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Professor Andy Jones joined our Director of Performance Solutions, Professor James Morton, for a live Q&A session on Instagram to answer your questions about marathon training.

For more information about preparing and training for a marathon, check out Episode 6 of our From Paper To Podium Podcast where Andy appeared as a guest along with Paula Radcliffe MBE. Listen in here.

Q: Is it possible to run a sub-three-hour marathon while training just three times per week?

A: This depends greatly on how talented you are and what your current level of fitness and running ability is. If you can run a 2h30 marathon when training at full capacity, you can probably finish in under three hours with just three training runs a week. It is a good idea to keep your body mass low and to supplement with other aerobic exercises if you want to run a fast marathon with fewer weekly training runs. One long run per week is crucial. Elite athletes will include at least one 18-25 mile run per week as well as speed run sessions or tempo miles twice a week. As with any marathon, it is fundamentally important to be fit and load up with carbs in the days and weeks leading up to the race.

Q: What tips do you have for achieving a sub-3h30 marathon?

A: To run at this high level, it is paramount to consume enough carbohydrates. When you run at that speed, your body will use a mixture of carbs and fat to power through. Fuelling your run with fat costs more energy, so you must be carb-loaded to encourage your body to use carbs as fuel as much as possible. Add carbs into your system during your run with drinks and gels, 60g per hour if possible. Starting from the beginning of your race, fuel every 5km. Don’t wait until you get tired or thirsty or feel you need extra fuel to start taking the fuel.

Q: What is the difference between running for time versus running a distance?

A: This is a good question. When planning your training, including a combination of both styles is important. Psychologically, it can be easier to go out for a run if you set yourself a target of running for two or three hours rather than aiming for a set number of miles. However, a marathon is running a distance, so you can help your body adapt to running for longer amounts of time by training for distance as well.

Q: What is the best way to improve your running speed?

A: It depends on what kind of speed you mean. In terms of basic speed, the best thing you can do to increase that is to train with short fast intervals. To get faster at race distance, the short answer is: Do more of the same training you’re already doing. The progressive overload principle means increasing the amount of training you do gradually so you get fitter and faster.
There are a few ways to structure your training to increase your speed.

  • The five-speed principle: Train at five different speeds over two weeks
  • Tempo runs: Do training runs at marathon pace, at a slower pace and at a faster pace than you plan to run your race.

The key here is planning. Understand the purpose of each training session and plan what your goal is each time you go for a run. What is this run a precursor to? Recognise and respect its position in the master plan.


Q: How can I maintain cardiovascular fitness while reducing my mileage?

A: If you need to reduce your mileage due to injury or simply as you are getting older, you can maintain cardiovascular fitness by increasing your intensity slightly. Run a little bit harder for 50 miles a week instead of 65-80 miles. You may also benefit from supplementing running with strength training, mobility exercise, Yoga and Pilates.

To hear the whole conversation hosted by James and Charlie Webster with Andy and Paula, listen to the From Paper to Podium podcast.

Written By

Julia Deufel - content writer and consultant

Julia runs her own marketing consultancy, working with businesses and non-profits in education, nutrition, fitness and the arts. She also teaches a blend of HIIT and Pilates she developed and is an avid indoor cyclist. Julia is an advocate of effective altruism and believes in the power of sport to change lives.