions in, there comes a point where extra running has to be at easier pace - nobody would suggest 100 miles a week flat out, or lots of long runs every week, is a good idea.  It's not correct to say that those extra run sessions are a waste of time, but equally swapping them for cycling or swimming won't make too much difference to your running.

    One point though is how are you looking to get this faster time - did you slow down significantly in your marathon, so you want to start at the same pace but stay on it for longer (in which case you need to build more endurance and those extra runs might be better) or was your endurance OK but you need a faster basic speed (in which case a bit of focus on speeding up the shorter stuff might be the way to go)? 

  • KhanivoreKhanivore ✭✭✭

    Hi Dave, a bit of both to be honest. I need to speed up my pace and hold on to it for longer too. at about mile 20 I was shattered. So I'm guessing I need more endurance. However, I do need to increase my pace by quite a bit to hit my goals too.

  • JeremyGJeremyG ✭✭✭

    Well the main thing isto enjoy what you are doing so cycle too. When you say you want a faster marathon what is your target time? That will certainly affect how many runs you need but base of intervals/tempo/medium long run/long run + 2x cycle would be fine for most. For sub 3:15 or 3 you would be better focussing just on running but even then that depends on age, ability etc.

    in all probability if you keep running and keep the fitness up your next marathon will be faster anyway.

  • KhanivoreKhanivore ✭✭✭

    I want to go from 4:05 to 3:30. Have been running just over a year and was extremely unfit before I started running. I'm 41. 

  • Interesting discussion.  For my first two marathon I ran on average 4 days a week, these runs were not focused on quality but getting in the miles.  First marathon went out too fast the first 15 miles and ended up walking part of the last 6 miles out of exhaustion.  At this point 9 minute miles was what I would have condsidered too fast but was my ultimate aim.  My times in both these marathons was 4:21.

    The next year I brought the training sessions done to 3 days a week.  I did a fast tempo session, a challenging tempo session (some hills) where I tried to run at least 7 miles in an hour and the weekend long run.I also did most of my runs with someone fitter than me which was a substantial benefitI for me as they pushed the pace.  Despite marathon day being one of the worst days of the year with wet weather and strong winds I came in at 3:56 and knocked 25 mins of my time.

    Fast forward to this year and I had the same plan as last year only over the previous 6 months had dropped nearly 3 stones (From 15 to 12) and very much focused on spped.  I was very hard interval sessions and running some of my long runs way too fast (7:30 miles).  After doing a good half 1:36 I set the bar for my marathon to 3:30 however disaster struck 2 months from this marathon.  I kept getting runner's knee, an issue that never really affected me the previous 3 marathons.  I would say this was mainly caused by doing too many fast sessions although partly because of overused trainers. 

    I ended up not getting in as many long runs as I hoped due to this injury and although I ended up knocking 20 mins off last year and getting 3:38 I was disappointed.  The feeling I had of hitting the wall at mile 20 was the worst I have ever had in any of my runs.  I seriously thought about giving it up and walking home.  My pace the first 20 miles averaged just under 8 minute miles but by this stage I was hitting 11 minute miles and struggling.  The last 10k took me 65 minutes.  This was down to a lack of long runs 18 miles and above due to the knee injury.  So if you go for the quality trainings be sure not to make all of them them too fast.

  • JeremyGJeremyG ✭✭✭
    Khanivore wrote (see)

    I want to go from 4:05 to 3:30. Have been running just over a year and was extremely unfit before I started running. I'm 41. 

    I generally run 4 days and have 1 or 2 days cross training cycling or rowing. As long as you get the key sessions in then any other exercise that is increasing your fitness will help. Last marathon I did up to 5 runs for the last 8 weeks as I was aiming at a good for age time (and got!)

  • Khani, good to see your still running, have you stopped HADDing now?

  • KhanivoreKhanivore ✭✭✭

    Hi Andi, I'm not sure i have stopped hadding.mim running at my 5km pace + 3 min/mile more or less image

  • Khani, good to hear your still HADDing, have things got easier now? I've been doing it almost 5 Months now and things seem to be 'happening' image

  • I've found more slower miles has worked for me.

    I did a lot of slow miles last Spring and got 3:16 (down from a 3:53 PB), did less miles but quicker for my Autumn marathon and got 3:26 (including, the same as Indo, an horrific last 10K) then went back to slow high mileage and got 3:04 this Spring just gone.

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