The keys to making low mileage work (1) make every mile count, and (2) maximizing recovery.
Take a good, hard look at any published marathon training plan. Generally, they consist of 2 quality speed days (track or intervals on Tuesday, a power or tempo run on Thursday) and a long run on the weekend, plus “filler” miles run at easy paces and XT days to fill out 6-10 workouts over 6-7 days of the week.
The low-mileage philosophy is that the quality and long days are what maximize adaptation to running, and that the extra work just pads your eqo about your mileage count and pharks up your recovery.
So a low-mileage plan INCREASES the quality of the three runs, and cuts out the other 3-7 runs to maximize recovery. You actually work HARDER at a low-mileage plan, and reduce your risk of repetitive stress injury because you’re running 3 days a week instead of 6-7. The mileage reduction comes from killing the “conversational pace” jog/walks. In essence, the low-mileage plan is for those who enjoy COMPETING and not JOGGING, for those who enjoy TESTING THEMSELVES and not the beauteous feel of an early morning relaxing run.
Here’s an example plan.
Instead of running intervals at 10K pace on Tuesday for a total of 3-4 miles or so, do a TIME TRIAL of 5K at 5K pace (which is maybe 20 sec/mile below 10K pace). Hold that pace for extra distance, and when you can make 3.5 miles at it, increase that pace by maybe 5 sec/mile.
Instead of running 6 miles at tempo pace on Thursday, run a TIME TRIAL of 10K at 10K pace (20 sec/mile above 5K pace). Do this distance and nothing more. You are using the Tuesday run to determine when/if you change your paces.
The long run on the weekend alternates between two different styles of run, one each weekend.
First is marathon pace run (50 sec/mile slower than 10K pace or 70 sec/mile slower than 5K pace) for as many miles as you can hold it, try to push this to 18+.
Second is conversational pace (below MP) and use the TIME you expect to be in a marathon (26.2/MP) as your duration. This is to adapt your body to being on your feet for that long.
EVERY OTHER DAY IS OFF. THAT MEANS MONDAY, WEDNESDAY, FRIDAY, AND ONE DAY ON THE WEEKEND ARE ALL OFF.
I think you can agree that this plan is both LOW-MILEAGE and significantly HARDER than most high-mileage plans. But it includes much more recovery time and will amply prepare you for racing at any distance from 5K to marathon. The mileage reduction comes from eliminating the runs that do the LEAST to adapt your body to running a race distance at a race pace, i.e. the “easy 3-6 milers” that make up one-third to one-half of the mileage in a traditional plan.