A good marathon time takes effort, patience and a belief in delayed gratification.
Why do I write that?
The event takes time and planning to get right. We all have three choices in this life.
- Be average
- Be great
A Higher Power created an immense amount of potential in all of us. The problem is often times we don't put out as much as we are capable of. A good marathon time is going to be defined differently from person to person.
According to numerous online resources the average marathon time for a male is 4:10:10. Additionally, the so-called average time for females is 4:39:09.
These are very respectable times to say the least. 19 percent of marathoners finish in 5 hours or slower, respectfully.
My Marathon History
You are more than welcome to visit the about page which covers my racing history. That being said, I started running marathons in 2002.
Furthermore, I had no clue what I was doing when I toed the line of the 2002 New York City Marathon.
The sports specialist of the US Army World Class Athlete Program called me asking if I wanted to run in it. There was a catch.
I was to be a part of an Armed Forces team which was to start in last place for Lung Cancer research. We were not permitted to start the race until every runner had crossed the start line.
So, I started in 32,189th place and finished as the team's top finisher in 257th place. Chase Manhattan Bank donated $1 for every runner I passed. The rest is history.
This is how my marathon journey began. I finished with a time of net time of 2:43:36 and chip time of 2:51:24.
My net time was my official time. The chip time of 2:51:24 was including the time it took for every runner to cross the start line.
My first mile was 16 minutes flat and it took me about 9 miles to get out of the ocean of people I was stuck in.
Needless to say, it was an incredible experience and sparked my interest for this sport.
I now work to create products and services here at rundreamachieve that will help others surpass what they think is possible.
The fact that I have broken the sub-2:20:00 marathon barrier doesn't help you. What will is knowing this event well, what works and what doesn't.
My goal is to help you surpass what you think you are capable of for the 26.2 mile distance.
What I Consider A Good Marathon Time
A good marathon time means something different to different people.
I believe anyone who can run faster than 4 hours and 45 minutes is producing a very good marathon time. Great marathon times are anything under 4 hours and elite times under 3 hours.
That being said, I value the athletes that are finishing the marathon in over 5 hours the most.
They have the most room to improve. That being said, anyone can drop significant time off of their marathon time.
It comes down to how badly you truly want to do it.
I was able to lower my marathon personal best from 2:43:36 to 2:19:35. The second fastest time I have ever run for the distance is 2:26:42.
Additionally, I've mentored and coached athletes online who came to be as 4:40 marathoners and left as 3:30 marathon specialists.
Quality vs Quantity
To run a good marathon time you have to get beyond thinking about high mileage.
Would you rather run 50 miles a week and get your goal or run 120 miles a week and miss it?
It isn't just about high volume that helps you go from an average to a good marathon time.
You have to be thinking outside the box. You cannot expect great results by putting forth average effort.
I've been in the military for over 17 years and can judge quickly if someone is committed or interested.
Interest will not produce a good marathon time. Commitment will.
Furthermore, if you want to take your marathon time down you have to start focusing on specific training.
I have always believed that long, slow running will produce long, slow runners – Sebastion Coe, former world record holder for the 800m (1:41:73)
It doesn't get much more blunt and honest than that right? While I was still a 2:43:36 marathoner I envisioned breaking the 2:22:00 marathon barrier.
In 2008, this was the USA Track and Field Olympic Trials “B” standard time to compete in the Olympic Trials.
Well, the good news is I bypassed breaking 2:22:00 and broke 2:20:00 instead.
The bad news?
I ran the USA Track and Field “A” standard time of 2:20:00 28 days after the 2008 USA Olympic Trials were held.
I ran 2:19:35 at the 2007 California International Marathon finishing in 4th place and top American on 7 December 2007.
The 2008 USA Olympic Trials were held on 3 November 2007.
How Did I Do It?
More importantly, how can you drop 20+ minutes off your own current personal best for the marathon?
Change of mindset and the way you conduct your training.
The mental piece of this is extremely important and often overlooked. I visualized dozens of times every day seeing myself come across the finish line with 2:21:59 on the clock.
You can imagine my joy when I ran across the finish line with time you see above.
What brings me even more satisfaction than I felt on this day and helping others reach their goals.
I share the same struggles as you do. Additionally, I was not born with great talent. What I had to use was my work ethic my parents gave to me.
Furthermore, I had to make up for what I lacked in talent with persistent and consistent hard work.
Key Strategies To Help You Run A Good Marathon Time
Get out of your comfort zone and often.
Have you ever wondered why the Navy Seals are as good as they are? Those men are put through every test one can imagine.
If you want to be great at this event you have to put forth some extraordinary effort. The problem is we all are too soft, myself included.
We live in a highly entertained and distracted society. That being said, those distractions don't have to define what you are truly capable of in this event.
You simply have to prioritize your time and don't make excuses. That goes for me as well. I have run the times I have run on account of determination.
It took me 5 years of hard training to go from 2:43:36 to 2:19:35. Additionally, I have been training ever since 2007 to better that time.
Could it have been my peak race? Perhaps.
But, the world record for masters runners is 2:07:50 so a man older than 40 can run much faster than my 2:19:35 personal best.
You are either lukewarm are white hot when it comes to producing a good marathon time.
Race Pace Training
The fastest way to marathon improvement is training at speeds that are much faster than your goal marathon race pace.
If you are seeking to break the 3 hour marathon you need to sustain 6:52 per mile for 26.2 miles.
Do you want to break the 4 hour marathon barrier?
Well, you need to sustain 9:09 per mile for the entire distance.
So, what I teach athletes at the RunDreamAchieve Academy is how to minimize slowing down and maximize pace sustainment.
The overall goal is to slow down less than your competitors.
You only can do this by training at a higher heart rate more often throughout each week.
The training philosophy I was taught to become a sub-2:20 marathoner was varying up the paces of your long runs.
There are far too many athletes training for this event running their long runs too slow.
That being said, my objective here is to not recommend running fast every weekend during your long runs.
Easy, recovery runs are extremely important as well.
Remember, the benefits of all your hard work come within the rest, not the workout itself.
Key Strategies For Someone Wishing To Break The 3 Hour Marathon
My top recommendation?
It is a thorough overview of what it takes to become a sub-3 hour marathoner.
There are weekly training videos on top of extensive information that you need to get under the barrier.
Lastly, it concludes with a 16-week training schedule that will help teach you exactly what needs to be done to run under 3 hours.
My top recommendations for someone wishing to break the 3 hour barrier.
- Long runs varying in pace from 18 to 28 miles in length
Remember, your goal is to learn to sustain 6:52 per mile for 26.2 miles. You cannot achieve this by doing 20-mile long runs at 7:55 pace.
Yes, you are burning fat and building endurance but not teaching the body to handle ever-increasing amounts of lactic acid.
Your job is to train in such a way to clear lactic acid faster than it is building up in your bloodstream.
How is this done?
Long and fast sustained efforts over many miles. Additionally, with a heart rate that is closer to 85 percent of your max heart rate.
I've been asked several times how I was able to go from 2:43:36 to 2:19:35.
There is your answer.
Sub 3 Hour Key Workouts
- Track intervals focused on paces that far exceed sub 3 hour marathon pace
Examples of track intervals I get my clients focusing on are as follows:
6x1mile in 5:50-5:55 with 4 minutes rest (early phase) and 2 to 3 minutes rest as fitness increases
10x1K@5K race pace with 2 minutes recovery between repetitions
3×2 miles on the track in 11:40 each with 5 to 6 minutes recovery between repetitions
2. Daily mental rehearsals visualizing yourself breaking the 3 hour barrier
Number 3 is nearly always overlooked and yet the top marathoners I have trained with focus on this wholeheartedly.
Never neglect mental training. If you choose to, your competitors won't and will beat you when it counts most.
3. Long intervals on the roads conducted at 165+ beats per minute
Examples of some of the intervals I have done in the past that helped me to break the sub-2:20:00 marathon barrier are as follows:
10 Progression – 6:15,6:10,6:00,5:50,5:40,5:30,5:20,5;10,5:00,4:50
16K run – 1K hard@170+BPM followed by 1K@130-40 BPM
20x800m on the road hitting the 800s in 2:30-35 with an 800m float jog recovery
Do you notice the similarities of all these workouts? I was forcing myself to run faster than 5:25 per mile pace.
Remember, my personal best in 2002 was 6:14 mile pace but my goal was to break 2:22:00.
A sub-2:22:00 marathon equates to averaging 5:25 per mile for 26.2 miles, no breaks.
So, whatever goal time you have in mind you have to get your mind made up to go after it.
Additionally, you have to set up your training effectively enough that you get a return on investment for all of your hard work.
4. Short, very fast intervals on the track
These workouts are focused on training your aerobic capacity. We as athletes cannot run very long at these intensities.
That being said, one of the greatest benefits of these is they recruit fast twitch muscle fibers.
The more fast twitch muscle fibers you recruit the more economical you are going to run.
The trick is to run these intervals at or below your 1 mile to 3K race pace.
You will quickly make your marathon goal race pace feel much easier by doing these types of workouts.
Here are a few examples of these types of intervals I still do leading into my marathons.
- 16x200m in 28 to 35 seconds
- 12x400m in 64-70 seconds
- 30x100m in 14-15 seconds
- 14x300m in 1:48 to 1:55
Furthermore, rest periods are generally more plentiful early on my training regiment and lessen as I get fitter.
Obviously, there is no way I could sustain these types of paces for 26 miles. My best marathon is 5:19 mile pace.
That being said, the reason I was able to hold 5:19 mile pace for 26.2 miles was thanks to these types of workouts.
So, your job is to zero in on what pace you want to hold for your marathon and train at paces that exceed it.
In addition, you don't want marathon pace to feel labored. What you want is to feel relaxed and in control of your race.
These are the bread and butter workouts I recommend to run a good marathon time.
5. 200m to 600m long hill repetitions
If you want to feel the pain train definitely do this type of workout.
The focus here is to focus on proper running form going up. Hills teach us to stay focused and force us to life up our knees and pump our arms.
I've done these since I was in high school and has helped me improve my marathon time over the years.
The point is to train at your aerobic capacity and recruit those fast twitch muscle fibers that easy running cannot do.
The reason these types of workouts are so effective is they help to make marathon goal race pace feel easier and less intimidating.
Remember, speed kills. You want to be be able to run the last mile or two of the marathon at a fast pace when everyone around you is slowing down.
The Benefits Come In The Rest
How does resting get us to run a good marathon time?
A perfectly planned taper can help you drop anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes off of your marathon time.
Resting after hard workouts will help your body adapt and supercompensate.
The reason why a lot of runners have a hard time improving is they are not resting enough.
A good rule of thumb is to give yourself 48 hours of easy jogging after a hard track or road workout.
I cannot stress this enough. Take your easy days easy.
I've trained with world-class marathoners (2:10 marathoners) who run 9 minute mile pace on their easy days.
If athletes that can run under 5 minute mile pace for 26 miles can run slow on their easy days so can you and I.
We are highly motivated people. That being said, you have to have the same discipline to back off as you do to train hard.
If you want to run a good marathon time you follow these guidelines.
The focus is always on quality over quantity.
Your objective is to utilize leverage and get the highest return on your time investment as possible.
So, to do that you need to be training at or far below your goal marathon race pace whatever that may be.
Too many junk miles run far too slow will not help you cut big chunks of time off of your current marathon personal best.
The best marathoners make it look easy for a reason. They have trained in their anaerobic zone a higher percentage of the time compared to the untrained athlete.
Below are heart rate training zones I would recommend to train at when preparing for your upcoming marathon.
Easy – 130 to 150 beats per minute
Moderate – 151-160 beats per minute (great for long runs)
Moderately hard – 161-167 beats per minute (long runs and longer intervals on the roads)
Anaerobic Threshold – 168-173 beats per minute (tempo runs ranging from 3 to 14 miles)
Aerobic Capacity – 174-80+ beats per minute (speed workouts)
Gold Nugget Advice
Be patient – don't expect this to be easy. Give yourself time and allow the physiological adaptations to occur.
I promise you that you will adapt and become stronger but you have to be persistent with this.
Do not second guess yourself when you don't see results immediately. It doesn't work like that, for me either.
It will hurt – faster running is not fun. There is no way around it. If you want to run a good marathon time you have to do what others deem as painful.
Anyone can run easy for long periods of time.
It is an art form to run fast for long durations and the people that do it are training effectively.
This is what I want for you as well.
Invest in a heart rate monitor – I've been using heart rate monitors since 1996. My collegiate coach, Jack Hazen, got me started with them.
The world's top marathoners use them as well. One of the biggest benefits is they take the focus off of hitting splits and keep you focused on your heart rate instead.
You will notice as you get fitter your heart no longer has to work as hard. The result is faster mile or kilometer splits at the same heart rate.
Focus on what you can control
If you get injured, take time off. It is as simple as that. Can you do anything about an injury? No, outside of taking care of yourself all you can do is rest.
You cannot rush the healing process.
Put your focus on the things you do have control over. You are always in control of your attitude and the words you use.
You have a choice to go out and do that second run or decide not to run.
Lastly, you also have a choice not to follow a strong, well-laid out training plan. You can choose to try running high mileage and see where it gets you or focus on leverage.
Leverage simply means doing more with less. Here in America we have been taught since the cradle to work hard.
How many hard working people do you know who are broke or have no time leverage?
Sure, people have the fancy work title and high salary but they have to keep showing up to warm a seat somewhere to keep getting paid.
People using leverage do not work hard for money. Money works hard for them.
The same principles apply for the marathon. The best marathoners work smarter not harder.
You'll produce a good marathon time if you focus on the key tips and strategies covered in this post.