Training

Should You Try a Marathon Training Program with 3 Runs a Week?

If you’re training for your first marathon, you may have found programs that promise to get you ready with just three runs a week. Sound too good to be true? RunHaven asked these experienced coaches if such plans can deliver  — or if you are setting yourself up for disaster. Jeff…

If you’re training for your first marathon, you may have found programs that promise to get you ready with just three runs a week. Sound too good to be true?

RunHaven asked these experienced coaches if such plans can deliver  — or if you are setting yourself up for disaster.

Jeff Gaudette, CEO of RunnersConnect

Gaudette opposes programs designed with three runs a week, arguing that they don’t save you time or reduce the risk of injury.

To compensate for the lack of runs, the plans typically include cross-training on the other days, so you’re still working out six days times a week, he says. Though cross-training has benefits, it won’t adequately prepare your body for the marathon distance.

And because these plans are built around just three runs a week, they tend to cram too much mileage and intensity into those workouts. That’s bad for your recovery.

“If (runners) are trying this program because they feel they get injured, they need to look at why they are injured,” Gaudette says. “It’s probably not the number of days they are running. It’s probably because they are running too fast. Running three days a week is not going to solve this problem.”

Marc Pelerin, owner of TrainwithMarc.com

Pelerin says if a runner is adamant about a marathon training program with three runs a week, he would make it work for him or her.

“If they come to me and say, ‘I can only run three days a week, but I’m available to work out six days a week,’ then absolutely,” he says, adding that “it’s not ideal, but it can be done.”

Some runners want limited-running plans because they are concerned about the constant pounding on their legs. Others have hectic schedules. A coach should be flexible and willing to accommodate their needs and circumstances, Pelerin says.

“My plans are super flexible so athletes can feel like they are in charge of their plan — rather than they feel guilty for missing a run,” Pelerin says.

Dan Bergeson, co-owner of RunVie Racing

Whether such a program can work depends on a runner’s long-term goal, he says.

“If signing-up for a marathon as a goal is the motivation a person needs to begin getting fit, then go for it,” he says. “If an athlete is interested in racing to a Boston Marathon qualifying time on three days a week, then we need to talk.”

In general, Bergeson doesn’t recommend such programs for serious marathon training. If runners aren’t willing or can’t eventually run more than three days a week, he would encourage them to do a shorter race.

An ideal marathon program includes two speed workouts, one longer run and two to three recovery runs.  Runners also need to remember that marathon training is not just about running — it also requires time and attention to nutrition, gear and mental preparation, he says.