Sub 4 Hour Marathon | How to Get to 3.59.59

September 30, 2022

Are you seeking how to achieve a sub 4 hour marathon? If so, I am glad you have made it here to Nutrition Geeks. I have run 2:19:35 for the marathon distance and have always respected the sub 4 marathon barrier. I know there are a lot of runners around the world seeking to break this time barrier. My aim with this post is to share with you some running tips that will help you get to the next level. Pace sustainment is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome for most runners.

So, the key tactic here is to improve your body's lactate tolerance. We want to be able to sustain sub 4 hour marathon pace longer and more efficiently. I fully understand that it isn't an easy process. That being said, once you cross the finish line in 3.59.59 or faster you will forget all of the hard training you put yourself through. What is most important is that you adopt a quality versus quantity mindset. Sure, you can run high mileage but if it is conducted too slow how will this help?

The world's top distance runners run around 40 percent of their weekly mileage at or below anaerobic threshold effort. We run between 85 to 89 percent of our max heart rate at this intensity. So, to run a sub 4 hour marathon you have to stress the body's energy systems sufficiently. I would also highly suggest investing in a heart rate monitor. I use the Garmin 245 to ensure that I am not overtraining or running too fast or too slow.

What Pace Do I Need for an Under 4 Hour Marathon?

Running seeking to run a sub 4 hour marathon need to sustain at least 9:09 per mile or 5:41 per kilometer. Again, the main fundamental is to teach the body to clear lactic acid faster than it is building up. Easy running won't teach you how to do this. Of course, easy running is still very important when it comes to marathon success. The problem comes when we run too much of our mileage too easy. All it will make you is a superior, long, slow distance runner.

My first recommendation is that you focus on a longer build up. 16 weeks is good but 20 to 24 weeks is optimal if you truly want to achieve a sub 4 hour marathon. It takes time and patience to run a sub 4 marathon. It isn't an average time.

So, do expect the process to challenge you. That being said, a legitimate sub 4 marathon training plan will speed up your learning curve. I created an online resource called the Sub 4 Marathon Domination course. It is a running course where I cover all of the tactics I was taught by 3 of the world's top distance running coaches. In addition, I go in-depth on the strategies I used to lower my best from 2:43:36 to 2:19:35.


How Many Miles a Week Should I Run for a Sub 4 Hour Marathon?

Runners seeking to run a marathon under 4 hours should focus on running between 45 to 55 miles a week. Of course, each runner is different. Have there been runners who have broken 4 hours on less mileage? Yes. Again, it goes back to focusing on quality training versus just running higher mileage. Higher mileage is not a guarantee you will break the 4 hour marathon barrier. I ran my personal best time of 2:19:35 on 85 to 90 miles a week.

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)

That being said, I got up to as high as 142 miles a week and all it left me was tired and lethargic. So, less is more. I would start focusing on at least a 4-week base-building phase. Also, start implementing strides into your routine doing 5-6x100m strides twice per week. Strides are great for focusing on acceleration and leg turnover. In addition, they are also great for warming up and getting your heart rate up prior to the start of faster workouts.

How Do I Pace Myself for a 4 Hour Marathon?

Proper pacing is absolutely essential if you want to run a sub 4 hour marathon. I always tell the athletes that visit this site and our sister site to focus on running a negative split. So, run the second half of your marathon faster than the first half. I wouldn't go out any faster than 2:03 through the first half. My aim would be to run 1:56 to 1:57 for the second half coming home in 3:58 to 3:59. It is a wiser move to go out somewhat conservative and finish strong then be forced to slow in the latter stages of the race.

I also believe that faster, varied paced long runs are mandatory if you want to drop substantial time off of your current personal best. The problem for many runners is they are still running their long runs too slow. I used this tactic to drop over 21 minutes off of my marathon best. Below are some examples of the faster long runs I was doing prior to breaking the 2:20 marathon barrier.

  • 2 mile jog, 6 miles@5:30 mile pace, 2 miles easy, 1 mile in 4:55, 7 miles@6:00 mile pace, 2 miles easy, 1 mile in 5:05, 2 mile jog (23 miles)
  • 1 mile jog, 10 miles@5:35 mile pace, 2 miles easy, 2 miles@5:20 mile pace, 5 miles@6:05 mile pace, 2 miles easy, 1 mile in 5:00, 1 mile jog (24 miles)

Slow Down on Easy Days

Remember, always follow a faster long run followed the next weekend by an easy relaxed long run. The real benefits of your hard training are going to come from within the rest cycle. So, you have to slow down on your easy days to ensure adaptation takes place. It takes around 4 weeks for the body to adapt to any stress you are placing on it. I advocate for a longer 16 to 24-week build up for this very reason. It takes time to get in great marathon shape.

The only way to achieve a sub 4 hour marathon is proper planning. I have created running courses as well as training plans to help ensure your success. Make sure to click on any of the green buttons on this post to learn more about these resources. I also offer monthly coaching if that is something you are interested in.

Longer Tempo Runs

What has been the longest tempo run you have done in the past training for your marathons? 4 miles? 5 miles (8 kilometers). A lot of times runners are not spending enough time weekly training at their anaerobic threshold. We run between 85 to 89 percent of our maximum heart rate at this intensity. Remember, we will be racing our marathons at or below this percentage. So, the longer you can spend training at AT effort the more successful you are going to be.

The reason is you will be improving your lactate tolerance. Again, the world's top runners make it look easy for a reason. It isn't just because they have good genetics. They are spending a higher percentage of their weekly mileage at higher intensities. I would work to go from 3 to 4 miles, then toward 10 (16km) to 12 miles (20km). Of course, you have to first adapt to a 3 miler before you can work toward 20 kilometers. So, be patient in your training build up. The body always adapts when given sufficient time to recover.

Focus on Your Speed Work

The way you get to a faster marathon is working on recruiting more fast twitch muscle fibers. The more of these we can recruit the more efficient we are going to run in the marathon. More importantly, the easier sub 4 hour marathon pace is going to feel.

Workout like speed training, fartlek workouts and hill repetitions are all examples of vo2 max workouts. Your vo2 max is your body's maximum oxygen uptake. It is running extremely fast at between 95 to 105 percent of our max heart rate.

Naturally, we can only speed several seconds to a few minutes at these intensities. The marathon is an aerobic event. That being said, it does require speed and stamina to maintain goal race pace from start to finish. Again, we want to minimize having to slow down and maintain race pace longer than our competition. Easy running won't produce this physiological effect but fast running will.

Closing Thoughts

How often are you paying attention to mental training? The world's top runners focus on combining both mental as well as physical training. The problem is most runners only focus on physical training and bypass this critical component of running success. So, start spending 10 to 15 minutes rehearsing and seeing yourself crossing the finish line in 3.59.59 or faster. Also, passing people, running strong and relaxed.

Make sure to subscribe to the RunDreamAchieve YouTube channel. My aim is to create new content there weekly to help runners such as yourself earn new personal bests. I hope that this article has been helpful and look forward to hearing how the resources mentioned here have helped you.


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