Nathan Pennington Running in The Distance

4 Hour Marathon | Pro Level Tips to Run 3:59:59

Are you wondering what it takes to run a sub 4 hour marathon? If so, welcome to rundreamachieve. I am glad you have made it here.

4 hour marathon

We're all working hard and want to improve, not just elite athletes.

I have been involved in competitive sport since I was a teenager. I've always respected those athletes trying to run under the 4 hour marathon barrier.

Our media and culture respect and admire people who do anything at the elite level.

A sub 4 hour marathon is not easily achievable. It is a respectable effort and one only a few men and women achieve each year. 

Is 4 Hours a Good Marathon Time?

Yes, a sub 4 hour marathon is a very competitive time. There are runners world-wide focused on running 3:59:59.

Remember, the end goal is to sustain 9.09 per mile or 4:16 per kilometer for the entire distance. So, we have to work to improve our lactate tolerance. Easy running is still important. That being said, easy running won't help you when it comes to an all out effort.

What runners are lacking is attention to training at sustained paces for a longer period of time.

Running 5.00 per mile pace is one thing. That being said, doing it for 26.2 miles is something else.

My best marathon is 5.19 per mile. I, too, wonder how these top athletes sustain pace for so long. What needs to be done to sustain 5:00 minute per mile pace for 26.2 miles? Remember, the same fundamentals applied for me as well. So, I had to get my goal race pace to feel more sustainable.

Hard, sustained work is what will bring you to your goal. The world's top runners run between 35 to 40% of their weekly mileage at or below their lactate threshold. We run between 85 to 89% of our max heart rate at this intensity. So, of course, they make it look easy. The only reason you haven't broken 4 hours yet is insufficient time spent at the proper intensity.

It, most certainly, is not that you don't have what it takes.

Sustained Anaerobic Running

Sub 4 hour marathon pace means 9.09 per mile or 4:16 per kilometer pace must be held. Can training at 10 minute mile pace for 6 to 8 miles per day prepare you to run a 4 hour marathon?

No, You have to be able to train at 9.09 per mile pace and feel controlled for 6 to 8 miles. Then, you start focusing on doing it for 26.2 miles.

Running at a faster pace is demanding.

Running slowly will build fitness and on a molecular level will build red blood cells. In addition, will help the body transport oxygen to muscles.

Secondly, it will help the body create capillary beds.

See also  4 Months To A 4 Hour Marathon

Third, this will increase blood flow to the working muscles. Lastly, the body will make more mitochondria  which are the powerhouse of the cell.

The more of mitochondria in the blood stream the more economically you are going to run. 

These are all vital, important physiological adaptations that will occur from running easy. In addition, your heart rate will drop so your heart doesn't have to work as hard as it did prior to you starting.

This is huge. Wonder why at first you're struggling just to run a mile and a few weeks down the road a mile is a joke to you? Your heart has adapted.

Endurance must be built over time. It can't be rushed.


Pace Yourself

Runners who want to hold 9.09 per mile pace for 26 miles have to be strategic in the way that they plan.

Here are a few things you can do to help you reach this goal.

Remember, it isn't how many miles a week you are running. What percentage of that volume is spent training at sub 4 hour marathon pace? As mentioned above, the world's top runners run around 40% of their weekly mileage at or below their anaerobic threshold. Of course, you do not necessarily make to make this drastic of a change.

That being said, you do need to start running more mileage at higher quality. How did I go from a 2:43:36 to a 2:19:35 marathon time? Faster, varied paced long runs. A common mistake many runners make is running their long runs too slow. Remember, you do not want to run every single weekend's long run slow and easy.

It will only make you a superior, long and slow distance runner. You are not going after a slow time. Sub 4 hour marathon pace is a highly competitive time.

Is a 4 Hour Marathon Realistic?

It is if you choose to train smarter, rather than harder. Remember, higher mileage is not a guarantee that you will run under 4 hours for the marathon. You need to make sure you are jogging on your recovery days too. You can only push the body so many times before diminished returns start to occur.

The difference between a novice and elite runner is that the novice's muscles haven't been trained to generate enough sustained force.

Pete Migill

The trick to running faster, longer is the quality of the miles you are running. So, do not get so caught up in the amount of mileage you are doing. I would focus more of your attention on the quality of training you are doing. I cover the exact steps to break the 4 hour barrier in the Sub 4 Hour Marathon Mastery Course. So, be sure to click on any of the green buttons on this post to learn more about our running resources.

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You have to focus on extending the length of your longer runs and the pace at which you hold them at.

Run Faster Long Runs

The key for you to run at your lactate threshold or slightly above it. We do our tempo runs at this effort. It is running between 85 to 89% of our max heart rate. Your lactate threshold is the point at which lactic acid begins to build up in the blood stream.

You need to target the pace you need to run at. Then, focus on what needs to be done to make that a reality.

Here are a few examples of what you can do.

  • 20 miles – 5 miles easy, 5 miles@ 20 seconds per mile slower than goal race pace, 5 miles at 20 seconds faster than goal pace, 5 miles easy

The idea behind this workout is building strength, not simply endurance.

You are basically warming up with the first 5 miles (and fatiguing). So, asking yourself to gradually increase pace the further out you get into the run.

You are teaching your body to not only run longerbut run in a fatigued state. In addition to that, increasing pace as you fatigue.

You will have no rest in a marathon and to run 9.09 per mile pace you have to build sustainability of that intensity in training.


How Much Training Do I Need to Run a 4 Hour Marathon?

Aerobic capacity is the maximum amount of oxygen you can bring to your body during an exercise activity. I would recommend working to get your tempo runs out to around 10 to 12 miles in length. So, 16 to 19 kilometers. Of course, we have to first adapt to a 3 to 4 mile tempo run first. Be patient with your build up. 

Remember, the body always adapts to the stresses being placed on it. We just need to allot sufficient time in order for the benefits of our faster, anaerobic training to take effect.

Have you ever wondered why runners who seem to run effortlessly run in that manner?

They do so because they have trained their system to recruit more fast twitch muscle fibers. This helps the body run more economically.

They have also maximized their ability to transport more oxygen to their muscles.

You will not be able to do this effectively unless you can make a plan to do more than just run easy miles.

Easy mile will help you to finish a marathon. A systematic plan will provide you a way to attack a specific time such as 4 hours

See also  Invigorate Your Marathon Training

4 Hour Marathon Pacing Strategy

Specific marathon pace training is demanding. I don't care if you are aiming for 9.09 per mile pace or 5.19 per mile pace like I did.

We all have to train at or below the paces we are wanting to hold for our marathons.

4 hour marathon

In addition, you have to give equal attention to recovery or results will not come. 

My recommendation is to focus on running a negative split. So, aim to run the second half of your marathon faster than you did the first half.

You do not want to go out too fast and go into oxygen debt. Remember, the end goal is to sustain 4 hour marathon pace longer than your competition.

You have to gradually build into doing runs at or far below 9.09 per mile pace.

It would not be wise to be running for two weeks into your training plan and begin doing runs at 9.09 pace (or faster).

It is important to build a base of solid mileage first. Then, the specific training can begin.

So, the most important thing to remember if you have a 4 hour marathon as your goal. First, train at 4 hour marathon pace as often as possible with a careful eye on ‘jogging' on recovery days.

Lastly, easy running is important but fast running for long periods of time get the job done.

Results will come from this, they will not come overnight.

Stay motivated and grow in patience. Patience is difficult in this sport. It is, sometimes, the most difficult part of training for marathons.

Finally, if you can see this as a long-term process you will have conquered the distance before you even toe the line.

Closing Thoughts

I hope that this post has been helpful to you. A good recommendation is to consider investing in a heart rate monitor. I use the Garmin 245 and it helps me to train at the proper heart rate zones. Also, start paying more attention to mental training. Mental training and rehearsal is commonly bypassed by most runners.

The world's top runners combine both mental as well as physical training. Remember, we have to train the mind just as we train the body. So, start spending 10 minutes daily seeing yourself getting across the finish line with 3:59:59 on the clock.

Be sure to subscribe to the RunDreamAchieve YouTube channel too. I focus on making new tutorial videos there, weekly. More importantly, to help determined runners such as yourself earn new personal bests. Keep me updated on your progress. 


3 responses to “4 Hour Marathon | Pro Level Tips to Run 3:59:59

  1. Thanks for the training tips! Impressive times you’ve run!
    I just turned 60 and am going to run the NYCM this year, if it happens. It will be my 34th marathon, and the first in 6 years (3:58 in bad conditions). I’d like to get close in 3hrs, but have no idea whether my body can still do that. I used to run, regularly, in the high 2:40s (PR: 2:46 in NY in ’87!) but wasn’t training correctly. I now realize I was doing my VO-max type workouts way to fast, and also my endurance-speed workouts wrong as well. I want to train more sensibly and the virus has given me some time to reflect and get a little base going. Right now, four weeks in, I’m trying to figure out the proper pace for my long runs. How best to calculate? It’s hard to say exactly what shape I’m in. I ran 10 miles last weekend at 8:20 pace and that felt too hard and took too much out of me.
    Thank you!

  2. Great times you have already run Charlie. Very well done my friend. 2:46 is smoking! You may want to consider our training plans or running course on the sub 4 hour marathon. Keep me posted on your progress. The fact that you realize the mistakes you made in the past will help you dramatically in 2021.

  3. Hey charlie. I recommend subscribing to the RDA YouTube channel at as I do touch quite a bit on your questions there. VERY well done having dropped that 2:46 marathon as there are MANY athletes who wish they could have a PR that fast. Please keep in touch with me as I know 2022 is going to be an awesome year for you. You obviously are a highly successful athlete.

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