The Parkrun Sandwich Is One Of My Favorite Marathon Training Sessions

Two runners in a parkrun
(Image credit: Phil Walter / Getty Images)

Whatever kind of runner you are, and whatever you’re training for, it’s always great to make parkrun part of your weekly routine if you can. It’s a great start to the weekend and will top up your motivation for running because of the always-excellent atmosphere.

However, fitting parkrun in isn’t always the easiest thing to do for me when marathon training, and not only because of the million activities my kids have lined up every weekend. It’s also because parkrun is 5K, and once I’m deep into marathon training my speed sessions tend to be longer, and they usually take place on a Saturday.

Fortunately my coach Andy Hobdell also loves parkrun and has found a way to include it in long speed sessions—he just makes me run hard before and after it. The parkrun sandwich during marathon training basically involves running two long stints at marathon pace, one before and one after the parkrun itself, which you still run as hard as you can.

Earlier on in my current training block for the London Marathon I did my longest parkrun sandwich session yet, doing 10K at marathon pace before parkrun, followed by 8km afterward, but you can do much shorter versions of the session—I’m doing 5K before and 5K after this weekend, for example.

It’s a great session for testing out how comfortable marathon pace feels, especially after the parkrun when you’ve put a fast 5K into your legs. The recovery time is usually meant to be three to four minutes between each section of the workout, but this is almost impossible to judge correctly for the start of the parkrun because they don’t usually begin at exactly 9am. Then afterward it can take a little longer to get your barcode scanned and say hello to a couple of people before heading off to run again.

The logistics of this session can also be tricky, depending on the parkrun—if you run a very hilly course, it might actually be tough to run at marathon pace on it before and after, so you might need to find a different route locally for those sections, or adjust your pace targets. It’s also sometimes nice to get off the parkrun route for the workout section after the run if possible, so you’re not in the way of runners still finishing their parkrun.

If you don’t have a parkrun near you or just hate early mornings, then it’s easy to do this session without a parkrun. Just do the middle 5K hard, or find another race if you want the extra motivation of other people to run with, which certainly always helps when you’re pushing the pace.

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.