3 Hour Marathon Pace | Tips to Get to 2:59

December 25, 2021

Are you seeking a better way to hold 3 hour marathon pace longer than your competition? If so, I am glad that you have made it here to NutritionGeeks. There is nothing easy about running a marathon under 3 hours. That being said, with proper planning and execution you certainly can achieve it. I have been training for over 30 years in this sport and ran a personal best of 2:19:35 for the marathon. So, I do understand how much time and devotion it takes to running a fast marathon time.

My goal with this post is to share with you some tips to help ensure your success. I made a lot of mistakes earlier in my career running this event. So, want to make sure you do not make the same mistakes. In addition, that you get better results by working smarter. We all know how to work hard. Are the hardest working athletes the ones that get the best results? Of course not, the hardest working marathoners don't always get the end goal. The athletes working smarter do. So, using leverage and preparing in a better way will ensure your success.

How Many Miles a Week Should I Run for a 3 Hour Marathon?

Athletes will be doing varying distances per week. I believe an athlete running 40 miles or more per week can run a marathon under 3 hours. That being said, there are many other runners who will need to run much more. So, it just depends on an athletes time constraints and how badly they truly want to achieve this goal. Remember, it isn't about the volume of training you are doing as much as it is about the quality of the work being done. There are many runners who are still running far too many miles/kilometers too slow each week. The result is they aren't able to sustain sub 3 hour marathon pace for the entire duration of the race. It certainly isn't because they don't have the capability to break the barrier.

The problem is they simply have not spent sufficient time training well below 3 hour marathon pace. Again, the best marathoners make it look easy for a reason. I train my athletes do 1, vo2 max workout per week. Vo2 max training is training at your maximum heart rate or very close to it. So, the end goal is to get that 3 hour marathon pace to feel less demanding on the athlete. In addition, to be able to sustain race pace longer than our competition. Also, training at significantly faster paces will also improve your lactate tolerance.


What Percentage of Marathoners Break 3 Hours?

There is a very small percentage of marathoners who break 3 hours each year. It is estimated that only about 2 to 4 percent of runners break the sub 3 hr marathon barrier. My goal is to ensure more runners that come to nutritiongeeks.com and rundreamachieve.com achieve this goal. Again, it is about working smarter, not harder. Higher mileage is not a guarantee of breaking the 3 hour marathon barrier. What percentage of your weekly mileage have you been running at or far below 3 hour marathon pace in the past? Has it been around 10 to 20 percent?

If so, you need to start thinking on a higher level of thinking. I would recommend focusing more toward 40 to 45 percent. The reason being is that is around where the best marathoners train at. Again, they make it look easy for a reason. They have spent a great deal of their time training at paces that far exceed this goal 3hr marathon pace. How long have your tempo runs been in the past? 3 to 5 miles? If so, start extending the duration of these workouts. The reason is we race right around our anaerobic threshold. So, the longer you can spend training at these intensities the better. A common mistake I see runners trying to break 3 hours is their tempo runs are too short.

What is 3 Hour Marathon Pace?

Sub 3 hour marathon pace comes out to 6:52 per mile or 4:16 per kilometer. So, in training you have to get comfortable being uncomfortable and often. A major mistake runners make is spending to low of a percentage of their weekly volume running new aerobically. Again, you have to stress the body anaerobically sufficient enough to get this pace to feel less demanding on you. It takes time, effort and patience. Also, the process of getting into terrific racing shape is a timely process.

The training plans and running courses that I teach focus on a 16-week marathon training build up. 4 months is definitely sufficient time in order to under 3 hours. That being said, you have to ensure you are training at speed that far exceed 6:52 mile or 4:16 kilometer pace. Also, ensure you are jogging on easy days to make sure that you are recovering from your workouts. Again, focus on all variables that go into marathon success such as getting enough sleep, drinking plenty of water and paying attention to your nutrition. Study what the best marathoners do in training and also how they think.

How Realistic is a Sub 3 Hour Marathon?

You will have to be very consistent in your training to make a sub 3 hour marathon a reality. Again, smarter training and using leverage is the key. So, longer, faster long runs are a must. You cannot run long and slow every weekend and expect to run 2:59. Yes, you will certainly build endurance and become stronger running long and slow long runs. That being said, we need to builds strength and stamina in order to sustain 3 hour marathon pace more effectively. So, varied pace long runs are essential for your success. Examples of varied pace, faster long runs are as follows

  • 2 mile warm-up, 12 miles@6:40 mile pace, 2 mile JOG, 1 mile in 5:35, 2 mile cool-down
  • 1 mile warm-up, 4 miles@7:00 mile pace, 1 mile JOG, 4 miles@6:20 mile pace, 1 mile JOG, 1 mile@5:30
  • 2 mile warm-up, 16 miles@160BPM (85% of max heart rate depending on age of athlete), 2 mile cool-down

All of the training plans and running courses that I teach on rundreamachieve.com are based on this philosophy. That being said, we always alternate a varied pace long run one weekend followed the next week with an easy, relaxed long run. The reason is I want to ensure my athletes are recovering from the hard workouts they are doing. Again, there is only so many times the body can be pushed hard anaerobically. You will start to see diminished returns on your time investment if you run too fast, too often.

Pace for Sub 3 Hour Marathon

Spending longer periods of time training at your anaerobic threshold will help make 3 hr marathon pace feel less demanding on you. So, you have to get that tempo run lengthened out more toward 8 to 10 miles in length. Again, you are going to be racing at this intensity or slightly above it. So, it is critical to get race pace to feel more in control. Again, sub 3 hour marathon pace is running at 6:52 per mile of 4:16 per kilometer pace. So, types of vo2 max workouts we will be focusing on are the following…

  • 16x400m@1:14-16 per rep with 60 seconds to 2 minutes rest between sets
  • 3x2mile@11:30 with 4 to 5 minutes recovery between sets
  • 10x1000m on the track running at goal 10K race pace
  • 20x200m@37-38 seconds per rep with 60-90 seconds rest between reps

Again, you want to train at paces that are significantly lower than the pace you are aiming at for the marathon. 6:52 mile or 4:16 kilometer pace should feel much more manageable the fitter you become. I can assure you that if you do these types of workouts you are going to see some significant gains in your racing.

3 Hour Marathon Training Plan

A sub 3 hour marathon training plan needs to focus on quality over quantity. Again, the athletes using leverage are going to get the better results. It does you no good to run high mileage spent running too slow. Yes, you'll be fit but not race fit. Racing takes a higher demand on the body as compared to just running a marathon. So, anyone can ru easy for a number of miles or kilometers. That being said, it is an art form to run fast over 26.2 miles or 42.2 kilometers. You definitely have to pay attention to your nutrition as well. So, intaking enough protein and ensuring your muscles are recovered from the hard training you are doing.

So, running too much mileage at speeds that are far too slow will only make you a fit athlete. We need to focus more heavily on speeds that are much faster than 6:52 mile or 4:16 kilometer pace. I have my athletes do 1, vo2max workout per week. These types of workouts are much faster than goal sub 3 hour marathon pace.

Examples of which are below….

  • 16x400m@1:15-17 per rep with 60 seconds to 2 minutes rest (depending on the stage of training the athlete is at)
  • 3x2mile on the track at 11:30-35 per rep with 5 to 7 minutes rest between reps (rest will be depending on the stage of fitness the athlete is at)
  • 10x1000m@5:20 mile pace

Sub 3 Hour Marathon Diet

You want to stay away from empty calories. Of course, you can still indulge from time to time but don't go overboard. Sodas and candy is not the type of food you want to be ingesting into your system. It will do you no good. So, plenty of fruits and vegetables and foods from the Earth. I would also focus on eating plenty of salads and pasta for carbo loading purposes. Again, you want to ensure you are stocked up with glycogen (carbohydrates) the week of your main race. It is more important to focus on what you are eating the week of the race. It isn't as much as important about the night before as it is 7 days out from your marathon

Also, plenty of water. A big mistake I see runners making is not drinking enough in their races. You can get away with this in the shorter races but don't try this in a marathon. Remember, to run 3 hour marathon pace effectively you have to pay attention to all variables that go into achieving this. So, practice drinking during your long runs. Do not sip in the race as you never want to become dehydrated in a race of this length.

Is Running a Sub 3 Hour Marathon Good?

Yes, running a sub 3 hr marathon is a highly competitive time. In fact, I consider anyone who has run under 3 hours for the marathon an elite athlete. The 3 hr marathon barrier is a coveted time that people all over the world aim to achieve each year. That being said, so few people actually achieve a 2:59:59 or faster time. My goal with this post has been to briefly share with you some of the tactics I used to run 2:19:35 for the distance. So, my hope for you now is that you will listen to what has been shared and follow through with it. I created a course called the Sub 3 Hour Marathon Pro course you may want to check out.

We go much more in-depth on exactly what you need to do in order to run 2:59:59 or faster. The course consists of training videos I created, written content and concludes with a 16-week sub 3 hour marathon training plan. Again, you want to work smarter, not harder. There are plenty of runners out there working hard and never run under a 3 hour marathon. So, you have to train and think like a world-class marathoner.

Closing Thoughts

Lastly, make sure you eat your breakfast 2 and preferably 3 hours prior to the start of your marathon. The reason is to ensure that you won't have to jump in a porta john in the middle of your race. Also, to not have to lose significant time that a brief stop will cause on you. Are you paying attention to mental training? I ask that because most runners are only focused on physical training. The best marathoners know how vital mental training plays a part in successful marathoning. So, I want you to start spending a few minutes each day visualizing running under 3 hour marathon pace.

I highly recommend subscribing to the RunDreamAchieve YouTube channel. I create new video content there each week helping athletes of all abilities. My goal is to help you use leverage and outsmart your competition. Watch your pacing in the early stages of your sub 3 hr marathon pace effort. Again, a negative split is the way to go. So, aim for hitting that first half around 1:29 and come back with a 1:24 to 1:26, if feasible on the day. Also, ensure you intaking enough fluid and calories during the race. Lastly, practice staying as relaxed as you can during your training and in your races. Do not waste any muscular tension that can be better used as you run.


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