Four runs a week for a marathon?

I started running about 5 months ago and am hoping to take part in the 2003 London Marathon. In last month's Runner's World there was an article about running doing 4 sessions a week. I have started doing this, it breaks down into a long (80 mins so far) run on a Sunday, easy (30 min) run on Tuesday, Tempo on Wednesday and Speed Session on a Friday. I also swim on a Saturday morning and get a sports massage once a week. Will this schedule be enough to get me through the Marathon? I would aim to build up the long run to 2.5 to 3 hours plus in time - any advice gratefully received!


  • Thousands of runners complete the London marathon each year on a lot less that that - some of them in decent times.

    OK, a 4 day week will never see you get to your ultimate potential, but this is your first marathon. Anyway, my experience of following marathon training schedules, usually including only 1 rest day a week, is that often they leave far too little time to recover from the exertions, and I risk ending up exhausted, de-motivated, or ill or injured. The body needs time to recover and build strength. This is the major threat to novice marathon runners, so many are forced to drop out because they over do the training, build up mileage too quickly, or don't build in enough rest days. The intense training schedules are aimed at experienced runners who are more likely to have the sense to back off when they are over-doing it.

    I have in the past usually tried to trim the suggested schedules down to the core days, as advocated in last month's RW, and so run only 4 or 5 days rather than 6 per week. I have found this works much better - it has delivered times which while nothing special have left me very pleased, as I consider them to be a fair reflection of my (limited) abilities.

    Maybe I am a wimp who needs more rest than most. But, the 4-session schedule sounds sensible as despite neing a novice you clearly are starting from a reasonable base of running fitness (the mix of tempo and speed sessions would be a strain for someone without an established base). The usual rules everyone says apply - build up the long runs and overall mileage very gradually, have an occasional easy week, mix in some variety (different surfaces, hill work, different routes and times etc) and make sure you get some race experience - there are several good half marathons towards end of Jan/start of Feb?

    Best of luck.
  • Due to hip problems, one of our blokes does just 3 days training a week for his marathons. he's 60+ age group and does 3.29 marathons - usually FLM and one other a year. He does a fair bit of cycling to keep fit between runs.
    His longest run is 22 miles done 4 weeks before the marathon.
  • Thank you for your advice on this - I'll keep going and see how I go - have done a couple of 10ks and have got a 10 miler on 1st December so will keep on going!!
  • I think Dougie's advice is far from wimpish and entirely sensible - you want to be able to finish the marathon, not be injured weeks before the event because you trained too hard. Or am I sounding like an insurance salesman?
  • Not at all - very sound advice and I'm going to stick at what I'm doing and hope to stay injury-free and motivated!
  • Definitely all good advice.
    Four days a week is what I always AIM for when training for marathons. One long run, one short and a couple of 50-70 minuters.
    Doing this I've run 3:05 and 3:10.
    Indeed the only period I have run more than 4 days in a week I ended up on the physios couch. Rest is as important in training as learning to keep going when tired.
    We've all got are own tolerances and I have learned that running for 2 consecutive days regularly inevitably leads to injury.

    You are on the right path.
  • If the training is going well, the mileage on Tuesday's easy run could be built up, maybe to an hour or hour and a half a month or two before the marathon. Most schedules have a pattern like this. But this run should still be done at an easy pace. As ever, listen to your body. But I am confident it is possible to do a very good marathon on 4 days a week, if you make 3 of the sessions good quality and cut the junk mileage.
  • MinksMinks ✭✭✭
    Oh, it's so nice to know other people think it's OK to run only 4 days a week. I'm a relative beginner (my longest run is currently 75 minutes) and I have no plans as yet to run a marathon.

    Although - I may have changed my mind, reading this! The main thing that has put me off the idea of a marathon so far is the 6-days-a-week training schedule so may advocate as being essential for such an undertaking. I would find it very difficult to run virtually every day, taking into account other commitments and the need to fit in a life as well!

    I'm interested to know that people have run some very good times on a 4-day a week training schedule. I may even consider a marathon now, once I have a few shorter-distance races under my belt.
  • Yes, Minkin, know what you mean. Single mum and all that. Four days a week was enough for me
  • Well, I have just done the Dub marathon on 4 times a week training. basically I do one long,one 6 miler hard, one 6 miler easy and one session where I either do speedwork on the track (which is on a school playing filed at the end of my road)or a 5k interval in the gym if the weather is bad. AT the later stages I changed one of my six milers to a 10 miler.
  • 4 days a week sounds so much more manageable than the usual 5 or 6 day schedules you see. Does anybody know where I can find a good 4-day a week training schedule? I'd like something inbetween the 'get u round' and 'intermediate' schedules that are on this site.
  • I definitely agree with the 'less is more' approach. I do 3 runs a week and a couple of cross training sessions and this works for me ;-)
  • I too am looking for a schedule somewhere in between the get u round one and the intermediate. I am currently running 4 days a week with my long run at the weekend being 7 miles and the 3 in the week varying between 2 and 5.
  • I was a beginer last year and did a maximum 4 days. I over trained at the start too many miles and lost September and October. And still didn't learn the lesson ending up with physio again and loosing four weeks of Feb & March. My final long run resulted in a knee injury two weeks before the big day which my physio put right. I got to 15 miles on target for sub 4, when the knee injury kicked in. A quick call on the mobile to my physio (who was waiting at the end of the race) advised ne to take the last 10 miles on a 3 minute walk per mile. Result I completed in 4.26.

    Lesson take note of the advise on overtraining. also of structured training. 4 nights is fine but learn also from my mistakes. This year if I'm in I'm after 3.30 which I know I can achieve by 4 days and learning from last years mistakes (due to lack of knowledge)
  • Jo

    I haven't seen a 4-day week schedule. I wondered if there would be support for a 4-day week forum discussion through the FLM training period, discussing the best way to modify the RW schedules (or others) to this approach.

    It should be possible to modify the existing schedules - take out the 'junk' days, but recognising that the harder days must be made to really count. For example, the mileage on the longer runs would probably need to be built up earlier.
  • MinksMinks ✭✭✭
    There was an article about the 4-day week approach in last month's RW. It wasn't specifically geared to any particular distance, but broke down the runs into long run, recovery run, tempo run and speed session. It gave suggested pacings for each of these sessions depending on your other race times - might be helpful to you.
  • If I remember right, you could use it for marathon training by adding mileage/time to the long run.

    I see people here have completed marathons with only 4 sessions a week but surely they must be the exception. I'm doing my first next year and I wouldnt dream of trying without running 5-6 days per week, as per the intermediate marathon schedule in rW for instance.
  • Thank you everyone for your input and advice - all much appreciated although now this seems to be going round in circles - Dougie, I'm sticking with you - thanks for the great advice, I'm very impressed and will keep doing what I'm doing. I think that at the end of the day it's all down to what's best for the individual!
  • If any of you are looking for a 4-day week schedule for a first marathon, Hal Higdon has one:
  • The following 3.5 times a week got me a 3:15 and avoided injury:-
    Sunday am - Long Run (at least 12)
    Monday pm - Hills
    Wednesday pm - Track
    Friday - Tempo or Easy (this is the ".5" as I missed it quite often)
    Monthly - Sports Massage

    I'm going to try and work out my schedule in a spreadsheet at some point & will post it when I do.
  • Question to the literate Chimp....
    Why wouldnt you dream of doing less than 5 times a week for your marathon it becasue you really want your first marathon to be on a specific target time rather than just getting round? Not a criticism at all just interested in your thinking?
  • Erm - call me crazee, but I actually like running.

    so I want to do it as many times a week as my body (and my family, oh and my work, shucks!) will allow me.

    what are the rest of you doing it for?
  • Achilles

    Exactly. I would run more often if I could, as running is relaxing (!) and the full proper schedules would allow me to improve my performance. These would be the ideal.

    But (1) excessive fatigue when following a marathon schedule, (2) fear of injury, and (3) lack of time due to domestic commitments (a young baby) mean a 4-day week is a very attractive second best. And to get back to the original question, adequate to do a decent marathon performance.

  • MinksMinks ✭✭✭
    Ditto, Dougie. Although not currently training for a marathon it's good to know that I could actually do so on 4 runs a week. I find more than that just interferes with the rest of my life too much. This way I can still derive all the benefit from my running without falling out with those 'nearest and dearest'!
  • Had a look at the Hal Higdon 4-day programme as suggested and quite like the look of it. I noticed that both this schedule and the RW intermediate schedule only have one 20-mile and a couple of 18-mile training runs. Is this enough to avoid the dreaded wall - or are all novice runners going to hit it anyhow regardless??
  • Ian Wood,

    I really want to get around in sub 4-30 which is why I'm following the RW intermediate schedule. I've done a couple of sub 2 hour halves but my thinking (rightly or wrongly) is that I probably need to peak at about 60 miles per week and I cant imagine doing that on less than 5 runs a week.
  • Lots of great advice from wiser people than me, but anyway here's my experience for what it's worth!

    I agree with Johnny J, for many people, 4 training days a week for a marathon is plenty.

    For this year's FLM I trained 15 weeks, 5 times a week, with a longest run of 22 miles. Ultimately, I picked up an injury in the last few weeks, had a bad and painful race. I couldn't run again until over 10 weeks after the event and spent quite a bit of cash on physios.

    I ran this year's New York on the back of 14 weeks of training, running 4 days a week. My average weekly total was 30 miles, maximum weekly total 42 (at 5 weeks out). The longest runs were 2x18 miles and 2x20 miles with shorter weeks in between.

    My week consisted of a speed/fartlek session, a hill/tempo session, a mid-long run at moderate pace (often broken up with walking) and a long run on Sundays. I also did a weekly yoga class until the last 5 weeks, when that became a rest day. I never ran more than 2 days in succession and never did hard days back-to-back.

    What about the times? London: 4.16.50. New York: 4.11.59. And after just a week of I've already started light running again. To improve I know that eventually I'll have to add a few more miles, but I've learned through painful experience that the key is to do it very carefully and gradually.

    Good luck from me too.
  • Jonny J, thats incredible! Was this your first marathon? I'd be interested to hear what you mean by quality training. If it was your first marathon did you really have a long run no further than 15-16 miles? You see, if I have one misgiving about the RW schedule its that the longest run is 20 miles ("20 miles is halfway in a marathon" etc) and if , as I suspect, much of a marathon is as much psychological as physical (how do you get your head round the idea of running for up to 4 and and a half hours) then I'd rather have run 26 miles before race day no matter how long it takes.
  • Chimp
    If you have already run a couple of halfs in under 2 hours you should be well on your way to sub four by April. If you are a new runner (I started in Jan 2001 but once a week until August when I increased to 2 and then in January with 4 runs. Check out my schedule on and you will see the amount of time lost in injuries by trting to build up to many miles too fast. I have read that the maximum peak milage is 1.5 time race distance for a beginner. A serious club runner will be doing 50 miles for a marathon but 36-40 for a beginer is fine and will certainly get you through in under 4.
    I did a 20 mile race at the beginning of March in Thanet which was excelant practive from the psychological side. I remember thinking at 15 miles that I had been going for just over 2 hours and had at least another hour to complete the course, then realising that I had 2 hours to go for the marathon in five weeks time.

    The distance is also very hard to come to terms with first time. Everyone kept telling me it was a long way and it wasn't until I was at Tower Bridge one lunch time looking toward Docklands thinking that looks a long way away before I realsised that I was at the half way point, and looking in the opposite direction towards the London Eye which seemed even further and is about 2 miles from the finish that I realised what a fantastic achievement completing the course would be in whatever time it took.

    Lesson - DO NOT OVER DO IT in your training, Like Tea & Toast I spent a lot of time with a physio ( I can recomend a very reasonable one if you are in South LondonNorth Kent who speacialise in Marathon runners) and you wont want to injure yourselve and have to pull out at the last minute
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