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The Three Day a Week Running Plan
Can I get results by running only 3 days a week? You bet you can, but only if you are running with purpose. The 3 day a week running plan values quality over quantity–making the most of the precious time you have. This running plan has even been scientifically studied and proven with everyone from beginners to elites, from 5ks to marathons (I left the sciency stuff for the bottom of the page if you care to peruse it). So short on time, but want results? The power packed combination of these 3 running workouts can give you the results you need.
This 3 day a week running plan is inspired by the book Runner’s World Run Less, Run Faster by the great minds at Runner’s World. The book explains the FIRST “3plus2” training program. In short, FIRST (Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training) conducted a study that had participants follow a 16 week marathon training program where they followed a specific plan of running just 3 days a week and cross training 2 days, hence “3plus2”. The results? Despite skepticism, the two participants the book follows, Scott Infanger and Aaron Colangelo, cut approximately 15 minutes off their previous marathon times enabling Aaron to break 3:10 and Scott to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
It worked for us, and can work for you too! Click here to read about our marathon experience with this plan.
But this plan is not just for marathon runners. Beginners attempting their first 5k or 10k race benefit from this type of training plan as well. (And various race/goal specific plans are provided in the book)
I was so inspired by this plan, I actually created a run planning page that makes it so easy to choose quality workouts and keep track of it all. Check it out…it’s free!
1. Speed Intervals
You know how little kids run as fast as they can, rest, then do it again? Yeah, those are pretty much speed intervals. Speed intervals (in addition to helping you run faster) will make your body more efficient at using oxygen while you work.
Sample Beginner Speed Workout
Start with a 10 minute warm up and then do 3 x 5 min speed intervals. Each interval involves 2 minutes of walking for recovery and 3 minutes of running at or above 5k pace. Finish with a 5 min cool down. Vary the speed intervals with each workout. Speed workouts will often be given in track terms, like 400s or 800s, etc., but we recognize you most likely won’t be going to the track. The time intervals will get you where you need to be and can be done around your regular running route. 5k pace here basically means you are working hard. You should not be able to hold a conversation–you are only running for 3 minutes!
2. Tempo Run
Warm up at an easy pace, and then begin your tempo run comfortably hard, slightly slower than your 5k pace. Try to hold the tempo pace for your entire 30 minute workout. If you are a beginner it might be necessary to take a 1 minute walking break if necessary and then continue your tempo run. Your goal is always to hold your tempo pace for as long as possible with absolutely no walking breaks. Don’t forget to cool down.
3. Long Run
This run should be done at or below your marathon (easy) pace. This run is done to build strength and endurance. If you are training for a 5k, your long run should be at least 4 miles.
Plan out a safe, comfortable running route. You should know in advance your exact route and how long it will be. Your goal is to get yourself into ‘the zone’ where you feel like you could run forever. Don’t let your mind wander too much, the long run is a good time to focus on your running form.
Part of the benefits of the 3 day a week running plan is that your body gets the necessary recovery time to repair itself and come back stronger for the next workout. The actual plan in Run Less, Run Faster calls for 2 days of cross training in addition to the 3 days a week, but if you are a beginner, just looking to get by, its ok to not focus on the cross training for now. So pick 2 days per week to get your speed and tempo runs in, then one day for the long run over the weekend. Your schedule should allow for days off in between your runs, so a schedule like Monday, Wednesday, Saturday or Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday would be ideal.
You might be a beginner. You might not even be running at all right now. The hardest part is finding the motivation to get started. Just start. That’s it. The 3 day a week running plan is as attainable as it gets. Take it one workout at a time and give yourself a chance to succeed.