Time-efficient Marathon Training – Women's Running UK

Time-efficient Marathon Training

Author: Chris Macdonald

Read Time:   |  July 14, 2017


Time-efficient Marathon Training

If you’re training for a half or full marathon and are struggling to fit all of your sessions in, don’t panic. Life can be hectic, and trying to fit in five runs a week is not always feasible – or even a good idea. Provided you’re reasonably fit and not a beginner runner, you can still make it to the start line if you start to focus your training on quality sessions rather than quantity.

But it’s important to be realistic about your goals. “You can run a reasonably good half-marathon and a reasonably good marathon on three good running sessions a week,” says running coach Keith Anderson from Full Potential (fullpotential.co.uk). “If your aspirations are higher then those sessions will only take you so far, but three really specific, focused sessions will offer some really good benefits.”

In fact, doing just three runs a week gives you more recovery time in between sessions, which may prevent injury. “Running on very sore and tight muscles is asking for trouble,” says physiotherapist Mark Buckingham from Witty Pask & Buckingham (wpbphysio.co.uk). “Recovery is everything when building up mileage.”

Each week, include a threshold run, hill run and the all-important long run in your training. Threshold runs will improve your speed endurance, hills will improve leg strength and the long run will condition your body to cope with the demands of the distance.

The threshold run

“You’ve got to have a really good bedrock of speed endurance (your ability to run faster for longer periods), which comes from doing threshold runs,” says Keith Anderson. “You’ve also got to have some good volume in those sessions to develop a really economical cardiovascular system that allows you to move at a good pace for the right effort level.”

A threshold run means blocks of running at a pace of “controlled discomfort” (see training plan), which means that on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 out of 10 being a flatout sprint and 4 out of 10 a gentle pre-run warm-up), you are running at an intensity level of 8/8.5 out of 10. You shouldn’t be able to utter more than a couple of words. “Threshold runs develop speed endurance and also make the other slower running sessions seem much easier,” says Keith. “It’s manageable as long as you plan it well and progress when your body is ready.”

Time-efficient Marathon Training


The hill run

Complete a hill run once a week. “Hill running is good for strength as you are forced to overcome the resistance of the incline,” says running coach Nina Anderson (ninaanderson.com). “It can also promote a better stride length and both factors help to improve running economy which then relates to a better performance.”

The long run

Complete one weekly long run. “The long run is about conditioning the muscles and body to get used to that time on your feet,” says Keith Anderson. “Otherwise, the hip flexors, adductors (inner thighs) or quadriceps (front thighs) are starting to feel the pain of the longer run.”

Time-efficient Marathon Training

Plan ahead

“Plan in advance when you are going to train,” says Nina Anderson. “On a Sunday evening, make a habit of looking at the week ahead and plot in where each training session will go.”

Prepare for a run in advance. If you’re running after work, lay all your kit out the night before, so that you get home from work everything is ready. Have your running shoes, sports bra and other clothing ready, along with your water bottle and any accessories so you’re not searching for missing items. Your long run is obviously harder to fit in, so do it on a weekend when you have more time – again, having your kit out ready will help.

Time-efficient strength work

Strength work is crucial as it conditions your body to be able to cope with the muscular demands of running long distances. Bodyweight conditioning exercises at home for 10 or 15 minutes once or twice a week is enough. Not lifting heavy weights at the gym or doing too much is actually an advantage. “When marathon training it’s not the time to be hitting the weights hard,” says Mark Buckingham. “Once a week, do lower weights and higher reps – three sets of 12 to 15.”

Time-efficient stretching

You don’t have to spend ages stretching, but make it a habit at the end of each run. “It’s vital to stretch the leg muscles after every run,” says Nina Anderson. “This is much more relevant than stretching for five minutes every day.”


Time-efficient Marathon Training

Rest and nutrition

Don’t underestimate the benefits of good nutrition and recovery. “I coach very busy people but they are organised and get the best rest and nutrition they can,” says Keith Anderson. “Make sure you’re getting all your vitamins and nutrients. Keep your training is focused. You may enjoy going to your running club but is it specific enough for you and therefore the best use of your time?”

Ready to take up a new quality-focused approach to your training? Download your 12-week half-marathon and marathons plans by clicking below, and jump on where you can!

12-week half-marathon training plan

12-week marathon training plan

Chris Macdonald

Editor-at-Large, Women's Running

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