Nathan Pennington Running in The Distance

Marathon Sub 3 Hours | Tips to a new PR

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Are you seeking a legitimate marathon sub 3 hours training plan? If so, welcome to RunDreamAchieve. I believe you have cone to the right place. No, breaking a sub 3 hour marathon will not be easy. In fact, only about 1 percent of marathoners run this fast each year. So, you are joining a very select amount of runners. I have run 2:19:35 for the marathon distance and understand how challenging this time barrier can be.

I created a course called Sub 3 Hour Marathon Pro where I help runners speed up their learning curve. Remember, it isn't just about the mileage you are doing. High mileage is not a guarantee you are going to run under 3 hours. What if you are spending too many of your mileage at too aerobic of efforts? What will that do for you? Sure, you will be very strong endurance-wise but no in terms of strength and stamina.

So, they key is to improve your body's lactate tolerance. More importantly, teaching the body to clear lactic acid faster than it is building up. Also, to slow down less than your competition when you are racing.

Marathon Sub 3 Hours Training Plan

A sub 3 hr marathon training plan needs to focus on building endurance, stamina and speed. A common mistake I see is many runners running too easy for too large of a percentage of their weekly mileage. There are many runners who can run 6:52 mile pace or 4:16 kilometer pace for a portion of the race. It is an art form to do it for 26.2 miles or 42.2 kilometers and getting across the finish line with 2:59.59 on the clock.

So, the key tactic here is to start spending more time training at or far below these paces. It is the only way to get sub 3 hour marathon pace to feel more in control and less taxing on the body. The best middle to long distance runners spend about 40 percent of their weekly volume at highly anaerobic efforts. Of course, they make it look easy for a reason. The problem is most people think they are just talented. Talent alone will not guarantee you results. These athletes are highly driven but they train specifically for the goal paces they are going for.

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How Long Does it Take to Train for a Sub 3 Hour Marathon?

My best recommendation is to train for 16 to 20 weeks. The reason being is you want to do this right. A sub 3 hour marathon is an elite time. It is not just going to fall in your lap. So, the longer you prepare and prepare smart, the better your chances for success. Can it be done in 8 to 12 weeks? Perhaps, but you do have to have a level of talent and even more so in work ethic. Are you lacking in talent like me? If so, you can make up for it with your work ethic.

The training plans I created here are 8, 12 and 16 weeks in length. Of course, people are busy. So, there schedules may permit only 8 to 12 weeks to prepare. My mindset is always around leverage for the athlete I mentor. How can we get the best results by working the least. We all know how to work hard. How many hard working people do you know who are broke? Have you ever known athletes who work very hard but never reach their goals? So, we have to start thinking outside the box here.

Do the very best with the time that you have. Also, start paying attention to the small details of your preparation. Investing in yourself with a running course, training plan or coaching can speed up the learning curve. In addition, it takes out the guesswork of what you should be doing on a daily basis.

Steps to Break A Sub 3 Hour Marathon

Start Focusing on Quality

We here it all the time. Quality over Quantity. That being said, it is essential to start running faster in training so that sub 3 hour marathon pace no longer is a concern. I used this tactic to lower my marathon best from 2:43:36 to 2:19:35. No, breaking sub-2:20 was not easy. In fact, I had many failures along the way before I was able to run a marathon this fast. One of the biggest problems I had was running long runs too slow.

The long run is probably the most important workout that I do. What good is a 20-24 miler at 8:00-9:00 mile pace when you want to run 6:52 mile pace for 26.2 miles? Yes, you will build endurance and burn fat running at this intensity. That being said, it will not help you sustain 4:16 kilometer pace or 6:52 per mile pace for the entire duration of the race. Sure, you may be able to sustain for 10 to 15 but what about 26.2 miles? So, start thinking about quality versus the the volume of mileage you are doing. 100 mile weeks is no guarantee especially if you are running too slow every day.

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Faster Long Runs

One of the main reasons I was able to lower my marathon PR from 2:43:36 to 2:19:35 was faster long runs. Of course, I am not saying you need to be running long and fast every single weekend. I recommend doing a varied pace, long run one weekend followed the next by an easier, relaxed long run. Remember, the benefits of the hard work you are doing today will be seen weeks from now. So, it takes the body anywhere from 3 to 4 weeks to adapt to any stressor you are placing on it.

You must first build a strong foundation of easy mileage before moving into a 4 month marathon training plan. So, 20 weeks is optimal. That being said, the first 4 weeks should be just light jogging with strides 2 to 3 times per week. Strides are too short to build up any lactic acid. In addition, they are great for acceleration, practicing your form and staying relaxed at sub-maximal levels.

Long Run Strategy

Below are some examples of the types of long runs I was doing prior to breaking 2:20…

  • 2 mile JOG warm-up, 12 miles steady@160BPM (about 85% of max HR) or 5:35-45 mile pace, 2 miles easy, 1 mile in 4:50, 3 miles easy, 4 miles@5:30 mile pace, 1 mile jog cool-down (22 miles)
  • 1 mile JOG warm-up, 5 miles@5:50 mile pace, 2 miles easy, 2 miles@5:15 mile pace, 6 miles@6:00 mile pace, 2 miles easy, 1 mile in 5:00, 2 miles easy, 4 miles@5:35 mile pace, 1 mile jog cool-down (26 miles)
  • 1 mile JOG warm-up, 17 miles@5:55 mile pace, 2 miles easy, 1 mile in 4:50, 2 miles cool-down (23 miles)

The following week was relaxed and easy running around 7:30-9 minute mile pace. The marathon sub 3 hours training plan and running course here focus heavily on this philosophy.

Focus on Your Speed Development

The key to training at your Vo2 max is to improve your body lactate tolerance. In addition, to recruit more fast twitch muscle fibers. The more fast twitch muscle fibers you can recruit via speed training the better. It will help you to run more effectively, slow down less and maintain race pace longer than your competition. In addition, it will make sub 3 hr marathon pace to feel much easier. The reality is it takes time, patience and consistency to see legitimate results.

Below are some examples of some of the types of speed training I was doing which helped me run 2:19:35. My point in sharing these is to give you an idea of what you will see in our running courses and marathon sub 3 hours training plan. These workouts work but only if you are willing to do them…

  • 1 mile warm-up, 16-20x400m in 1:05-1:13 (faster when fit, slower when not fit), 45 seconds to 2 minutes recovery b/t reps (depending on fitness level), 1 mile cool-down. Remember, you may start off with 6-8x400m and slower paces first.
  • 2 mile jog warm-up, 8-10x800m in 2:16-2:27 starting with 2 and a half minutes rest moving down to 45 seconds rest when very fit. Slower times when not as fit and faster when very anaerobically fit.
  • 1 mile warm-up, 60 minutes of 1 minute hard followed by 1 minute easy fartlek, 1 mile jog cool-down
  • 1 mile warm-up, 3×2 mile at 9:50-10:35(slower when just getting started, faster when very fit), 1 mile cool-down (4-7 minutes rest between reps)

Longer Tempo Runs

Why are longer tempo runs critical? You and I are racing our marathons right around our anaerobic threshold. So, the longer you can spend running at these efforts the better. A common mistake many marathoners make is doing shorter tempo runs. For example, 4 to 5 milers. Sure, these will make you very strong for the 5K to 10K. That being said, we are talking about the marathon here. My recommendation is to start aiming for tempo runs of 7 to 14 miles in length.

Again, all of the above mentioned ideas combined will help yield you the 2:59.59 marathon you are aiming for. So, it isn't just tempo runs or just speed work that matters. It is also how well you are paying attention to your nutrition. Are you hydrating well before, during and after your workouts? How much sleep are you getting each night?

Mental Visualization?

Yes, mental training and seeing yourself, routinely, performing at very high levels is essential to perform well at the marathon. Billy Mills, the last American to win the gold medal in the 10,000m said it like this…

The subconscious mind, cannot tell the difference between reality and imagination

Are you currently a 4 hour marathoner? Well, your brain doesn't know the difference between a 2:59.59 or a 4:01.01. So, you have to train it to yield you what you are aiming for. I recommend spending 10 to 15 minutes daily mentally rehearsing. For example, before you go to bed at night or when you get up in the morning. See yourself performing well, passing people in the race and crossing the finish line with 2:59.59 on the clock.

I did this routinely while I was still a 2:43 marathoner. I wanted to break the 2:22 marathon barrier. The result, combined with doing the other types of workouts discussed in this post, was I ran 2:19:35.

Closing Thoughts

So, your marathon sub 3 hours plan has to focus on the details discussed within this post. Remember, be patient. Your fitness will not come overnight. Yes, it will be challenging, especially at first when you are not fit. We all have to experience this when getting back into shape. Make sure to check out and subscribe to the RunDreamAchieve YouTube channel. I create new content there each week to help runners such as yourself make that next major leap in their training and racing.

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