How Many Days Per Week Do You Really Need To Run While Marathon Training?

How many days per week do you really need to run while marathon training? It turns out the answer may not be as important as you think.

No comments

I’ve recently started training for the Los Angeles Marathon, which is scheduled for March of 2023. It’s been a minute since I’ve seriously trained for anything (thanks, pandemic and graduate school!) and I’ve got to admit that it’s been a humbling experience. Since my last marathon in 2018, my pace is a bit slower, my stomach is a little softer, and I’ve been struggling to finish runs that were once a piece of cake. 

However, it’s not lost on me that I’m still incredibly lucky and fortunate to be able to train for a marathon! Working in a hospital pretty much ensures you leave work everyday grateful to be healthy enough to go home to your own bed and come back the next day on your own terms. Of course, feeling grateful for my health doesn’t mean that I’m not thinking about my goals for the upcoming race, and how to choose a goal that’s challenging but also tangible. And since I’ve recruited roughly 10 of my classmates to join me during this training cycle — and have been spearheading a group training plan for all of us — I’ve been thinking about the most important aspects of a training plan, and what the most vital components are during a marathon build up. 

Fortunately, a recent study may have the answers I’m looking for.  A study published in European Applied Physiology found that monthly training volume has the strongest influence on your marathon performance when compared to other objective variables including training frequency, longest running distance (LRD) and average running distance per workout (ARD). 

Interpreted results indicate, above all, your weekly and/or monthly total mileage may have more of an effect on your overall marathon performance compared to how many days a week you run, how long your daily runs are on average, or the longest run in your training cycle. This makes sense, as previous research shows that marathon performance is strongly linked to a person’s anaerobic and lactate threshold, and training volume is more closely related to lactate threshold compared to training intensity. 

The findings of this study don’t come without stipulations. In order for monthly training volume to be the biggest differentiator in your training plan, study findings indicate that your average runs (ARD) should be greater than or equal to 10km, or 6.2 miles, and your longest run (LRD) should be at least 21km, or about 13 miles. Your total number of runs per week also needs to be greater than 2.

These specific distances for average run (ARD) and longest run (LRD) are interesting to me, as the ARD is longer than I expected, and the LRD is shorter than I expected. Typically, I recommend runners taking on at least one 20-miler as their longest distance before running a marathon, and shorter week day runs throughout the cycle are typically between 3-5 miles. The fact that these results applied to runners running less than 5-6x per week was also surprising, but refreshingly so.

At first, these particular study results had me questioning if I should be upping the mileage when it comes to shorter, weekly runs — and if that’s even possible for some of the members of our group. Currently, our Tues/Thurs/Saturday schedule has 3-5 miles scheduled on Tues/Thurs, and a longer run scheduled for the weekend. But with some simple math I realized that if you take our weekly “long” runs into account, we’re actually not so far off with the numbers: Two 3 to 5-mile runs plus one longer 10-mile run means our weekly average distance hovers just below or exceeds that 10km, or 6.2-mile threshold.  

With some context and added thought, this study seems promising for recreational runners, as the schedule I’ve created for our LA training is taking more of a conservative approach, consisting of just three days per week of running (with an ‘optional’ fourth day) to account for our very busy schedules. While this study maintains that a higher monthly training volume had better marathon results, it puts less emphasis on the frequency of training, meaning that a more conservative approach (or running 3x/week) can be just as effective as someone running 5x per week, as long as an adequate training volume is maintained. 

Other promising features of the study include the fact that the median monthly mileage for runners was 150 km, or 93.2 miles. Broken down into four weeks of the month, that’s only 23.3 miles per week. Although it’s easy to get overwhelmed by runners you see on Strava logging 40, or 50, or even 80-mile weeks, it’s important to recognize that marathon training can be accomplished with lower training volumes — as long as you’re consistent. 

While this study does indicate that conservative and lower-mileage training plans can produce improved marathon results, it’s important to recognize that this study only included males. However, it’s definitely reassuring and providing some positive reinforcement to individuals training for a marathon with busier schedules.

Key takeaways:

  • Monthly training volume has a stronger influence on your marathon performance compared to training frequency, longest running distance (LRD), and average running distance per workout (ARD)
  • While greater monthly training volume is correlated with better performance times, following a conservative training plan for runs 3/week amounting to ~25miles/week may be just as effective for improving marathon performance as a plan that has you running 5x/week for ~25 miles/week

Check out the study abstract here, full citation below.

Yamaguchi A, Shouji M, Akizuki A, et al. Interactions between monthly training volume, frequency and running distance per workout on marathon time [published online ahead of print, 2022 Oct 7]. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2022;10.1007/s00421-022-05062-7. doi:10.1007/s00421-022-05062-7

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s