I never studied exercise science. I’m neither a sports therapist nor a physical trainer. I am not a doctor of any kind nor an elite athlete or one who’s been in the game forever. What I am, though, is very confident that you can run your goal distance even if you just have time for 3-4 days of activity a week.
TAKE NOTE: You should only take this post to heart if you really only have 3-4 days of which you can dedicate some time to training. If you have the ability to train and be active for 4, 5, or 6 days a week, then, if you plan well and train smart, that may help you in your goal of finishing your goal race.
I am not speaking from experience. I generally run 6 days a week and I love every second I’m out there, but I want to keep stressing that I firmly believe what I’m saying. The catch, though, is that you can’t get away with just any 3-4 training runs or workouts that you want AND this opinion of mine may not be applied to distances of certain ultramarathons such as the 100k or 100 miler. Additionally, it may not get you to reach your goal time or PR. But…I believe…you will be able to cross the finish line.
Many people I know think I’m either crazy or that I have some sort of super power to be able to train and run marathons and ultramarathons. Let me put these beliefs to rest. I do not have super powers and neither do any of the marathoners and ultramarathoners that I know or have run with. Some may be crazy, though (I’m looking at you Marathon Maniacs). So how do we do it? Simple: Discipline. It takes a disciplined person to cross the finish line of any race so it’s not like only ultrarunners have a special claim on a unique form of discipline. Those who run or do any kind of exercise regularly and sometimes vigorously are disciplined in what they eat, when they train, how much they train, what social luxuries they may need to give up, how much sleep they might have to sacrifice or how much more sleep they have to get (we can never win when it comes to the Zzz’s).
It’s not fancy and I can’t trade it or sell it or anything. But this is the most special medal I own because of how much I put my heart into what it took to cross the finish line in this 50 mile race–my first ultramarathon. You don’t have to run an ultra, but I know you can cross whatever line it is you have your eyes on.
I actually think it’s for some of these reasons why those who say things like, “Wow, you’re crazy,” or “Oh, my gosh! I could never do anything like that! I can’t even jog a mile!” You’re wrong, my friend. If you wanted to, you can indeed jog a mile and you can also run a 5k, half marathon, marathon, and ultramarathon just like I and others can. What is stopping you (and this may not apply to everyone) are the limitations you are creating for yourself. It doesn’t help to think that you can’t do something because it makes it more likely that you will stop yourself from trying or if you do try, you may stop or give up before you’ve really given it your all. When it comes to running, I think people’s time comes into play. Time is precious. I understand and I agree. I (like everyone who works and volunteers and has hobbies and loved ones and animal companions to spend time with) wish there were more hours in the day. But to cross that finish line, you don’t need to dedicate as many days to running as you may think. You can take that 5-7 days of running a week–or what you think is required to complete your goal race–that is preventing you from taking the next step and turn it into 3-4 days of training.
What takes place during those 3-4 days?
- A medium-distance run. This varies depending on your goal race. Want to run a half marathon? Your m/d run may be 6 or 7 miles. Want to run a marathon or 50k? This run be between 9-13 miles (maybe up to 15).
- A long run. The long run also varies and is run at a slower pace than your goal pace (about 60-90 seconds slower is generally what I’ve come across). For the half marathon, your long run may be 9-10 miles. For the marathon and 50k, your long run will likely be between 14-20 miles (perhaps up to 24 or 25 for the 50k distance).
- A light run. Your light run can be something to just wake you up in the morning or just a nice evening pre- or post-dinner run or jog. If you’re goal race is the half marathon, a light run may be 3-5 miles and if you’re eyeing the marathon or 50k then your light run may be an easy 5-7 miler. I included the light run after the long run because some runners like to take a recovery run the day after they logged the long run, although this doesn’t have to be the case for you.
- A cross-training* day. This is a day to do something other than running, but the activity is still rigorous enough to make you work up a bit of a sweat and should be at least 45 minutes to 1 hour in duration (likely not exactly continuous). Cross-training can take the form of cycling, mountain biking, swimming, playing recreational sports, rock-climbing, hiking, Stand up paddle boarding (SUP), etc.
*I purposely didn’t include strength-training in this list because I think runners should be strength-training at least twice a week. A strong core, back, glutes, and legs are all important for running and staying healthy while doing it. There are many workouts you can find online through a quick Google search for something like “strength training for running” that will likely give you some great ideas or specific workouts to incorporate into your training regimen.
How do you get to where you want to be? One step at a time.
So that’s it…3-4 days of training. I included 4, but the light run may need to be sacrificed if you really only have 3 days where you can dedicate time to training. Further explanation is needed, however: You need to build up to the long run. If your goal race is the marathon, then your first week of training might not involve a long run of 15 miles no matter how slow you run it. Your initial long run may only be 5 or 6 miles and may not even take place until after a couple weeks of running. Your medium-distance run, then, may only be 3 miles. Hopefully you get the idea…I just wanted to give you a gist of what it will look like when you are in a good place in your training. I still maintain that you can train 3-4 days a week even early on in your training to get you to accomplish your goal.
Something else: If you are shooting for a goal race and are adding a time-goal component that involves some speedwork, then the rough 3-4 day overview I presented will need to be altered to include training that will improve speed; this can be added into the 3-4 workouts or an additional day can be added if you are willing to manipulate your schedule to fit in some time on a 4th or 5th day for speed-specific training.
REMINDER: You should only apply this restricted 3-4 day training if you really only have 3-4 days of which you can dedicate time to train. If you have the ability to train and be active for more days each week or some weeks (not necessarily more days of running), then that may help you even more to achieve your goal of finishing your goal race.
Questions (especially about the 5k or 10k which I did not specifically mention)? I’d love to hear them!