Busy woman's guide to marathon trainingHave you ever looked at your diary for the week ahead and panicked about how you will fit in your training? I have, so I’m always looking for ways to make the most of my free time. Many of the women and men that I coach hold down busy jobs, work long hours and have families as well. These are the real heroes for me in the modern running world. They race well and train hard while living in the fast lane.

I truly believe that you can successfully train for any race distance on just three runs a week. The key to success is making sure that these three runs are quality training. You can’t afford to waste time on junk miles: these runs have to count.

I regularly chat to super women about squeezing in a long run, a threshold session and a progression run or hill session each week. This makes up their three training sessions and all of them contain key quality elements. If you add ten to 15 minutes of core conditioning after two of them, then you really are home and dry.

Of course, I am not saying don’t run or train four, five or six times a week if you have time, but less can be more and will definitely get results. I have certainly got a few weeks coming up where I am going to have to train smarter. If I set out to run less times than usual per week, but suddenly find time for more, then the week is more than a success. Turn it around the other way though, and my lack of realistic weekly goal-setting will become my downfall and doom and gloom will set in. If I wanted to run five times, for example, but only managed to get out for three runs, I’d be disappointed. Be realistic and accept that you are where you are with a smile.

Some people will be training for a marathon and thinking that three runs couldn’t possibly work for you, but I promise it can, and will. Whoever you are, and whatever your running goals, these three sessions per week, are guaranteed to get you in great shape.


A long run that includes your planned marathon pace in the last third or half. An example might be a two-hour run where you run easily for 60 to 80 minutes before stepping up to target marathon pace in the last 40 to 60 minutes.


A 45-minute run that includes four times six minutes at threshold effort (three or four-word answer pace) with a two-minute recovery jog in between each effort. After the run, do 15 minutes of simple core exercises and you will have completed the perfect hour.


A 45-minute run that gradually becomes quicker every 15 minutes. This is a progression run. Start with 15 minutes at an easy pace then run for 15 minutes at a steady pace before finishing with 15 minutes at a hard pace. This run can work wonders. If you’re feeling tired, you could just run easily before breakfast for 45 minutes focusing on using fats as your fuel source as you’ll need to engage with this energy system regularly if you are going to run a strong marathon.

So the magic three can see you across the finish line of any race, and you could even swap one of the 45-minute days for a hard cross-training option but include the same efforts and intervals to keep the quality. You are training the heart and it doesn’t know the difference between running and cross training.

You’ve probably heard the old adage, ‘If you want to get a job done, ask a busy person’. It’s time to be that busy person; go for it in 2013, there is always time.



If you’re pushed for time, try these top tips to squeeze in a run:

1/SMART COMMUTING – Run to or from work once or twice a week. If it’s a long way between your home and workplace, you could even get off the bus or train a couple of stops early and run from there. Buy a lightweight running rucksack that comfortably binds around your front if you’re going to commute to work, and make sure you’re organised about the clothes that you need for your working day.

2/WORKING LUNCH – Treat your training sessions like important lunchtime meetings; put them in your diary then head out of the door for the healthiest 45 minutes of your day. Grab a quick shower afterwards and try to eat within 20 minutes of finishing the run to boost your recovery.

3/CLUB TOGETHER – Find a group of mums who run, and get together a couple of mornings a week for coffee. The deal here is that one of you looks after the children, the others run together for an hour. I know several groups where this works really well and you only miss a run every few weeks when it’s your turn to take care of the kids.

4/NURSERY TIME – Find a gym with a cre?che and then get busy. Most gyms have a cre?che or should be able to recommend a nearby nursery.

5/BRING BABY – Consider buying a baby jogger. These can be super-fast and easy to use if your local park has good paths. You can even corner at pace and run up and down hills once you’ve strapped in the little one.

– Keep running kit at work or in the car as you never know when a 45-minute window of opportunity might pop up. When this happens, punch the air and go for a run to celebrate. There’s nothing worse than having unexpected spare time but no kit.

– Plan your support team. When you’re training hard, your husband, boyfriend or loved one might have to take on extra household duties or spend more time with the kids. You may need to ask someone else to get the shopping, do the laundry or cook dinner. Whatever it is, get your diary out and organise your support team for days when you need to run. Explain how much it means to you, and remember that they love you to feel great.

Words by Phoebe Thomas