Sub 3 HR Marathon | Tips to Run 2.59.59

October 1, 2022

Are you seeking how to sustain sub 3 hr marathon pace longer and more efficiently? If so, welcome to Nutrition Geeks. I am excited you have made it here and hope that this post will be helpful to you. I have run 2:19:35 for the marathon. So, do respect and understand how fast a sub 3 hr marathon is. It takes a great deal of patience, proper planning and a long build up to get it right. I recommend a minimum of 16 weeks and preferably 20 to 24 weeks to train properly for this time barrier.

There are very few runners around the world who break the sub 3 marathon barrier each year. You need to sustain at least 6:52 per mile pace for 26.2 miles or 4:16 per kilometer for 42.2 kilometers. Proper pacing is absolutely mandatory if you seek to achieve a 2.59.59 marathon time. There are far too many runners who go out too aggressively and pay for it in the latter stages of the race. The best plan of attack is you focus on running a negative split.

So, focus on running the second half of the race faster than the first half. For example, go out in a 1:32 and come back with a 1:27 and you now own a 2.59 marathon time. Of course, you will have to train at a higher heart rate more often in order to get this right. The world's top runners are running between 35 to 40 percent of their weekly mileage at or below their anaerobic threshold. They make it look easy for a reason.

Sub 3 Hour Marathon Mile Pace

As mentioned above, running 2.59.59 for the marathon means you need to sustain 6:52 mile pace. Pace sustainment is one of the biggest challenges runners face.The key tactic is to work to improve your body's ability to clear lactic acid faster than it is building up. Easier said than done, I know. Again, a longer build up will set you up for success. The reason is you won't be rushing your overall fitness. Remember, it takes about 3 weeks for the body to adapt to any stressor being placed on it.

So, a longer training block will ensure you train properly and sufficiently to break this barrier. I highly recommend investing in a heart rate monitor. I use the Garmin 245 routinely which helps me to stay in the correct heart rate zones while I am training.

Below are the heart rate zones an athlete with a max heart rate of 170 beats per minute should focus on. Of course, you can adjust these totals based on your own heart rate. That being said, these are the intensities I would focus on.

  • 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

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

There are a small percentage of runners who achieve this each year, approximately 3 to 4 percent. The faster you are aiming to run this event the more that is going to be required out of you. It is a highly aerobic event but you still need to focus on your speed and stamina in order to run a sub three hour marathon. I would focus on spending at least 4 weeks running easy, relaxed mileage first. You should also start doing strides twice per week as well.

Strides are too short to build up any large amounts of lactic acid. So, you can do these short, 50-100 meter long sprints on top of your other workouts. In addition, they will help you with your leg turnover and are great warm-up drills as well. Once you have built your base mileage then you can focus on marathon specific training, speed work and doing longer tempo runs. I am a big believer in faster, varied paced long runs. I think a common mistake runners are making is running long, slow and easy every weekend.

Again, the world's top runners are running around 40 percent of their weekly mileage at or below their anaerobic threshold. We run between 85 to 89 percent of our maximum heart rate at this intensity. Faster long runs will build enormous stamina and strength.

Why Faster Long Runs

A sub 3 hr marathon is highly competitive. The only way to drop substantial time off of your marathon is to get stronger at running fast for longer distances. I used this tactic to drop from 2:43:36 to 2:19:35 in the marathon. So, I do know this tactic works. No, it is not fun but it is worth your time and energy. Remember, always follow a faster, varied paced long run with an easier, slow long run.

Below are some examples of the types of long runs I was doing prior to breaking the 2:20 marathon barrier.

  • 2 mile jog, 7 miles@5:35 mile pace, 2 miles easy, 1 mile in 4:55, 7 miles@5:55 mile pace, 2 miles easy, 1 mile in 5:10, 1 mile cool-down (23 miles)
  • 1 mile jog, 9 miles@5:30 mile pace, 3 miles easy, 2 miles@5:15 mile pace, 5 miles@6:10 mile pace, 2 miles easy, 1 mile in 5:00, 1 mile jog (24 miles)
Coach Pennington finishing in 4th place and top American at the 2007 California International Marathon in 2:19:35 (1:07:09/1:12:26)

I would always run my following weeks' long run easy around 8:30 to 9 minute mile pace. Remember, the benefits of your hard training occur after the workout is complete. So, jog on your recover days and disregard pace especially on these days. Again, we want to adapt to the hard training. So, it is essential to allow sufficient time for the body to adapt.


Sub 3 Hour Marathon Pro Course

I created an online resource for athletes seeking to break the sub 3 hr marathon barrier. It is called the Sub 3 Hour Marathon pro course. I cover the exact strategies and tactics I used to lower my best from 2:43:36 to 2:19:35. No, it is not an easy task to go from running 6:14 mile pace to 5:19 mile pace for the marathon. That being said, my aim with creating this course is to help speed up the progression for athletes seeking a sub 3.

I was very fortunate to have been coached and mentored by 3 of the world's top distance running coaches. I also worked extremely hard for many years to break the sub 3 hr marathon and run 2:19:35. Also, I have created training plans for athletes such as yourself seeking a new personal best. RunDreamAchieve training plans range in duration from 8 to 24 weeks. My aim was to create plans that were simple to use, easy to understand and get results.

Can Anyone Train to Run a Sub 3 Hour Marathon?

Anyone with enough desire and commitment has the potential to break the sub 3 hr marathon barrier. Are you lacking talent? Well, you are going to have to make up for it with your work ethic. In addition, don't expect to achieve a sub 3 as quickly as someone with a great deal of genetic talent.

It took me 15 years of hard training to break the sub 2:20 marathon barrier. I also ran from 1992 to 2002 before I broke the 2:44 marathon running my debut in 2:43:36 at the 2002 New York City Marathon.

I was a part of a military charity team. We started in last place (32,189th) and for every runner we passed Chase Manhattan Bank was donating a $1 to lung cancer research. I finished as the teams' top finisher in 257th place by the race's end.

The key tactic is training more often at paces faster than sub 3 hour marathon intensity. You should be doing 1, vo2 max workout per week working on your speed development. Examples of vo2 max workouts are hill repetitions, road and track intervals and fartlek running.

Focus on Your Leg Speed

We run between 95 to 105% of our maximum heart rate running at our vo2 max. Again, the key fundamental with speed workouts is to get that sub 3 marathon pace to feel easier. You want to be able to react to the pace changes your competition will throw at you in the race. The training plans and the Sub 3 Hour Marathon Pro course mentioned above take the guess work out of your preparation.

You will know why you are doing the workouts you are doing. In addition, have the workouts already laid out for you for 16 weeks. Of course, you can also focus on a longer build up of 20 to 24 weeks. In fact, I would recommend a longer sub 3 marathon training plan anyway. 16 weeks should be the minimum training build up for athletes seeking to run under the sub 3 hr marathon barrier.

Closing Thoughts

Remember, make sure you are jogging on your recovery days. Again, you want to ensure that you are adapting to the hard training that you are doing. Make sure to also subscribe to the RunDreamAchieve YouTube channel. New videos are created there each week to help runners such as yourself make massive gains in your fitness. I want more runners achieving new personals bests.

I created RunDreamAchieve in November of 2011. So, have been here sharing advice and doing the best I can to help runners get to the next level in their training. I would also suggest to start paying more attention to mental training. Rehearse yourself breaking the sub 3 marathon barrier. See yourself running confident, relaxed and getting across the finish line with 2.59.59 or faster on the clock. It really all starts in the mind first.

Make sure to click on any of the green buttons on this post to learn more about our resources. I am confident these tools will help you break 3 hours for the marathon faster. Keep me posted on your progress. I look forward to hearing how these resources helped you achieve your time goal.


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