One of the great joys of running is that, logistically, it’s so easy to do. All that’s required are your trainers and some kit and off you go. No need to worry about lots of equipment, class start times or travel time to and from your workout.
Despite all this, it can still be tough to fit in all the running that you’d like to. Fear not, though, because just three training sessions a week, on a regular basis, can be more than sufficient. Don’t worry particularly about the duration of any of these sessions – it’s how well you make use of the time you have that really matters.
Entering an event (we’ve got some great female-friendly races taking place this summer – have a look!) is a fantastic way to measure the progress that you’re making, not to mention being a very enjoyable and rewarding experience. It’s also a great way to hold the structure of your training routine in place. Here are some suggestions to help you get the best out of just three runs a week, whatever distance you decide to aim for.
To prepare for a 5K, your first two sessions per week should be divided up into one longer run at a comfortable pace and one hill or sprint interval session. The third weekly session should alternate between hill or sprint intervals following a different pattern from session two for that week, and also including some dynamic strength and conditioning training.
So, a typical week could consist of a steady state run of between 20 and 40 minutes, followed by a session of short hill repeats of 30-60 seconds uphill with a walk or jog down recovery, repeating the hill run anything between six and 12 times.
The third session would either be sprint training on the flat or hill training again, but this time your high-intensity efforts will be between two and four minutes and you’ll only do three to six of these. This will be followed by a selection of squats, squat jumps, dynamic lunges, hops, skips and some upper body strength training using
a resistance band.
For 10K preparation, the basic structure of your three sessions each week can follow the pattern of preparing for a 5K event, with just a few subtle differences. Your long runs will need to edge up towards an hour but this needn’t be every week. Just make sure that if your long run is a bit shorter – between 30 and 60 minutes for example – you include a selection of different paces within each run.
So, one week you might manage an hour at a comfortable pace and the next week you’ve got time for 30 minutes for a long run. Include a section of five minutes at a faster pace and a few bursts of one minute, where you run as fast as you can manage, while still able to return to a jog after each burst rather than needing to walk to recover.
Sessions two and three can alternate each week between hill training and sprint training, and you should aim to include some strength training and some core work after each of these sessions.
Training for a half-marathon on three sessions a week is definitely possible, as long as you’re organised. It’s actually a good routine to adopt as it allows you plenty of recovery time, which you will need as you’ll be working hard during each of your sessions. When you know the date of your event, take a look at your schedule and see where each of your three training sessions per week will take place. Identify any weeks where you think you’ll have a bit more time to run and, for these weeks, put together a plan for steadily working up your mileage at your anticipated race pace.
For the other weeks where you think you might not have so much time to run, focus your efforts on faster running and hill training, as both of these will enable you to maintain your race pace more comfortably during your long runs. In addition to all this, you should include some strength training in at least one of your weekly workouts. Strength training should never be underestimated; core strength especially will boost running efficiency.
For general fitness and progression of your stamina and endurance, variety is the key. You can plan three sessions to suit each busy week but you should still aim to keep a loose structure to your training as this helps you monitor your progress. Set yourself a benchmark time for a specific run and check your fastest time for this route every two to three weeks. Between these runs, focus your efforts on a combination of hill training, faster running, core conditioning and circuit training.
Not sure how your training week would look? Click here to see an example of how to structure your weekly training with just three runs.
Written by coach Jeff Archer for Women’s Running magazine