15Mar, 2010

The perfect 4 day marathon training week

I never used to be a four day per week runner.  I was one of the maniacs that ran everyday!  Really.  I only missed a day if I was sick.  This was my routine for years.  My mindset was I could only get better by running more!  But, that all changed in 2003 while training for the Seattle Marathon.

It took an injury for me to figure out the “less is more” concept really does work.  And, am I happy I did learn that lesson (only wish I had learned it sooner in my running career).  I know I have logged many useless and junk miles over those years, but I guess its better than not running at all and being way out of shape.  Besides, I like to eat, so those training miles kept the weight off simple smile The perfect 4 day marathon training week

Now,  I run just four days a week.  Even when I’m in training for a marathon, I only run four days a week.  Getting the most out of my training and finishing races with new PR’s has all been accomplished with what I call the “perfect 4 day training plan”

I share this with you because all of us runners feel pressure to run all or most days of the week and that is just not necessary anymore.  Sure,  some of us run that much because we have the energy to do it and because it has become daily habit.  Thats great.  But, if you want to avoid injury and race better, then 4 days of running is the plan for you (and me).perfect The perfect 4 day marathon training week

The four days per week plan works so well that I haven’t gone back to my daily running schedule for over 7 years and I certainly don’t plan to…..ever!  I’ve also been able to avoid injury and mental exhaustion.

Here is a sample of the four runs I complete each week in marathon training:

-Speed/Track workout  (400m, 800m, and 1-mile repeats)

-Long Run (15-21miles)

-Easy, mid distance run (6-10miles)

-Trail or rolling hill course run (6-8miles)

There you have it.  A good mix of challenging, easy, and doable workouts each week.  If you have a finish time goal for your marathon race then you want to be sure and add one day of speed work.   Speed work involves intervals ranging from 400m (1 lap on the track) to one mile repeats.   I like to alternate each week.  For example, last week I did 4×1-mile repeats and this week I will shorten those intervals and do 6-8x 400m repeats.  The mile repeats are run at my marathon goal pace and the 400’s I run at my 5k pace.   The variety helps from boredom as well as challenging your body and the pace it can keep up with.

I strongly encourage you to endorse the less is more philosophy if you are currently running 5 days or more per week.  The biggest mistake runners make in marathon training is not giving their bodies rest days.  The point of a rest day is to subject your body to much less training stress than usual so that it has a chance to recover from and adapt to a prior run.

I’ve taken all my lessons and knowledge of running over the years and training hundreds of people to finish a marathon and developed a 16 week training program.  learn more about it here:


Let me know what you think or let me know about your current marathon training program.  Again, I’m sharing this information with you so you don’t have to experience the same suffering and injury I did while training for marathons.   Good luck.  Be Well, Run Well

Posted by admin | in Marathon, Run Training | 27 Comments

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Comments on “The perfect 4 day marathon training week” (27)

  1. I love this plan. I run 4 days and cross train 1 day. I am a lazy person so having rest days are no problem for me and I enjoy them. I have been running seriously for 1 year now and am training for my 1st Marathon in June. Excited, scared and anxious. Hope my training pays off. Love my 4 running days.

  2. admin

    Excellent. Congrats on training for your first marathon. Your training will definitely pay off…..just stay committed to it. Good luck and let us know about your marathon race day experience.

  3. Great information. I totally agree with the 4 day runs for most people and especially older runners. For me, however, the higher mileage seems to be what it took, for me personally, to get to the next level, my pr and BQ race. I tried the “Furman” plan several times and then eventually added more days and more miles to finally BQ @ St. George last fall (my 15th marathon). For me, many things were involved to pr – including peaking @ 63 miles per week, dropped some lbs., 3-4 yoga classes per week – the last month prior to the marathon, eating right. However, for me personally, I would say the extra mileage would be one of the best things that I did. I did incorporate plenty of rest. I created a 9 day rotation so my long runs came up every 9 days. I had a hard day and 2 easy days, then another hard day. Each 9 day period I had a long run, a tempo run, and then I rotated hill repeat work and intervals each week. It worked great for me, but I do agree most people do not need the extra mileage, and most people do not have the time or motivation to do it either. Also, as you mentioned the risk of injury is high when upping the mileage, especially as we age. Less is more for the masses for sure, but didn’t work for me personally. Totally agree with your information.

  4. I should have mentioned I am 42. BQ’ed @ 41.

  5. Patricia

    Thanks you for posting this, Jill. I also noticed –quite by accident– that less is indeed more. When I got too busy to run 5+ days/week and my runs were cut to 4 per week, I immediately noticed that my running improved. I am running faster and stronger, and the results of my weekly club races prove it. Since cutting back, I am actually improving, and at a consistent rate.

    I had always felt guilty if I ran less than 6 days a week, because all of my running books tell me to run 6 days/week. I now know that this is not the best schedule for me, even if I had the time to run that much. it’s not about laziness, it’s about running smart and effectively to achieve the best results.

  6. Patricia

    p.s. I am training for a spring marathon, then another in the fall. My schedule is almost exactly the same as yours, the main difference is I don’t do the trail run because I live in the city:

    -Speed/Track workout (400m, 800m, and 1-mile repeats)

    -Long Run (15-21miles)

    -Easy, mid distance run (8-10miles)

    -Tempo run (8-10miles)

  7. admin

    Thanks for the reply and sharing your training info. Glad you were able to figure out the right training plan in order to PR and good luck in Boston. I have a client who recently took up yoga feels that it is helping her runs as well. You have a good balance of run, strength, nutrition, and rest. Nice work.

  8. admin

    Nice work! Yes, it is hard for me also not to run everyday or most days of the week. However, I enjoy those days off from running to do something different such as enjoying time to myself or an easy bike ride. Good luck in your upcoming Spring marathon. Let me know about it after you finish.

  9. Steve

    Great advice Jill, I am training for my first marathon in New Zealand 1st May. For a while I was training 6 days a week and found myself feeling “burnt out” all the time, so reduced the quantity of training, and improved the quality. I totally agree with everything you’ve said, 4 days a week certainly works for me. Of all the websites out there that give advice about running marathons, yours is by far the best one I have come across. I find your tips and advice very “realistic” and down to earth……thank you!! Steve

  10. admin

    Thanks for the comments. I definitely am a believer in 4 days maximum for running. I’ve never felt better and I’ve put in my best times with this schedule. Wow, I’m jealous you are doing the New Zealand marathon. Can’t wait to hear about it. I’m giving myself one more week to commit to Chicago.

  11. I saw on Tall Mom that you are running Mercer Island? You should try and meet up with us. I just signed up yesterday…better late than never…right?

    Hope to meet you there!

  12. admin

    Yes, lets meet! Funny that I just signed up yesterday. I was sick a couple weeks ago and feeling a bit ill-prepared for this race, but I figure I gotta do it to stay on track. I’ll send you an e-mail with my cell #.


  13. I prefer to run 4 days a week due to busy schedule. Once week I ran 7 days straight and it felt good. I think the key is quality vs. quantity.

    Nice to find another local bloggy runner!! See you at Mercer

  14. admin

    Yes, see you there and perhaps we will be running together. My goal is 1:38 or better! Although I hear it is a hilly course…eek!

  15. I couldn’t agree more with your 4-day plan! Actually I’m a FIRST girl so I run only 3 days a week but I’ve been trying to add a 4th running day to improve endurance.

  16. Love this! I’m all about the 4 day a week plan! Sometimes I run 5 days (this week I ran 5 days but 7 times but that’s very rare!). I do speedwork, hill work, a fun run and a long run. Less is more. Thanks for posting this, so many ppl over do it. I’ve been running injury free for 13 years now and its bc I don’t overdo it, I love it, and I know when enough is enough! Great post!!!

  17. kc

    at what pace are the intervals run? i’m having a hard time seeing how 400m intervals could help w/ a 26 mile race.


  18. admin

    the 400 intervals are run at 85% effort or 15-20 seconds faster than marathon goal pace. for example, a goal 3:30 marathon is an 8 min mile pace, so the 400 repeats would be 1:40. And, you work your way up to 10 repeats total. This is a great workout to develop leg turnover and speed. This is just one example of a speed workout. Other speed workouts are longer in distance such as 800 and 1-mile repeats. Incorporating faster intervals once per week can make a huge impact on speed. Hope this helps..

  19. Bobby


    How many weeks before the marathon should one begin following this schedule?

  20. admin

    Bobby, at least 16 weeks.

  21. Matt

    This is excellent advice. There are so many myths associated with marathon training. I suffered injuries (fortunately non-chronic) during my 5-6 day a week training programs. Once I cut back to 4 days a week, I felt better, my marathon times got better, and I fell in love with running again. I didn’t even know about this blog until I googled 4 day a week training plans to make sure I wasn’t the only one. It’s surprising how many hardcore runners keep telling me that I have to run more than I am. Um, no I don’t. I did and it didn’t work for me.

  22. Hello Jill, I read that during training you should cover at least 50 miles during the 4 weeks of core training 6 weeks before race. But how do you get this total with your 4 day a week schedule. I can see you getting a total millage of about 46 (10+8+7+21)

  23. admin

    hey Barbara. There are a lot of theories out there and mine is not exactly 50 miles, but close. I believe more in the “less is more” the importance being getting in the longest long run each week. It’s not to say I’m exactly right, its just that this is how I’ve trained and how I train my clients and I’ve seen lots of success. My best marathon times came when I trained this way. thanks for the post and I hope my answer helps.

  24. thank-you so much for sharing your experience and knowledge. I for sure am changing my philosophy of running; i.e. trading in my 5 to 6 day a week training to 4 days a week. I completely agree with you since I have been much happier once I reduced to 4 days. I ran my first 1/2 marathon last year at 2:05 and this Oct I will be doing my first marathon. Im excited and greatful for all your web postings. note: physically the 5 days felt good but mentally it was exhausting when life is so full of other joys (work and family). :o)

  25. hey hi ……
    I need a help from u all……..
    i have parcipate for a marathon today(07/02/2012) and we are having our marathon on 12/02/2012 and we have to run for 6 kms………….. so i have not trained my self so how can i train my self in just 4 days…..please help me…………plz plz plz………

  26. Lauryn

    Jill, I just experienced my first injury, achilles tendinitis in both achilles from guess what?! Running 6 days a week. I was told to switch to a 4 day a week training plan and I found yours. Thanks for your story. It gives me hope to still be the best runner I can, just four days a week! Okinawa Marathon, here I come!

  27. admin

    you should find that running 4 days a week keeps you injury free and a better runner:) Its all about quality over quantity, so doing 4 good runs a week is what it takes and you will be just fine. thanks for the message!

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