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The 3 Day A Week Marathon Training Guide + Complete Training Plan

Our expert coach shows you how running three days a week can get you to the finish line.

When most people envision marathon training or even half-marathon training, they imagine high-mileage weeks that involve running nearly every day, cross-training sessions, and strength training workouts.

While training for a marathon does require some long runs, and running a lot can potentially improve your performance, it’s also possible to finish a marathon by running only three days per week.

In this article, we discuss how to train for a marathon running only three days a week and the pros and cons that go along with it. In addition, we have a 3 day a week marathon training program you can follow if training for a marathon running 3 days a week seems right for you.

A person running on the road using a 3 day a week marathon program.

What Is a 3 Day A Week Marathon Training Program?

Before you get your hopes up too high, a 3 day a week marathon training program isn’t as easy and barebones as it sounds.

The “3-days” refers to three running days per week, not three days of any type of training. In addition to your training runs, you’ll also need to do two cross-training workouts per week.

What Are The Pros and Cons of a 3 Day A Week Marathon Training Program?

A three-day-a-week marathon training program is ideal for runners who are injury-prone, struggle to find the time or motivation to run every day, are training for their first marathon, or prefer variety in their workout routine so that they don’t want to focus exclusively on running.

However, training for a marathon by running only 3 days a week isn’t necessarily going to prepare you for your best performance.

Most exercise physiologists and coaches say that the specificity of training is important. If you do more of the type of exercise you plan on competing in, you will make more adaptations and progress.

In other words, in order to become a better runner, you need to run more. 

A person cycling on the road.

Biking, swimming, rowing, and other forms of exercise will improve your overall fitness and, in this way, can make you a better runner, but probably not to the extent that more running potentially will.

This isn’t an absolute, which is why plenty of runners do really well on a 3 day a week marathon training program. 

This amount of running can be just enough to stimulate specific running adaptations while effectively relying on low-impact cross-training to supplement running mileage and boost fitness with less impact and injury risk.

In sum, the benefits of a 3 day a week marathon training program include:

  • Decreased risk of injury
  • More variety in training
  • Reduced risk of overtraining and burnout
  • Less boredom or monotony
  • Less time required
  • Can prepare you for triathlons and multi-sport races, so you get “transferable” fitness.

The primary drawbacks of a 3 day a week marathon training program include:

  • You still have to cross-train, so it’s not as much time savings as you might hope for
  • You may not reach your full performance potential
A person running on the road.

Can You Train for a Marathon Running Only 3 Days a Week?

Many runners ask if running 3 days a week is enough to train for a marathon.

In most cases, you can run a marathon by training only three days a week, and some runners actually respond better to the lower mileage of a 3 day a week marathon training program than a traditional high-volume marathon training plan.

The key to having success with a 3 day a week marathon training program is making sure each run has a specific purpose and that you’re consistent and diligent about doing every single workout.

How Is the 3 Day A Week Marathon Training Plan Structured?

Although different running coaches and sites may have unique ways of structuring a three-day-a-week marathon training program, our plan includes three running workouts per week, two days of cross-training workouts, and two rest days.

The three key workouts are a long run, a speed workout, and a tempo run.

Let’s look into the purpose of each of these three runs more closely.

A person running on a path in the fall.

Long Runs

The long run improves your endurance and stamina, preparing you to run the full 26.2 miles in the marathon.

Over the course of the 3 day marathon training plan, the distance of the long run will gradually increase, though not to the entire marathon distance. 

This is because running the full distance prior to race day is unnecessary, and doing so can actually be counterproductive for most marathon runners, aside from elite athletes, as it is overly stressful and exhausting on the body. 

You’ll still reap all the necessary physiological adaptations by long runs in marathon training that max out at 20-22 miles or so.

Your long run pace will be slower than your marathon pace, so these 20-mile runs will be nearly as much “time on your feet” as the full race.

Long runs help develop your cardiovascular “engine,” meaning the strength and efficiency of your heart, lungs, and vasculature.

A person running on a road surrounded by mountains.

Adaptations to the cardiovascular system resulting from endurance training from long runs include an increase in the strength and size of the heart’s muscular chambers and an increase in blood plasma level.

These changes increase stroke volume, or the amount of blood pumped per beat to your heart. The greater your stroke volume, the lower your heart rate can be because more blood is reaching more tissues every time your heart beats.

Additional cardiovascular adaptations include improved efficiency in breathing mechanics, which means you’re taking in more oxygen, and an increase in the capillary density in your muscles, which means they can access oxygen more readily.

Your metabolic system also adapts by becoming more efficient at burning fat for fuel and producing energy aerobically.

Additionally, your muscles get stronger and better able to continue working without fatiguing as quickly.

Another key benefit of the long runs on any marathon training plan is that they allow you to practice your fueling and hydration strategies for race day and try out any gear you will wear at your marathon race.

Ironing out the kinks and rehearsing your race plan ensures you don’t have any surprises on race day.

Lastly, long runs improve your mental toughness, allowing you to focus longer and continue pushing through your workout even when you feel tired.

They also foster confidence in your ability to handle the distance and finish the full marathon come race day.

A close-up of people's feet while running on the road.

Speed Workouts

Speed work builds your leg speed and gets your body used to handling faster paces so that your marathon goal pace feels much more comfortable.

During these workouts you will run faster than your marathon race pace.

Tempo Runs

Tempo runs increase your lactate threshold, making it easier to handle faster paces without switching gears into anaerobic glycolysis.

They should be run at a “comfortably hard” pace or a pace you feel you could sustain at maximum effort for an hour of continuous running.

As a result, you can run further and faster without getting the acidic buildup in your legs, sparing you discomfort and extreme fatigue.

People pool jogging.

Cross Training

Because the range of running workouts in the 3-day marathon training plan hits each specific fitness area essential for marathon running, this very stripped-down approach is possible.

The cross-training workouts serve to augment your aerobic fitness,1Tanaka, H. (1994). Effects of Cross-Training. Sports Medicine18(5), 330–339. https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-199418050-00005 giving you time “off your feet” while still improving the efficiency and strength of your cardiovascular “engine” (heart and lungs) and aerobic metabolism.

You can choose any form of cardio exercise for your cross-training workouts, but cycling, deep water running, rowing, elliptical, and stair climbing tend to work best.

These workouts should be Zone 2 efforts (heart rate 60-70% of your max) because recovery is emphasized.

You might want to skip the cross-training, thinking the non-running exercise isn’t all that helpful for marathon running, but these are really important in this particular approach to marathon training since you’re only running three days a week.

The cross-training workouts serve to replace recovery runs, easy runs, and basic base-building runs.

If you omit them, you’ll compromise your recovery and sabotage the gains in aerobic fitness you’ll need for marathon success.

A person rowing.

3 Day a Week Marathon Training Program

Run the first half of each long run 1-2 minutes per mile slower than you plan to run the marathon. For the second half of the run, pick up the pace to 45-90 seconds slower per mile.

MondayTuesdayWednesdayThursdayFridaySaturday Sunday
Cross-train 30 minutes2 mile warm-up

6 x 800m at 10k pace with 200m jog

1 mile cool down
Rest2 mile warm-up
3-mile tempo run
1 mile cool down
Cross-train 60 minutesRestLong run 10 miles
Cross-train 30 minutes2 mile warm-up

6 x 1000m at 5k pace with 200m jog

1 mile cool down
Rest2 mile warm-up
5-mile tempo run
1 mile cool down
Cross-train 60 minutesRestLong run 12 miles
Cross-train 40 minutes2 mile warm-up

4 x 1600m at 10k pace with 200m jog

1 mile cool down
Rest2 mile warm-up
6-mile tempo run
1 mile cool down
Cross-train 65 minutesRestLong run 14 miles
Cross-train 40 minutes2 mile warm-up

12 x 400m at 5k pace with 200m jog

1 mile cool down
Rest2 mile warm-up

2 x 4-mile tempo run with 90 seconds in between

1 mile cool down
Cross-train 65 minutesRestLong run 11 miles
Cross-train 40 minutes2 mile warm-up

8 x 800m at 5k pace with 200m jog

1 mile cool down
Rest2 mile warm-up
8-mile tempo run
1 mile cool down
Cross-train 70 minutesRestLong run 15 miles
Cross-train 45 minutes2 mile warm-up

1 x 1600m at 10k pace with 200m jog

2 x 1200m at 5k pace
2 x 800m at 5k pace

2 x 400m at 5k pace

1 mile cool down
Rest2 mile warm-up

2 x 5-mile tempo run with 90 seconds in between

1 mile cool down
Cross-train 70 minutesRestLong run 16 miles
Cross-train 45 minutes2 mile warm-up

10 x 800m at 5k pace with 200m jog

1 mile cool down
Rest2 mile warm-up
10-mile tempo run
1 mile cool down
Cross-train 75 minutesRestLong run 17 miles
Cross-train 45 minutes2 mile warm-up

12 x 400m at 5k pace with 200m jog

1 mile cool down
Rest2 mile warm-up
8-mile tempo run
1 mile cool down
Cross-train 75 minutesRestLong run 15 miles
Cross-train 45 minutes2 mile warm-up

4 x 1600m at 10k pace with 200m jog

1 mile cool down
Rest2 mile warm-up
6-mile tempo run
1 mile cool down
Cross-train 80 minutesRestLong run 20 miles
Cross-train 50 minutes2 mile warm-up

2 x 3200m at 10k pace with 200m jog

1 mile cool down
Rest2 mile warm-up
8-mile tempo run
1 mile cool down
Cross-train 80 minutesRestLong run 17 miles
Cross-train 50 minutes2 mile warm-up

12 x 400m at 5k pace with 200m jog

1 mile cool down
Rest2 mile warm-up
6-mile tempo run
1 mile cool down
Cross-train 60 minutesRestLong run 20 miles
Cross-train 55 minutes2 mile warm-up

6 x 1000m at 10k pace with 200m jog

1 mile cool down
Rest2 mile warm-up
6-mile tempo run
1 mile cool down
Cross-train 90 minutesRestLong run 16 miles
Cross-train 55 minutes2 mile warm-up

2 x 400m at 5k pace with 200m jog

2 x 800m at 5k pace
with 200m jog

2 x 1200m at 5k pace
with 200m jog

1 x 1600m at 10k pace 

1 mile cool down
Rest2 mile warm-up
5-mile tempo run
1 mile cool down
Cross-train 75 minutesRestLong run 20-22 miles
Cross-train 60 minutes2 mile warm-up

10 x 400m at 5k pace with 200m jog

1 mile cool down
Rest2 mile warm-up
6-mile tempo run
1 mile cool down
Cross-train 80 minutesRestLong run 16 miles
Cross-train 60 minutes2 mile warm-up
5 mile tempo run
1 mile cool down
Rest2 mile warm-up
5 mile tempo run
1 mile cool down
Cross-train 60 minutesRestLong Run
10 miles
Cross-train 45 minutesRun 5-8 milesRestRun 30 minutes or cross-train 30 minutesRest10-20 minutes easy jogMarathon

There you have it, your 3 day a week marathon training plan so you can get started today, good luck!

Focusing on nutrition to accompany your training is always a good idea. Check out our nutritional guides for some great runner’s diets:

References

Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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