The 4 Hour Run Week: The Bare Minimum Marathon Training Plan

I have just trained for a full marathon on basically one run per week.  Since I am working full time, raising a toddler and preparing for another baby and a future move, I dedicated just one day a week to a run.  My running partner kept to his 3 – 5 runs per week, and, I’ll admit, I struggled to keep up for the first few weeks.

However, once I had regained a solid base long run of 12 miles or so, I could hold the pace.  I could actually pick it up at the end.

While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend training for a full marathon on just one run a week, it can be done.  I believe running twice per week makes for a much better recipe, if done right.  Each run should serve a specific purpose, and not just be miles for the sake of miles.  This plan isn’t based on miles.  Therefore, you shouldn’t risk running junk miles.  This plan is focused on time and how you use it.  Whatever your goal marathon time, that is the target for training hours per week.  This is true even at the end of the plan when you should be running 20+ mile long runs.  So, if you are a 4 hour marathoner, you will only need 4 hours of training per week.  And if you can’t achieve the two runs in the target time, you should consider changing your goal time.  This isn’t a miracle plan where you can just run a BQ by under-preparing.  You still need to get the miles in on your long run.

Here’s how to do it:

The first run is the long run.  We want to do these about a minute per mile slower than marathon pace. Really, if you have a heart rate monitor, use it to ensure you stay aerobic for most of the run.  For long run progression, I like to do what I call the Texas Two-Step… That is two weeks of increasing mileage by 2 miles followed by one week of dropping back 4 miles.  So, I would go 12, 14, 10, 16, 18, 14, 20, 22, 18, and then as many 20+ mile runs until 2 weeks before the marathon.  Using the 4 hour marathoner as our example, once you get up into the 20 milers, you should be completing your long runs in 3:30.  (Checking the math – 4 hour marathon = 9:09 min/mile.  10:09 min/mile for 20 miles = 3:23.)

Run #2 is a mid-week interval run.  I have been experimenting with “sets” of a 0.3 miles hard (since my GPS watch won’t do 0.25s) and 1:30 rest.  I like to use a time based rest so I can try to get my heart rate down, whether it is by jogging, walking, or a dead stop, it is still just a minute and a half before I have to pick it up again.  Do a 3 minute warmup, 6-8 sets, and a 2 minute cool down.  See more detail here.  That is it.  In total, this workout should take no more than 35 minutes.  And, unless you keep adding sets after 8, that time should go down as you gain speed.  If you can hold 7 minute pace for a quarter mile, 3 min + 8 sets x (1:45 / quarter mile + 1:30 rest) + 2 min cool down = 31 minutes.

Let’s review.  The 4 hour marathoner, at the peak of this training plan should be doing his long runs in 3:23 and his interval runs in 0:31.  That is six minutes shy of four hours per week.  Shoot, that gives you plenty of time to crush a full upper body workout.

Again, this is the minimum effective dose for marathon training.  If you want a more traditional plan, contact me and I will be happy to help.

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