4 Hour Marathon Pace | Tips to PR NOW

December 25, 2021

Are you searching on how to handle 4 hour marathon pace more efficiently? If so, I am glad you have made it here to NutritionGeeks. I've been running for 30 years and have run 2:19:35 for the marathon. So, understand what it takes to help runners to get to the next level in their training. I also coach runners online at the RunDreamAchieve private community. So, if you are searching for a new coach or someone to hold you accountable definitely consider it. One of the biggest issues runners have is pace sustainment.

Sure, they can hold sub 4 hour marathon pace for a portion of the race. That being said, it is holding it for the entire duration of the race that is the challenge. My goal with this post is to share with you some strategies and tactics you can use to get your new personal best over 26.2 miles. You will need to hold 9:09 per mile or 5:41 per kilometer in order to run a 2:59:59 or faster for the marathon. So, you have to get that goal race pace you are going for to feel more in control.

4 Hour Marathon Pace Strategy

My top recommendation is to spend at least 4 weeks running easy and building your foundation. I wouldn't start doing any specific race training until you have first built a strong, aerobic base of mileage. You can start implementing speed training, tempo runs and faster long runs as you get in better anaerobic shape. Proper pacing in your marathon is essential. There is no sense in going out the first half in 1:45 when your goal is to break 4 hours. It is always best to aim for a negative split when it comes to racing over the marathon distance.

In addition, you do not want to go out too fast and crash and burn in the second half of the marathon. Of course, sometimes you do have to risk. You can take those risks if you have done your homework in training first. For example, when I ran my marathon PR of 2:19:35 I hit the first half in 1:07:09 and came back the second half in 1:12:26. Yes, I went out very aggressive (my half-marathon PR is 1:07:06) but had sometime to allot for slowing down the second half. Could I have run faster had I went out in 1:12:26 the first half? It is hard to know at this point but I don't think so.


Is 4 Hours a Good Marathon Time?

Yes, a sub 4 hour marathon is an extremely competitive time. One that many runners around the world are seeking to achieve. Sub 4 hour marathon pace asks a lot out of the athlete. So, my goal is to get you to improve your lactate tolerance. No, it won't be easy but as time goes on your body will adapt to the stresses you are placing on it. It takes about 3 to 4 weeks to physiologically adapt to the demands you are placing on the body. So, be patient with yourself and don't rush the process. Soon, you will be hitting the mile or kilometer splits in training that are dreaming about.

I am a big believer in doing faster long runs. These long runs can be a mixture of both easy, moderate and very hard running. Of course, the following week's long run should always be relaxed. The reason being is you want for adaptation to occur. The body needs to be stressed but also rest has to take place in order for the results to be seen. I see too many runners running too fast on easy days. In addition, running far too slow on hard days. So, there has to be an equal balance here in order to get the highest return on your investment.

Is 12 weeks Enough for Marathon Training?

Sure, you can still get descent results from 12 weeks. Are you looking to be good or great? I write that because greatness takes longer. I recommend 16 to 20 weeks. In fact, all of the training plans and running courses I teach and have created at rundreamachieve.com are built around a 16-week build up. That being said, I tell my athletes to spend 4 weeks building an easy, aerobic base first. You will have a harder time doing the marathon-specific training if you haven't first built the foundation for your racing.

Remember, a sub 4 hour marathon requires you to sustain a very aggressive pace. So, you want to make sure you spend ample time working to get that pace to feel more in control. Also, teach the body to burn fat at race pace and conserve carbohydrates. We have far more fat storage as compared to glycogen. Runners hit the so-called “wall” for various reasons. One, they run far too fast too early in the race and pay for it later. Secondly, they have trained for an insufficient time under 4 hour marathon pace. So, don't rush the process. Yes, 12 weeks is sufficient time to run a marathon. It takes longer to race one and to do it well.

Pace for Sub 4 Hour Marathon

Again, you need to focus on training well below 9:09 mile or 5:41 per kilometer pace. So, the key is to improve upon your ability to clear lactic acid faster than it is building up. This is a timely process that does not occur overnight. I see a lot of runners trying to rush this process and it simply does not work. In addition, when results don't come as quickly as they'd like they get frustrated. Also, start to doubt themselves as if their time has past them. Of course, this is not true. The problem is simply they have not trained for a long enough period of time. In addition, they need to readjust how they are setting up their training. What percentage of your weekly volume are you training below sub 4 hour marathon pace?

A common mistake I see runners make is running to low of a percentage spent running far too slow. Again, you will certainly build endurance running slow miles. That being said, we are talking about sub 4 hour marathon pace here. It is a time that many runners around the world are working to achieve. So, if you training properly and in a new way in order to do this. One tactic we as sub 3 hour marathoners use is faster long runs. I was able to lower my personal best from 2:43:36 to 2:19:35 using this method. You can use the same strategy yourself to get to that 3:59:59 or faster marathon time.


How to Taper for Your Marathon

I believe in 10-day rather than a 3-week taper. Of course, I am not saying that a 3-week taper won't work. I have seen many runners do well with it. That being said, I have set personal bests from 5K to the marathon using this strategy. Remember, study what the best runners do and imitate them in training. We aren't interested in being average. Normalcy surrounds us all. Greatness takes much more and you have to train smart, not just hard. The mistake I see runners make is they start dropping their volume and intensity too far out from their main race.

What ends up happening is the athlete feels more tired than rested. Again, 10 days is plenty of time to recover from the hard training build up that you have done. I drop the volume for my athletes by 50 percent 10 days out, intensity stays about the same until a week out from the race. We do one last 3-mile (5K ) effort at goal marathon race pace 4 days out from the marathon as one final reminder. I routinely get e-mails and comments on the RunDreamAchieve YouTube channel from athletes on how this method works.

How Hard is it to Run a Marathon under 4 Hours?

It isn't easy but anything worth doing is not going to be right? I was able to lower my marathon PR from 2:43:36 to 2:19:35 using the faster long run approach. In fact, the long run is the hardest workout that I do. It is an extremely demanding workout and a long run at that. So, the training plans and running courses I teach use this mindset to help runner hold pace longer than their competition. I also see runners not taking enough fluid and calories during their races. I, too, made the mistake earlier in my career. It cost me dearly. So, I made changes that needed to be made and started getting some massive personal bests.

So, start practicing hydrating better during your long runs. Again, don't run every weekend long, slow and easy. You need to stress the energy systems of the body properly. You will make that sub 4 hour marathon pace feel easier and more in control. In addition, you will be teaching the body to burn fat at race pace. Also, to conserve what you have far less of and that is carbohydrate. You will need that glycogen for when you need it most, the last 10 kilometers of the race. Again, you want to be speeding up when your competition is slowing down.

How Do You Break a 4 Hour Marathon?

Spend 16 weeks preparing properly and train often at, near and far below goal sub 4 hour marathon pace. You also need to train longer at your anaerobic threshold. So, shorter tempo runs are great for the mile to 10k events. That being said, you should aim for much longer tempo runs when training for a marathon. For example, start your training block running around 3 to 4 mile tempos. Once you get in better shape you can move toward doing 7 to 12 mile tempo runs. Make sure you are paying attention to your nutrition and get enough protein.

4 hour marathon pace

The longer you spend training at your anaerobic threshold. The reason being is we race our marathons right around or slightly above this intensity. I also have my athletes do one, vo2 max workout per week. For example, 12x400m repeats, 2×3 mile road reps or 16x400m etc. Again, we want to train at paces that far exceed sub 4 hour marathon pace. So, you get race pace to feel less aggressive and more sustainable.

What Percentage of Runners Run a Sub 4 Hour Marathon?

It depends as there are multiple studies world-wide that track this. That being said, it is a smaller percentage of runners ranging from 15 to 40 percent of runners run under the 4 hour marathon each year. The percentage is closer to 2 to 4 percent that break the 3 hour marathon. So, the key to hold 4 hour marathon pace longer is to train at much faster than 9:09 per mile or 5:41 per kilometer pace. Yes, easier said than done. That being said, it can be achieved. Also, if you can only hold sub 4 hr marathon pace for 10 miles don't think you can't eventually hold is for 26.2 miles.

Mental training is also very important. How often are you dreaming about your goal time? A big mistake runners make is only focusing on physical training. The best marathoners know mental training is just as important as physical training. So, I want you spending 10 to 15 minutes daily mentally rehearsing running 3:59:59 or faster.

How Do I Run a Sub 4 Hour Marathon?

You need to pace yourself correctly in the race first. Also, following the fundamentals discussed in this post. I created a course called the Sub 4 Hour Marathon Mastery course where I cover how to do this much more in depth. In addition, I coach runners online within the RunDreamAchieve private coaching community you may be interested in as well. A sub 4 hour marathon takes proper hydration within the race as well. A major mistake I made earlier in my career was to think I could race the marathon with little to no fluid. You have to practice drinking in training rather than just sipping fluids in a race of this length. So, make sure you are putting your water bottles out on your long run route.

I would recommend sitting them out every 3 miles or 5 kilometers. You need to make your mistakes in training, not the race itself. Also, make sure you are practicing staying as relaxed as you can during maximal efforts in training. It takes time and practice to stay call, collected and in control when running fast. It is very easy to do this while running easy because there is very little lactic acid being generated within the muscle tissue. Again, anyone can run slow for a number of miles or kilometers. That being said, it is an art form to run fast and it takes heavy anaerobic work in order to achieve this.

Closing Thoughts

I hope this post on breaking the 4 hour marathon barrier has been helpful to you. I encourage you to subscribe tot the RunDreamAchieve YouTube channel. It is a resource where I create new videos for athletes of all capabilities each week. I am certain you will break the 4 hr marathon barrier and am looking forward to hearing about your new personal best. Lastly, I recommend doing strides as well. Remember, strides are far too short to build up any significant lactic acid. So, you can use these short, 100 meter accelerations to work on form and speed.

I always tell my athletes that over a 4 month block of training you are literally spending miles at sprint paces. In addition, these short sprints done 2 to 3 times a week is on top of all of the other training that you are doing as well. So, it will make you even more dangerous when it comes time for you to race. Let your competition be nervous, uptight and tense before the start of the race, not you. Again, if you make training the most difficult part of your preparation there is nothing you competition can do against you in the race. Remember, train in such a way that you will get the highest return on your investment. Time is priceless. You'll never get it back so do your best to get the results you are seeking now, not later.


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