marathon running

Training for a marathon with the 3-runs-a-week Run Less Run Faster plan

Wednesday, 27 September 2017
Run Less, Run Faster

Run Less, Run Faster

Next week is the week. If you’re a runner and live in the UK you KNOW what week.

The week London Marathon ballot results are announced!

I’m getting ready for my 6th “Sorry, you’re a loser” magazine in the mail but if you’re one of the lucky ones, you’ll start plotting your marathon training plan soon.  (Please don’t wing it. Even if you’re a Crossfitter. Please don’t wing a marathon, it’s not the distance to be doing that with.)

For my first 3 marathons I wrote up my own plan which went something like this: longest run around 36km 3 weeks from marathon date, work backwards from that and end up with 12-15 weeks of slowly increasing weekly running distance and slowly increasing the long run distance every week, with every 4th week being ‘easier’ than what’s in the trajectory.

I ran 4 times a week, one long run, one short recovery run (7-10km), one medium run (10-15km) and one intervals/speed session which was whatever I felt like – 800s, 1000s, fast 5km.

I think the aim for the first marathon is definitely not speed but just building up the distance over time so that your body and mind is ready for 42.1km on race day.

When I signed up for Tallinn Marathon last year my plan was to train in a more structured manner and with a specific target time in mind. Since I have other fitness habits, other than running, I decided to go with the 3-runs-a-week Run Less Run Faster training plan.

If you’re not really keen on running 7 days a week like me, here’s what I thought of the plan and whether I think it worked for me or not.

The good:

  • Three runs a week is very doable if you have other commitments or other hobbies you don’t want to abandon.
  • The plan manages your marathon finishing time expectations by indicating what would be achievable based on your other race times. I used both the 3:45 and 3:40 plans, the slower one for long runs, the faster one for tempo and interval runs. According to the book, 3:40 should be achievable for me but I never could hit the long run paces, probably because I didn’t give up Crossfit and because I cannot run the fastest during summer.
  • All training runs are listed in weekly plans with all needed details and both in miles and in km.
  • The longest running distance is only 32km.
  • The recommended cross training for 2-3 times a week is cycling, swimming or rowing – all very pleasant types of exercise.
  • The book has lots of Q&A type of information about cross training, nutrition, recovery and the science behind the method.
  • If you are totally new to running, the book also has training paces for a 5km, 10km and half-marathon distances.

The bad:

  • Interval training runs are listed in total time instead of pace, e.g. “run 5 x 800m in 3:27”. I always had to calculate the pace per km because then I could see from my Garmin how I’m going.
  • Long runs are LONG straight away. They start with 21km during the first week and then just alternate between 21, 24, 27 and 32km until the taper. The increase in weekly mileage is achieved by increasing the other 2 runs of the week so you don’t start with 60km a week.
  • Five 32km runs in 16 weeks is a lot.
  • The prescribed pace for long runs is much faster than you’re probably used to running long runs at. I struggled with that the most.
  • Weights, e.g. Crossfit are not recommended during the program. I can see why – even though I took it a bit easier in Crossfit during the first 10 weeks of the program, Crossfit still by nature is HARD & it makes it harder for your legs to hit the target paces if your body is sore or tired from doing weights.
    HOWEVER – I believe that strength training during marathon training (and all year round!) is crucial for making sure you’re strong enough for the marathon distance and that you will hurt less after it. I therefore ignored the advice of giving up Crossfit for most of the training period but I did stop for the last 5 weeks before the marathon.

Did it work for me?

I didn’t achieve my time goal of 3:45. My finish time was 3:46:59.
There are a few possible reasons for that:

  • I was not willing to give up Crossfit as I love it and I was always a bit sore to hit the long run paces
  • My training cycle was during the summer and I run slower in hot weather.

However, I still consider this last marathon a success because I still got an almost 10 min PB, I felt super strong and positive during the marathon and I recovered very quickly afterwards.

Who would I recommend the Run Less Run Faster marathon training plan to?

I would recommend it for an experienced runner who has a busy life and other hobbies (fitness or other).

It’s not ideal for beginners – the speeds are hard to hit. Beginners need a marathon training plan that gradually increases weekly running distance and the length of the long run. They don’t need complicated intervals or long runs to fast pace, they need to just cover the distance to get the confidence that they can finish the marathon.

Final verdict

I struggled with fast long runs in hot weather but I PBd my marathon time, enjoyed the race and recovered super fast afterwards. I consider this plan a success for me.


Have you tried this marathon training plan? Have you tried another one? Thoughts? Feelings? Questions?

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4 Comments

  • Reply Laureen @peachylau Monday, 2 October 2017 at 11:53

    I struggled with the tempo runs, I never managed their pace.

  • Reply Lauren (@poweredbypb) Thursday, 28 September 2017 at 12:48

    I think we had fairly similar experiences with different plans. Mine didn’t recommend strength training either, but I stuck to my 3 sessions a week as I know it’s what keeps me injury free. I like running with more frequency so not sure this plan would be for me, but interesting to hear your thoughts on it.

  • Reply Laureen @peachylau Wednesday, 27 September 2017 at 11:24

    I loved that plan when I did it.

    • Reply MrsB Wednesday, 27 September 2017 at 17:53

      Did you struggle with the long run paces?

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