3 HR Marathon Pace | How to Master 2:59:59

There are many runners around the world seeking how to sustain sub 3 hr marathon pace longer. My goal here at rundreamachieve.com is to help ensure you achieve that time goal. No. It will not be easy. There are plenty of athletes world-wide are doing things write and still never break 3 hours. So, you have to work smarter and not necessarily harder in order to do it.

A sub 3 hour marathon comes out to 6:52 per mile for 26.2 miles or 4:16 per kilometer for 42.2 2 kilometers. Yes, many runners can sustain this pace for several miles or kilometers. That being said, it is something else to sustain it for the marathon distance. So, you have to improve your body’s lactate tolerance. You cannot do that by just running slow.

Also, you have to get beyond thinking higher mileage is the answer. I have known runners running 100 miles a week who never do it. In addition, I have known runners running 50 miles a week who have. Again, it is about working smarter, not harder.

Sub 3 hour Marathon Statistics & Prerequisites

As mentioned above, the goal here is to sustain 6:52 per mile or 4:16 per kilometer. So, you need to focus on getting your half-marathon around 1 hour and 25 minutes or 6:30 per mile. Also, working to get your 10k time down to around 38 to 40 minutes. 38 minutes comes out to about 6:00 per mile. Furthermore, a 40 minute 10K is right around 6:25 per mile.

The training plans I have created here at rundreamachieve range from 8 to 16 weeks. Of course, I highly recommend training longer than shorter if you can. The reason I made shorter training blocks is based on people’s schedule. The mileage ranges from 35 to 70 miles in a length with 1 day off per week.

Again, you want to train to get that sub 3 hr marathon pace to feel more like a tempo effort. It should not feel like an all out sprint or like you are racing a 5 or 10K. So, you have to train sufficient time training at, near and far below sub 3hr marathon pace.

What Percentage of Marathoners Break 3 Hours?

Very small. There are only about 4 percent of runners world-wide that run marathons who run 2:59:59 or faster. The percentage is even smaller for women coming out to about 1 percent. So, what you are aiming to do is a lofty goal and one that you can achieve if you prepare properly. How much time do you spend training at or far below 6:52 per mile pace?

Is it 10 percent of your training? 20? The best long distance runners spend about 40 percent of their weekly volume at or below goal marathon race pace. How often do you spend training mentally for your races? The sad reality is most runners neglect this critical part of race preparation. I say this all the time at the time at the RunDreamAchieve YouTube Channel. We have three choices in this life. We can be average, good or great.

Greatness will require far more out of you than you now realize. Of course, we all have our own goals. That being said, anyone wishing to break a sub 3 hour marathon is going after an elite time.

What Does a Sub 3 Hour Marathon Training Plan Look Like?

The mindset that I have had with building RunDreamAchieve training plans is to periodization. You never want to jump to the next intensity until you have mastered the first. Again, the optimal period of time to train for a marathon is 16 to 20 weeks. Yes, the longest training plan that I have here is 16 weeks. That being said, you can always jog for 4 weeks before starting one if you wish to train for 5 months.

The majority of my training plans have 1 day off per week. In addition, a recovery week every 4th week of the training plan. The reason for this is to ensure recovery is taking place. Remember, sub 3 hr marathon pace is not easy. Yes, you have to be in legitimate shape even to run 10 miles at 6:52 mile pace. So, you have to know when to push hard and when yo back off.

The common mistake runners make is running too many miles too fast. In addition, running far too many miles or kilometers too slow as well. Again, you can run 100 miles a week. It does not guarantee you that you will break 3 hours. What if 85 to 95 percent of your weekly mileage is spent training at 8 minute mile pace? Will this prepare you properly to sustain 6:52 per mile pace for 26.2 miles? I don’t think so. Of course, you will be extremely strong in terms of endurance.

Types of Training Runs

Anaerobic Threshold (i.e. Tempo Runs)

Training at your anaerobic threshold means you are running around 88 to 90 percent of your maximum heart rate. Remember, you will be racing your marathon right around this effort. So, it is essential that you start extending the duration of these efforts. Of course, you may need to start off between 3 to 4 miles at first. Yes, it will be very difficult to run at your AT effort at first.

The good news is that the body always adapts. It usually takes between 3 to 4 weeks for your body to adapt to any stress load you are placing on it. So, be patient with yourself. Don’t expect immediate results. The best runners have a strong belief in delayed gratification. In addition, they also get over poor results quickly especially the Kenyans. In fact, I rarely ever ran across any Kenyan that stays upset for long after a bad workout or race.

They are always focused on moving on to the next race. Be like the Kenyans. So, your tempo run effort should be about 1 minute faster than you can run 1 mile all out. For example, my best mile is 4:22 so my tempo run, when I was at my fittest, was around 5:22 per mile pace. Of course, this is a guesstimate. Yes, I usually ran my tempo runs around 5:30s to 5:50s pace at times too.

Goal Race Pace Runs

No brainer here. The goal behind these workouts is to run at your goal marathon race pace. In this case, 6:52 per mile or 4:16 per kilometer. You are running around 90 percent of your maximum heart rate at this type of effort. Yes, these types of workouts will tax you physically as well as mentally. So, makes sure you hydrate well before, during and after these types of efforts.

Again, it all goes back to quality versus quantity. You don’t want to run too many of your miles or kilometers too slow. Yes, you do still need to train and stress the energy systems of the body adequately though. So, focus on quality but also ensure that you are jogging during recovery days. You will have 2 to 3 recovery days within your training plan. I also cover this in detail in the running courses that I teach here. Did you know I have a course specifically for runners seeking to break 3 called the Sub 3 Hour Marathon Pro course? If not, definitely check it out.

Vo2 Max Workouts

Examples of Vo2 max workouts are speed development sessions like repeat 600m’s, mile repetitions or interval training. We focus on doing 1 Vo2max workout per week. Yes, more advanced runners sometimes do one in the morning with another one in the evening. I highly advise to make sure if you do this type of training to allot 48 hours of jogging post-workout to ensure you recover.

Again, most runners get too caught up with how fast they are running on easy days. Do you know the distance of your route? If so, focus on relaxed running. Furthermore, you don’t always have to wear a watch especially on easy days. Yes, do wear one if doing a tempo run or interval workout. That being said, you have to be smart and sometimes being smart is just relaxing and allowing your body to recover.

Examples of Vo2 max workouts I would recommend for runner seeking to break the 3 hour marathon is as follows:

  • 1 mile jog warm-up, 5-6x1mile in 5:44 (when very fit)-5:58 (first few weeks into a build up) provided an adequate base mileage has been started)
  • 2 mile jog warm-up, 12x200m in 43 to 48 seconds, 2 mile cool-down
  • 1 mile jog warm-up, 3x2mile in 11:30 to 11:45 per rep (7 minutes recovery when not as fit, 5 minutes recovery or once the heart rate gets back to 120BPM when very fit), 1 mile jog cool-down
  • 1 mile-warm-up, 16x400m in 1:26 to 1:34, 3 minutes rest when first starting out with only 45 to 60 seconds rest when very fit, 1 mile jog cool-down

Long Runs

Do you want my top recommendation to make sub 3 hr marathon pace to feel easier? Start doing faster, varied paced long runs. Have you been running long and moderately slow every weekend during your past marathon build ups? Have you focused on speed training and putting in mileage but always run slow during these efforts? Do you want to know how I lowered my marathon PR from 2:43:36 to 2:19:35?

Start changing up the intensity of the long run. No, I am not saying you need to run the entire duration of your long run hard and fast. Again, periodization is the goal and adaptation. First, you need to spend the first 2 to 3 weeks running long and slow. Of course, as you become more anaerobically fit then you need to start thinking more strategically. Below are examples of the types of long runs I would do prior to breaking the sub 2:20 marathon barrier. Remember, my goal was to hold 5:25 per mile (2:22:00 marathon pace). I ended up running 5:19 mile pace for 26.2 miles using this strategy.

  • 2 mile jog warm-up, 4 miles@5:45 mile pace, 2 miles easy@7:15 mile pace, 4 miles@5:20 mile pace, 1 mile easy jog, 1 mile in 4:50, 3 miles@6:00 mile pace, 1 mile easy jog, 2 miles@5:15 mile pace, 2 mile jog cool-down (22 miles)
  • 1 mile jog warm-up, 14 miles@5:35 mile pace, 3 miles easy, 1 mile in 4:55, 2 miles easy, 2 miles@5:25 mile pace

Remember, always follow the harder, varied pace long run the following week with a nice, easy and relaxed long run. Again, adaptation and recovery is the end goal. You cannot continue to stress the body and expect a high return on your time investment. So, be smart about this.

Hill Repetitions

The other types of workouts you may find within the training plans are hill repetitions. Again, you need to stress the body’s anaerobic systems. No, you will not get sub 3 hr marathon pace to feel easier unless you train significantly faster than 6:52 mile pace.

Examples of the types of workouts I would do preparing for 5k to marathon events are as follows

  • 2 mile warm-up, 10x200m hill moderately hard up, walk or jog down, 2 mile cool-down
  • 2 mile warm-up, 3 sets of (3x100m) hill repetitions all out up, walk down (or full recovery when not as anaerobically fit)
  • 1 mile warm-up, 15x300m hill moderate on up with last 50 meters all out cresting the top of the hill, 1 mile cool-down

Hill repetitions like speed workouts help you to recruit more fast twitch muscle fibers. The more of these you can recruit the more effective you are going to be at sustaining pace. The reason being is are able to clear lactic acid faster than it is building up. Again, the end goal is to sustain sub 3 hr marathon pace longer than your competition. How do you do that effectively?

Train FAR below goal 3 hr marathon pace. Easier said than done right? Remember, focus on training at between 30 to 40 percent of your weekly volume at, near and far below sub 3 hour marathon pace.

Easy Runs

Easy runs are critical to ensure recovery takes place. You are running around 50 to 60 percent of your maximum heart rate at these efforts. Yes, sometimes even lower. I have seen world-class marathoners who can break 2:10 for the distance jog 9 to 10 minute mile pace. I have seen runners who couldn’t break 3 running 6:30 to 7:30 mile pace on theirs. There is a lesson here.

Get beyond high volume and worrying every day about what pace you are running on these runs. Remember, these are your RECOVERY days. So, treat them as such. I can promise you that the way I train and prepare athletes you will look forward to these days. You always want to make training the most difficult part of your preparation. The race should be a celebration of your hard work. No, races are not easy. That being said, you need to take confidence in what you do.

Again, the key to get sub 3 hr marathon pace to feel easier is as follows:

  • 1 vo2 max workout per week
  • Doing 1 long, varied pace long run one weekend followed the next by an easier recovery long run
  • 1 tempo run per week
  • 5-6x100m strides done twice per week during easy runs

The Sub 3 Hour Marathon Training Plan

There are four key focus areas of the RunDreamAchieve training philosophy. I form my training plans revolved around the training philosophy of Jack Hazen and Dr. Joe Vigil. Jack was my collegiate coach at Malone University and one of the world’s top distance running coaches. Dr. Vigil mentored me earlier in my running career from a distance and is a very close friend of Coach Vigil.

The four phases that I teach are

  • Base phase
  • Specific training phase
  • Speed development phase
  • Taper phase

Obviously, length and duration of the workouts you will conduct during these phases are going to vary. For example, you will not be doing 7 to 12 mile tempo runs the during the base building phase. You will aim to do that type of workout closer to the end of the specific training and into speed development phase.

Base Training

Remember, you want to have a plan of action in place. You have to build the foundation of your marathon preparation first. So, spend around 3 to 4 weeks running easy to very moderate efforts and not for very long. Yes, you can do strides twice per week and I highly recommend this to new to advanced-level runners. Strides are, at most, 100 meters in length. In addition, will not build up any significant lactic acid.

So, you can focus on your speed development, form and staying relaxed during these acceleration drills. Again, the focus of the base training phase is to gradually introduce you to faster efforts but not immediately. We focus on training around 4 weeks at a specific intensity before moving to the next intensity of your training. Remember, the goal is to get that sub 3 hr marathon pace to feel more manageable. The process cannot be rushed.

Specific Training Phase

Volume and distance rises during the specific marathon training phase. We start to do longer tempo runs, speed workouts, faster (varied pace) long runs. Of course, easy and relaxed running is still mandatory during this phase and will be throughout all training. Again, to be great you are going to have to focus on all areas of your preparation. What are you doing the other hours of your day.

  • Pay attention to your water intake during the day
  • Spend 10 to 15 minutes before you go to bed or as you wake up mentally rehearing seeing yourself crossing the finish line in 2:59:59 (mental training is your secret weapon as your competition will not be focused on this)
  • Aim to get at least 8 hours of sleep
  • Take 1 65mg tablet of iron once per week with orange juice to maintain optimal levels of iron (ferritin)
  • Always consult a Physician if you have a medical issue before starting ANY training plan
  • 1 strength workout per week focusing on high reps and LOW weight to keep your upper, core and lower body strong

It is normal to start feeling more fatigue during the specific training phase. The reason being is we are starting to train more strategically and specific to breaking 3 hours here. Again, there is nothing easy about running a 2:59:59 marathon. My goal is to help ensure you do it with more confidence and taper correctly to achieve the time.

Speed Development Phase

The most challenging parts of the RunDreamAchieve philosophy comes in weeks 9 to 12. The mileage will be the highest around these weeks as will the intensity. Again, we focus on very fast repetitions far more aggressive than just sub 3 hr marathon pace. In fact, the types of workouts you will be doing in these weeks will be closer to your mile to 5K race pace.

So, the key is to place heavy stress on the body’s energy systems. We then allot sufficient time and rest to ensure that the athlete gets the highest return on their time investment. We don’t really start dropping volume or intensity until 10 days out from our main race. Yes, you will have times when you may need an additional day of rest during training. Take it. I would much rather you under train than over trained. Again, there is only so many times you can stress the body before you start getting diminished returns.

Taper Phase

Tapering is usually more difficult than we realize. The reason is we as middle to long distance runners are so hyped and motivated about training. You tell us to start resting and we don’t know how to process it. We spend several months preparing putting in heavy volume, fast intervals and speed workouts and then we are to rest?

Well, to become a sub 3 hour marathon you need to focus on a new strategy. I recommend a 10-day taper rather than dropping your mileage 3 weeks out from your main marathon. Again, you want to lead into your goal race feeling RESTED not tired. I have lost count of runners who have asked me why they felt so tired when they tapered. A major reason is they started to drop their volume and intensity too far out.

10 days is plenty of time to strategically rest and allow all of that hard training to take it effect. So, don’t start significantly dropping your volume until you are 10-days out. I have designed all of my training plans this way. In addition, teach these methods in-depth in the Sub 3 Hour Marathon Pro course.

Closing Thoughts

I hope this post on how to get sub 3 hr marathon pace to feel easier has been helpful. Make sure to check out all the resources we have here at rundreamachieve such as:

Keep me posted on your progress and I hope the resources I have created here will help you master the sub 3 hour marathon time. I know you can do it.

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