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Marathon Q & A: What’s the Minimum Running per Week for Marathon Success

11 August

Capitol Hill Question Mark (Washington, DC)
Creative Commons License photo credit: takomabibelot

From time to time we get good questions in our inbox (we prefer them via Twitter), and answer when we can. Thanks to all the Facebook fans and runners out there supporting us!

Dear Patrick

Please be so kind and let me tell how to organize my marathon training. I am 59 years old. My normal marathon time is 4:00 hrs. I have paid too much attention to mileage and am suffering from overtraining.
It has taken me 3 months to recover and I do not want to make same mistake again. What do you think of just 3 day per week of training ?!?! I would like to run a marathon in December.

Awaiting your early reply…


Thanks so much for your question! I feel your pain (literally) having spent several year just chasing miles for the sake of miles and ending up only with injuries to show for my focus on mileage. At the end of the day, some folks were literally born to run and can do no harm to their bodies. The rest of us, well, we have to pay close attention to where we spend our time and energy to avoid over-training and injury.

That said, we have to be careful to weight the demands of the marathon as well as our goals. It’s tempting to sign up for a minimalist training regime, but at the end of the day you won’t be able to run 26.2 the way you want to without doing the work!

In your case, there are three points of good news: (1) you have recovered, (2) you have learned your lesson, and (3) you have some good miles on your legs. Some folks never manage to accomplish any of those things! I am excited to get you dialed into a new approach to building your marathon fitness, and we can start with focusing your training on the four pillars:

#1 – The Long Run – There’s no hiding from the fact that you need miles on your legs to be able to handle the full 26.2. The good news is you can keep these long runs to 2.5 or 3 hours max (more here and here) by leveraging intensity to do the “work” of training without spending too much time burying your health. A typical long run inside Marathon Nation includes about 50% at actual marathon pace and 1 or 2 miles at 10k pace as well…nobody said shorter was easier!

#2 – The Tempo Run – This is where you spend more time in a lower mileage program, working on building your FAST. This workout is where you really earn the right to run longer at a quality pace, but again you need to be ready to do work.

#3 – The Hill Run – I think hill training is just critical to building run-specific strength, improving form and building overall fitness. Inside Marathon Nation we practically train year-round on hills, with the focus shifting from specific hill training to simply adding rolling terrain to your longer runs. You can watch a video of how we do hill bounding (not hammering) to maximize the benefits of hills here on our YouTube Channel.

#4 – The Skill Run – This is the fourth and final type of run during the week. It can be dropped if you need to cut your training to just 3 runs a week, but ideally you can work in a 30 to 45 minute long session that includes, along with some easy running, several repeats of strides and running drills.

Of course, there’s a lot of self-care that goes into such a program and many folks do well with other forms of aerobic exercise as cross-training (think cycling, swimming, cross-country skiing, etc.). Whatever you decide, remember that less can be more…when it’s done right!

I can’t answer every single question here on the blog, but you are more than welcome to post a note to Facebook or send me a message on Twitter. Don’t forget that you can create a free two-week trial to explore Marathon Nation, the PRO System, and our community simply by signing up here.


Coach Patrick


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