Marathon 4 Hour Pace | Pro Tips to Run 3.59.59

September 28, 2022

Are you seeking how to sustain marathon 4 hour pace longer? If so, I am glad you have made it here to Nutrition Geeks. I have run 2.19.35 for the marathon and do understand and respect the sub 4 marathon barrier. My goal with this post is to share with you some strategies to help you succeed and drop time. Pace sustainment is one of the biggest challenges runners face.

Of course, we know many runners can sustain sub 4 hour marathon pace for a portion of the race. The challenge comes from trying to sustain it for the entire race distance. So, we have to train to improve the body's lactate tolerance. Easy running does not help us do this. Yes, we can build endurance and burn fat by running slow. That being said, it won't help us clear lactic acid faster than it is building up.

The world's top runners make it look easy for a reason. They are simply running a higher percentage of their weekly mileage at a higher intensity. My top recommendation is to consider investing in a heart rate monitor. I use the Garmin 245 regularly. It helps me to ensure that I am not over training and running too fast on days I should be running easier on.

Is 4 Hours a Good Marathon Time?

Yes, a sub 4 hour marathon is a very competitive time. You need to sustain 9:09 per mile for 26.2 miles or 5:41 per kilometer for 42.2 kilometers to run a 3.59.59 marathon time. So, you definitely have to be in great shape in order to achieve this goal. I always advocate to my runners to focus on a longer build up rather than a shorter training block. I would aim at a minimum of 16 weeks and preferably 20 to 24 weeks if you want to do this right.

Army ACFT
Coach Pennington finishing in 4th place and top American at the 2007 California International Marathon in 2:19:35 (3:18 per kilometer pace)

So, focus on running easy, aerobic mileage for 4 weeks first. You can add in doing strides twice per week during this base-building phase of your training. I have created training plans and also made the Sub 4 Hour Marathon Mastery course built for runners such as yourself. I go in-depth on the strategies and tactics you need to be following in order to sustain marathon 4 hour pace for the entire duration of the race.

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How Hard is it to Run a 4 Hour Marathon?

It can be a much easier process if you are following a legitimate training plan. The new Sub 4 Hour Marathon Mastery course mentioned above that I created takes the guesswork out of your preparation. The course concludes with a 16-week sub 4 marathon training plan. So, you will know the exact workouts you need to be doing in order to achieve your 3.59.59 marathon time. I also have created 20 to 24 week marathon training plans for athletes seeking to run a faster marathon time.

No, it isn't an easy process to break the sub 4 marathon barrier. You are going after a time that very few people that run marathons achieve each year. So, don't expect it to be simple. That being said, I have done the best that I can to help you do the proper workouts at the precise intensities in order for you to achieve your goal. How often are you focusing on mental training?

I ask that because the majority of runners only focus on physical training. The world's top runners and Olympians I have lived and trained with focus on both mental as well as physical preparation. My advice is to start spending 10 minutes daily visualizing yourself passing people. In addition, running relaxed and getting across that finish line with 3.59.59 or faster on the clock. The best time to do this is when first getting up in the morning or when you go to bed at night.

How Do I Pace Myself for a 4 Hour Marathon?

Pacing is absolutely essential if you are going to break the 4 hour barrier. I wouldn't go out any faster than 2:03 through the first half. I always tell my athletes to focus on a negative split. So, run the second half of your marathon faster than your first half. Your chances of success will go up significantly if you don't go into oxygen debt too soon in the race. There are far too many runners going out too fast in their races and paying for it in the latter miles or kilometers of the race.

So, don't make that same mistake. Go out in 2:03 and come back with a 1:56 and you now own a 3.59.59 time. I also recommend you practice drinking during your long runs. I would sit out water bottles every 3 miles or 5 kilometers on your run route. There are too many runners who don't take in enough fluid during their races. We can make these corrections and your body will most certainly thank you for it. You can get away with no drinking in a 5k but not a marathon.

Also, take a gel at miles 7 and 18. You will get a quick 100 to 150 calories into your blood stream immediately by doing this. Your body will be craving fluid and glycogen in this event. So, pay attention to these fundamentals and your chances of success will rise.

Run Longer Tempo Runs

A common mistake runners make training for marathons is not spending sufficient time training at their anaerobic threshold. We run between 85 to 89 percent of our maximum heart rate at this intensity. Remember, you will be racing your marathon close to or slightly faster than this effort. So, it is very important to work your way to running your tempo runs at or around 16 to 20 kilometers or around 10 to 12 miles in length. It takes the body between 3 to 4 weeks to adapt to the stresses we place on it.

Be patient during your training block. You first have to adapt to a 3 to 4 mile tempo before you will eventually be able to run a 8 to 12 mile tempo run. Longer tempo runs will build your stamina and better prepare you to handle marathon 4 hour pace more effectively. Again, we want to sustain race pace longer and more efficiently. The faster you train the more fast twitch muscle fibers you will recruit.

Easy running is important but will not produce this physiological effect. So, you have to run a higher percentage of your weekly mileage at higher intensities. The world's top runners are running between 35 to 40 percent of their weekly mileage at or below their anaerobic threshold. So, they make it look easy for a reason. They simply are running more quality mileage. In addition, are allotting sufficient time to recover from each hard workout that they do.

JOG on Easy Days

You will only be able to sustain marathon 4 hour pace longer if you allow sufficient time to adapt to hard training. There is only so many times you can stress the body before you get diminished returns. I am also a big believer in a faster, varied paced long runs. You won't improve dramatically in the marathon unless you start running those long runs at faster paces.

Below are some examples of the types of faster, varied paced long runs I was doing prior to breaking the 2:20 marathon barrier. Remember, always follow a faster long run followed the next weekend by an easy, relaxed long run. Again, recovery is essential. The best runners are not those who are running the most mileage. So, you have to think strategically and start changing up how you do these long runs.

  • 2 mile jog, 6 miles@5:30 mile pace, 2 miles easy, 1 mile in 4:55, 6 miles@5:55, 2 miles easy, 1 mile in 5:00, 2 mile jog cool-down (22 miles)
  • 1 mile jog, 10 miles@5:25 mile pace, 3 miles easy, 2 miles@5:20 mile pace, 5 miles@6:15 mile pace, 2 mile jog cool-down (23 miles)

Closing Thoughts

I'd love to keep in touch with you and hear about your progress. Make sure to subscribe to the RunDreamAchieve YouTube channel. I create new training and racing videos there weekly to help runners such as yourself make it to the next level. Lastly, spend about 10 to 15% of your weekly mileage working on your speed. You should be doing 1, vo2 max workout per week. Running at your vo2 max means you will be running at speeds so aggressively you won't be able to clear lactic acid faster than it is building up.

Remember, these types of workouts will get that marathon 4 hour pace to feel easier and more sustainable. Examples of vo2 max workouts are hill repetitions, track and road intervals and fartlek workouts. Again, the Sub 4 Hour Marathon Mastery course and the training plans I have created will help speed up your learning curve.

I would much rather you work smart and get a PR than to work hard and miss your time goal by 20 minutes. We run between 95 to 105% of max heart rate while running at vo2 max. Naturally, you will need to take breaks in between each of your hard reps. I would not recommend starting your next rep until your heart rate is back down to 120 beats per minute. I hope that this overview of breaking the sub 4 marathon barrier has been helpful. Lastly, I look forward to hearing about how the resources you can view by clicking on any of the green buttons here have helped you.

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