Marathon Sub 3 Hours | Pro Running Tips

September 29, 2022

Are you seeking how to run a marathon sub 3 hours? If so, welcome to Nutrition Geeks. I commend you for seeking to break the 3 hour marathon barrier. It is an elite marathon time that very few runners achieve each year. My goal with this article is to share with you some tips that helped me to run 2:19:35 for the marathon. No, it wasn't an overnight process. That being said, I worked hard and smart eventually breaking the 2:20 marathon barrier.

Sustaining sub 3 hour marathon pace is a challenge. There is nothing easy about running a 2.59.59. That being said, there are steps you can take in order to get through this barrier faster. I was very fortunate in that I was coached and mentored by 3 of the world's top distance running coaches. So, I was able to learn from the best. I started off running the 1600m in 5:30 and 11:30 for 3200m in high school as a freshman. I was able to improve to 4:25 and 9:46 by the time I graduated.

In addition, ran 5 years in college under Jack Hazen. Jack is one of the world's top running coaches. I teach the same mindset and methodology coach Hazen taught me in my running courses. In addition, the training plans I have created also contain the same workouts I was doing to run 2:19:35.

How Long Does it Take to Run a Sub 3 Hour Marathon

I always tell the athletes I coach and visit both my websites to focus on a longer build up. My recommendation is to train for a minimum of 16 weeks and preferably 24 weeks to get this event right. Remember, it takes about 3 to 4 weeks for the body to adapt to each intensity you are throwing at it. So, you really have to be patient in your build up. I would focus on running easy and relaxed for 4 weeks first. The mindset behind this is to strengthen your muscles, ligaments and joints for the harder, faster workouts you will eventually be doing.

Coach Pennington finishing as the top American and in 4th place at the 2007 California International Marathon in 2:19:35

I created a resource called the Sub 3 Hour Marathon Pro running course. I cover the exact strategies and tactics I used to improve my marathon from 2:43:36 to 2:19:35 in it. In addition, help the athlete to bypass the mistakes that are runners are making. So, that may be something you want to check out. I have attached green buttons throughout this post that will take you to these resources, if interested. You are also more than welcome to visit the about page if you would like to know more about my background.


What Pace is a Sub 3 Hour Marathon?

Athletes seeking to run a marathon sub 3 hours need to average 6:52 per mile for 26.2 miles. Are you outside of the united States of America? You will need to hold at least 4:16 per kilometer in order to run 2.59.59 for the marathon distance. The key tactic here is to improve your body's lactate tolerance. It will not be done by running easy every day. A common mistake runners make is that they run too much of their mileage too aerobically.

Coach Pennington finishing 5th overall in 2:26:42 at the 2011 Monumental Indianapolis Marathon

The world's top runners make it look easy for a reason. They run between 35 to 40 percent of their weekly mileage at or below their anaerobic threshold. So, they are simply running more mileage at a faster pace. In addition, they train at a higher heart rate more often. The result is they are able to sustain goal race pace for a longer period of time. It is not just because they are talented. Talented runners that don't work will get outrun by less talented athletes that do.

What Percentage of Runners Can Run a Sub 3 Hour Marathon?

It has been shown through various studies from online resources that very few runners break 3 hours. In fact, only about 3 percent of runners that compete in marathons world-wide achieve this time. My goal in creating the Sub 3 Hour Marathon Pro course is to help more runners get below this time barrier. Yes, it is a very competitive time but one that can be achieved. Remember, if others have done it so can you. Are you lacking in genetic talent?

Well, you are going to have to work extremely hard and perhaps have to wait a little longer before you get the time. That being said, you can do it if you follow a legitimate sub 3 hour marathon strategy. I have done everything that I can to create training plans and the Sub 3 Hour Marathon Pro course to speed up your progress. You, the athlete, will have to put in the work and follow the workouts.

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

My mentor, Dr. Joe Vigil, one of the world's top distance running coaches, states 70 miles a week is needed. I agree with this. I ran my personal best time of 2:19:35 on 85 to 90 miles a week. That being said, spent several weeks around 70 to 80 miles a week. I also got up to as high as 142 miles a week. The result was it left me tired and frustrated. So, higher mileage is not a guarantee that you will run a sub 3 hour marathon.

I have seen runners who run 50 to 60 miles a week do it. What counts most is the quality of the work you are putting in. You need to be doing at least 1, vo2 max workout per week. Our vo2 max is our bodies maximum oxygen uptake. It is running at speeds so aggressively that we simply can't clear the lactic acid building up. Naturally, we have to stop and take short breaks in between our track or road intervals.

That being said, speed workouts help us to recruit more fast twitch muscle fibers. The more of these we can recruit the easier sub 3 hour marathon pace will feel. So, the marathon sub 3 hours barrier won't be so intimidating once you can manage the pace more efficiently. We run between 95 to 105% of our maximum heart rate at our vo2 max. Yes, very intense training but makes for personal bests when done correctly.


Fuel Correctly in The Race

Harvard University recently did a study discussing the importance of glycogen, vo2 max training and hydration in the marathon. One of the biggest mistakes runners make is not drinking enough in their marathons. Remember, this is not a 5k where you can get away with not drinking. The race is over in a matter of a few minutes. The marathon can take anywhere from 2 to 6 hours for some runners. The world's top runners drink in their races. They do not sip.

So, start putting out water bottles every 3 miles or 5 kilometers along your long run route. Practice drinking and taking in fluid during your long runs. You want to ensure to practice this in training so you will be successful in your race. As mentioned above and in the Harvard article, it is very important to stress the energy systems of the body. You won't break 3 hours by running easy. Yes, easy running is still important especially as it pertains to recovery.

That being said, you need to be running between 25 to 30 percent of your weekly mileage (or more) at a higher heart rate. Again, we need to improve our body's lactate tolerance. The end goal is to sustain marathon sub 3 hours pace longer. In addition, slow down less than our competition. I used this tactic to lower my best from 2:43:36 to 2:19:35.

Run Your Long Runs Faster

Do you run long and slow every single weekend? If so, this could be an indication why you haven't broken 3 hours for the marathon yet. I recommend doing faster, varied paced long runs. Remember, always alternate a faster long run one weekend followed the next weekend with an easy, relaxed long run. The real benefits from our hard training come from within the rest period. I also highly recommend investing in a heart rate monitor.

I used the Garmin 245 regularly which helps me to stay in the correct heart rate zones. Below are examples of heart rates for an athlete with a max heart rate of 170 beats per minute. Of course, you can adjust these to match your max heart rate.

  • Easy: 65-74% of max HR or around 110-125BPM
  • Marathon (moderate effort): 75-84% of max HR or around 127-142BPM
  • Threshold: 85-89% of max HR or around 144-149BPM
  • Interval: 95-100% of max HR or around 161-170BPM
  • Fast Reps: 105% of max HR or around 178BPM

Long Run Examples

Below are some examples of the types of varied paced long runs I was doing prior to breaking 2:20 for the marathon. Of course, your long run doesn't necessarily have to be as long as mine. I usually did my long runs between 18 to 24 miles. I did do a few 27 milers and a 30-miler once. That being said, long runs of 18 to 24 miles in length are usually optimal for most marathoners.

  • 2 mile jog, 7 miles@5:30 mile pace, 2 miles easy, 1 mile in 4:55, 7 miles@6:00 mile pace, 3 miles easy (22 miles)
  • 1 mile jog, 8 miles@5:35 mile pace, 2 miles easy, 2 miles@5:20 mile pace, 5 miles@6:10 mile pace, 2 miles easy, 1 mile in 5:00, 2 mile jog (23 miles)

Remember, always follow an faster, varied paced long run similar to the above mentioned with an easy long run the following week. I usually ran between 8:30 to 9 minute mile pace on my easier long runs. I was always focused on adaptation. In addition, it was not uncommon for me to need 2 to 3 days of easy jogging to recover from long runs like this.

Closing Thoughts

I know that this style of training is different. That being said, I want you to experience the joy of breaking the sub 3 hour marathon barrier. The marathon sub 3 hours barrier is not an easy task to achieve but can be done. How much time have you devoted to mental training? I ask that because many runners only focus on physical training and bypass mental rehearsal.

So, start implementing this into your routine. I would spend 10 to 15 minutes daily with all devices off. The best time to do this is when you first get up or when you go to bed at night. See yourself running strong, passing people and getting across the finish line with 2.59.59 on the clock. I hope to keep in touch with you. Make sure to subscribe to the RunDreamAchieve YouTube channel.

I focus on making 2 to 3 new videos there each week to help winners such as yourself get to the next level. I hope that this post has been helpful. Again, you can click on any of the green buttons on this post to learn more about our training resources. I am confident that the Sub 3 Hour Marathon Pro course and training plans will speed up your progress. I am looking forward to hearing how these resources helped you break the 3 hour barrier.


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