Nathan Pennington Running in The Distance

How to Train to Run a Sub 4 Hour Marathon?

How to train to run a sub 4 hour marathon involves focus and persistence. There are a large number of people who achieve this goal each year. That being said, it isn't achieved without effort or easily. A sub 4 hour marathon is a highly competitive time.

What is your current personal best? 4.01? 4.45? 4.59? Regardless what your personal best time is you can eventually get to 3.59.59 if you are consistent with your training. There is no easy way to achieve this. You need to spend adequate time training at, near or far below 9.09 per mile pace.

In fact, training below 8 minute mile pace should be the norm and often. That being said, you also need to have an equal balance between running fast and slow. Higher mileage isn't always the answer either. There are plenty of athletes running high mileage who are still missing the sub 4 hour marathon barrier.

The focus needs to be quality over quantity. Remember, the key is to improve your body's lactate tolerance. Long, slow running will most certainly make you an outstanding, long slow runner. So, we want to change that with this post.

The fact that you are seeking answers of how to break the 4 hour marathon already tells me you are focused. You have already run a low to high 4 hour marathon time. Congratulations. I am sure you have done some great things in our sport. Feel free to visit the RunDreamAchieve YouTube channel and tell me more about it. You can leave a comment on any of my videos and I'll answer you. I often get asked questions and make videos answers my subscribers questions.

Can I Run A Sub 4 Hour Marathon?

Another question I get asked. The answer is yes. If others can and have done it why cannot you? Do you lack talent? Well, then you are just like me. You will have to make up for it with smarter, more precision work. Again, I am not going to sugar coat this.

You will need to focus 100 percent on this goal if you are to achieve it. The talented athlete will be able to achieve it much faster than you. Furthermore, it may take him or her 6 months where it may take you 6 years. How badly do you want it?

It took me from 1992 to 2007 to break the 2 hour 20 minute marathon barrier. I started running marathons in 2002. That being said, it was the foundation of mileage, hard training and eventually smarter training that helped me run 2.19.35.

Furthermore, I never lost enthusiasm for what I was doing. Let's be honest the fact that I have run 2.19 doesn't help you. What will is teaching you the fundamentals of what it takes to run 3.59.59 or better. This isn't a matter of if you can run a sub 4 hour marathon but a question of when. Sadly, far too many athletes let their foot of the gas right when they were on the verge of running 3.59.59.

We are motivated people. We desire to get great results and want to see our hard work come to fruition. The problem is you cannot sow a seed and an oak tree grow by the next day. You have to lay the foundation first and with time and patience the results of that come to fruition.

How Many Miles A Week Should I Run For A 4 Hour Marathon?

One of the biggest mistakes I made as a marathoner was focusing more on volume than quality miles. I got up to 142 miles a week and it didn't work. In fact, I ran my personal best for the marathon on 80 to 90 miles per week.

I cut out the junk mileage and started focusing on varying up the paces of my long run. I was conducting my long runs at far too slow of a pace. In addition, I was running far too fast on my easy days. There are athletes that break the 4 hour marathon on 40 miles a week. Furthermore, others do so on 90 to 100 miles a week.

I cannot answer the exact amount that will get you to 3.59.59. The reason being is there are more areas of concern than got into running that type of time. You need to run a combination of very, very fast running along with easy jogging. In addition, you need to start running for longer periods of time at a higher heart rate. Why? Well, you start teaching the body to clear lactic acid faster than it is building up in the blood stream.

This is why so many of the world's top marathoners make it look so easy. Is there cheating going on in our sport? Of course. I watched a woman run a marathon in 2 hours 14 minutes and 4 seconds at the 2019 Chicago Marathon. She didn't just break Paula Radcliffe's former world record but destroyed it. I certainly believe there are talented men and women out there. That being said, our sport has seen many runners get caught taking performance enhancing drugs.

How to Train to Run a 4 Hour Marathon

Life is More Than Running

Furthermore, I am also suspicious of the men who are routinely running well below 2.05.00 on a regular basis. We have seen many of them being caught for blood doping. Unfortunately, some runners lives revolve around running as their main source of income. Sadly, they resort to extreme measures in order to achieve a few thousand dollars. Our sport is not like the NBA, NHL or NFL. Professional runners may only collect $50,000 to $150,000 at our largest races. Additionally, this is pre-tax and before they pay their managers.

Of course, this amount of money goes a long way in Kenya, Ethiopia and other countries. That being said, there is more to life than running. You and I, mere mortals will never run quite this fast. It took me over 15 years to break the 2.20.00 marathon barrier. I only broke the 2.30.00 marathon barrier twice in my career. I, like you, never had much talent but I did have work ethic.

How to train to run a sub 4 hour marathon involves working with leverage. We all have been taught to work hard. How many of us have been taught t work smart? Did you know that 78 percent of the American population are living paycheck to paycheck? These highly educated, driven and motivated men and women have all been taught to work hard. Are there smarter ways to earn income than trading life for it? Of course. The problem is so few of us have been taught how or worse, let others dictate if we should or should not take a new path.

You Must Use Leverage To Run Under 4 Hours For The Marathon

Which is easier to chop a tree down, using an axe or a chainsaw? Leverage should be at the forefront of your mind now in order to run under the 4 hour marathon barrier. I know because I was training to break a time of my own. Leverage simply means doing more with less. How can you run faster and break the 4 hour marathon by running less? You start training in a different way and paying closer attention to the leaks in your preparation.

What percentage of your weekly mileage is spent training at, near or far below 9.09 mile pace? Is it 5 percent or 50 percent? You need a mixture of training at 7 to 9 minute mile pace coupled with easy jogging. Why? Remember, the benefits of your hard work comes within the rest period, not the workout. Yes, we all have to do the track and road workouts. You and I will not achieve fast results in the marathon without them. That being said, if you don't back off your training and allow the body to rest you are shooting yourself in the foot.

Train Smarter, Not Harder

Again, this comes back to smarter training. Use the chainsaw. Stop trying to chop the tree down with an axe and then get upset it takes too long to achieve. How can a high school drop out make more in a week than a highly educated and skilled Physician makes in a year? Someone is using leverage and the other isn't respectfully. This isn't to degrade any profession. It is merely a way to paint a picture of working smarter rather than harder.

Working hard isn't a guarantee that you will run 3.59.59. You need to work smart and have the patience to make it a reality in your life.

I chose to invest in personal development. Additionally, I was fortunate enough to have been coached for over 3 years by a Boston Marathon champion. My collegiate coach, Jack Hazen, is one of the world's most respected and accomplished distance running coaches. What I have been taught I teach in the Sub 4 Hour Marathon Mastery course. Is it an investment? Of course, but the serious athlete always seeks the knowledge few are paying attention to.

How Fast Can You Run a Marathon if You Haven't Trained

How Fast Do You Have To Run For A Sub 4 Hour Marathon?

Well, you need to sustain 9.09 per mile pace for 26.2 miles. So, you need to start thinking about how can I minimize slowing down. My advice is to start varying up the pace of your long runs. If you are running too slow for too long of a period of time you are not preparing yourself correctly.

Again, long slow running will make you an outstanding long, slow runner. Our goal is to get you to 3.59.59 as quickly and as efficiently as possible. I am going to provide a few strategies in this post. The rest I cover in the Sub 4 Hour Marathon Mastery course which concludes with a 16 week training plan designed to help you do it.

Do you want to know how I went from a 2.43.36 marathoner to a 2.19.35 specialist? I started running my long runs at 85 percent of my maximum heart rate. For me, this was running at 160 beats per minute. A good way to find out what your maximum heart rate is is to subtract your age from 220. Again, this is just an estimate but is fairly accurate. The long run was and is still the hardest workout that I do.

Top Recommendations To Break 4 Hours

  • Start varying up the pace of your long run as mentioned above. Invest in a heart rate monitor worth the money. It will keep you from running too fast on your easy days. In addition, a heart rate monitor can keep you in the correct energy zone.

Below is an example of the type of long run I was doing that helped me run 2.19.35. Furthermore, there is also an example of a long run I did while still a 2.43 marathoner.

22 miler: 6.30 to 7.00 mile pace

22 miler: first 3 miles easy@140-50BPM (6.15-6.45 mile pace), 3 miles@160 BPM(5.25-45 mile pace), 3 miles easy@140-50BPM, 1 mile in 4.50, 2 miles easy@140-50BPM, 6 miles@160BPM, 3 miles easy, 1 mile in 4.50

Do you see the difference? Which one is more catered to the athlete trying to sustain 5.19 mile pace?

What You Should Do Regarding Your Long Runs

Alternate one, harder long run with a very easy long run where you are jogging. My easy days the weekend after my harder efforts were at 8 to 9 minute mile pace or slower. I could have cared less if I was running at 11 minute mile pace on my recovery days. I knew I was going to have to train smarter if I was going to ever break the 2 hour 22 minute marathon barrier. This was my goal. It was a USA Olympic Trials “B” standard time back in 2007.

Heart Rate During The The Long Run

I eventually broke the “A” standard time of 2.20.00 instead. The main reason was this long run. That being said, I was focusing on doing the other things we as runners tend to neglect too, which I will discuss below.

For example, tempo runs should be done anywhere from 165 to 170 beats per minute. This is the anaerobic threshold, the point at which your body starts to build up lactic acid. The hydrogen ion, a component of lactic acid, is the real reason our muscle functioning shuts down when we fatigue. So, the trick is to train at a higher heart rate for a longer period of time. Why? You improve your lactate tolerance and your heart doesn't have to work as hard.

The good news is that it can be done. The bad news is that it is painful and the results are seen immediately. Remember, the benefits of the workouts you do today won't be seen until weeks from now. Again, how to train to run a sub 4 hour marathon involves smarter training. Have you paid attention to heart rate monitor training lately? Is there a reason you haven't? My advice is to start taking this seriously in 2020 and into the future.

Heart Rate Zones

Heart rate monitor training was one of the main reasons I was able to run 2.19.35. It kept me focused on staying in the specific heart zone instead of worrying about mile or kilometer splits. Here are the exact heart rate training zones I followed to break 2 hours and 20 minutes for the marathon.

Easy: 140 to 150 beats per minute

Moderate: 151 to 160 beats per minute (where I would be normally in my harder long run effort)

Anaerobic Threshold (aka tempo training): 165 to 174 beats per minute

Aerobic Capacity (sprinting): 175+ beats per minute

Additional Strategies You Need To Focus on To Break 4 Hours

Start practicing drinking rather than sipping in training. The body requires a great deal of fluid and caloric intake while running 26.2 miles. I made the mistake many times of not drinking enough in the race. Let me remind you of this one fact. You cannot run a fast marathon by sipping and not taking in sufficient fluids in the race.

I don't care how much motivation and drive you have. If you neglect this strategy you will fail. My goal is to ensure that you don't. I had to make the mistake in order to learn from it. One of the best things you can do is invest in your personal development and bypass the mistakes of others. Learn from them but don't repeat them. Have you ever watched a professional athlete drinking during their competitions?

They are not sipping a half of a dixie cup of water. They are drinking and hold their water bottle for at least 400 meters or so before they drop it. These athletes realize the importance of hydration. So, you need to replicate that behavior in your future marathons in order to set yourself up for success. You came here seeking how to train to run a sub 4 hour marathon. These are some of the best recommendations in order to do so.

I go into much more detail in the Sub 4 Hour Marathon Mastery course. It is important to follow a plan from someone who has done what you are seeking to do. In addition, it takes a great of concern off of you to follow a plan specifically built to get you to 3.59.59.

How Fast Can You Run a Marathon if You Haven't Trained

Is A Sub 4 Hour Marathon Good?

Yes. A sub 4 hour marathon is what I consider a superior marathon time. There are more marathoners that break the 4 hour marathon than there are that break 3 hours. That being said, it is still a very challenging time and one that you can achieve.

We all have different capabilities. The good news is the training strategies that I am touching on here are universal. They work whether you are trying to break 5 hours for the marathon or run a 2.30 marathon. The challenge is following through and staying consistent with your training. Remember, to break a sub 4 hour marathon you need to work with leverage.

What are the best marathoners doing that make it look so easy? Well, they are training at speeds that far exceed the paces they are holding in the race. So, you need to get acquainted to running at 7 minute mile pace. Yes, you will not be able to spend much time at this intensity. The focus here is to get 4 hour marathon race pace to feel more in control and manageable.

The Long Run

How will doing a 18 to 24 mile long run at 11 minute mile pace help you do this? Yes, it will build your endurance but will it help you to sustain 9.09 mile pace for 26.2 miles? It will surely help you get to around 10 to 14 miles at that pace. That being said, you will still have 16.2 or 12.2 miles to go. It doesn't do you much good to be on pace for a part of the race. What matters is what did you cross the finish line in right?

A sub 4 hour marathon is a very good time. Again, I want you to focus more on quality rather than volume from here on out. You can achieve greater results by running very fast and also very easy more often. Additionally, higher mileage is not a guarantee of breaking 4 hours. It is wiser to run 40 miles a week and get your goal than to say you run 100 miles a week and yet not achieve it. I hope that makes sense.

How Hard Is It To Run A 4 Hour Marathon?

It is just as hard to run a sub 4 hour marathon as it is for me to run a sub-2.20 marathon. The only difference is the pace. The hardest part about marathon training is our tendency to be too impatient. It is entirely normal for us all to want to see quick results. I was the same way. That being said, the best marathoners I have known are highly dedicated and patient professionals.

They do not lose enthusiasm when things get tough. Remember, you are going after a very fast and respectable marathon time. It will not be done easily. You can certainly achieve the goal with more ease by working smarter rather than harder. Let's face it. A sub 4 hour marathon will not fall into your lap. You are going to have to get out there on the roads and track and put in the work. There are no short cuts in our sport.

I share my advice at the RunDreamAchieve Youtube channel. I highly recommend subscribing and investing in your self development at the RunDreamAchieve Academy. Yes, it is hard to run a marathon under 4 hours but it can be easier if you follow a proven plan.

Closing Thoughts

My wish for you is that you become a 3.59.59 or faster marathoner. I know the joy this sport has brought to me. In addition, I also know what it feels like to go after a goal and fail. What will dictate your overall success is your willingness to not lose enthusiasm during your preparation.

Again, a sub 4 hour marathon is a highly coveted time that is respected around the world. Your ability to sustain 9.09 mile pace for 26.2 miles is going to be dependent upon how coachable you are. Did you take notes during this reading? If not, go back and re-read what I have covered. There are some gold gems here that will help set you up for success.

I go even more in-depth within the Sub 4 Hour Marathon Mastery course. It is a one-time investment that will help yield you the result you want. If I cannot get you the result you want then I don't want your money nor deserve it. What you need to promise me is that you will listen and follow the advice that I teach within the course. If you will then I can assure you that you will be well on your way to becoming a 3.59 or faster marathon specialist. So, how to train to run a sub 4 hour marathon has been briefly discussed in this 3500+ word post.

Last Bits of Advice

There are further specifics we will be discussing within the course such as nutrition, mindset and much, much more. Two areas of marathon preparation that many athletes severely get wrong. Again, are you going to choose the axe or the chainsaw in order to cut down the tree? Which of the two will get you to the end result faster? Which of the two requires more sweat equity, time and frustration? It is time to start working smart now. We both know you know how to work hard. You wouldn't be on this site nor have read this far if you weren't fully committed.

You have the tools to get the job done. It is now simply a matter of choosing the right tool and getting the results you desire with less effort. I hope this post has at least provided you some more ammo in answering how to train to run a sub 4 hour marathon. It is now time to take action and get the results you are seeking.

How Fast Can You Run a Marathon if You Haven't Trained