Run A Marathon In Under 4 Hours: How To Break The 4 Hour Marathon

run a marathon in under 4 hours

To run a marathon in under 4 hours one must be able to maintain pace and fuel properly. Welcome to RunDreamAchieve. I am glad you have made it here.

The marathon is a fuel sport. So, we must train the body to burn the fuel source we have much more of, fat. Remember, we only have anywhere from 1700 to 1800 calories of glycogen built up at any given time.

The faster we train the more efficient we will become at burning fat at race pace.

Run out of gas and what happens? We are forced to slow down. In addition, we have to accept that we did not train sufficiently at or below goal marathon race pace.

The wise athlete will always do his or her homework and never have to be in that predicament.

So, most runners just need to make a few, small changes in their training to break the 4 hour marathon barrier.

One of the biggest problems runners have is running out of sugar during their marathon. In addition, they run into problems maintaining their goal pace for the entire marathon distance.

How Many People run a Marathon in under 4 Hours?

Livestrong did a study that found about 43% of male runners break the barrier each year. In comparison, about 21% of runners who compete in marathons break the 4 hour barrier. So, to run a marathon in under 4 hours you have to be in superior shape. I would first focus on building easy, aerobic mileage for at least 4 weeks.

Remember, you want to strengthen the muscles, ligaments and tendons of the body first. Also, lessen the likelihood that you will get injured.

How do I run a marathon in under 4 hours when I have not been able to maintain the pace?

The reason you are not able to maintain pace is you have not trained long enough at 9.09 mile pace.

How Often Should You Walk During a Marathon?

I would try to minimize doing this especially if you are trying to run a specific time. Of course, the reason for this is you will lose substantial amounts of time. That being said, if you are just seeking to start and finish the marathon then walking is fine. I would recommend walking perhaps every 3 to 5 minutes. Aim to walk for no more than 1 to 2 minutes.

Remember, the goal isn’t just to sustain 4 hour marathon pace. You have to learn to run at paces that far exceed this pace to break the barrier. So, we have to improve our body’s lactate tolerance. The only way to do this is by running at faster speeds. I highly recommend investing in a heart rate monitor. The Garmin 245 is a great model and one that I use often.

It helps me to maintain the proper heart rate during my tempo runs. In addition, run slow enough during my recovery runs to ensure I adapt to the hard training that I am doing. Also, it is much more fun to focus on heart rate than to be worrying about splits. Remember, your splits will take care of themselves the fitter you get.

Why Does Marathon Training Stop at 20 Miles?

The idea is that after 3 hours of training there is no more real benefit to the body.

What does doing long runs at 10 minute mile pace do for you?

There are a lot of runners who think that doing a 24-mile long run will give them the strength they need to break the 4 hour marathon barrier.

The attitude is right, the drive is there and certainly the focus is clearly evident in these athletes. That being said, long runs spent running too easy will only make you a superior long, slow runner. Remember, you are going after a highly competitive time. Average runners are not those seeking to break the 4 hour marathon barrier.

Is a 4 Hour Marathon Realistic?

I never place limits on other runners because I never placed limits on myself. Yes, a sub 4 hour marathon is realistic. Of course, you need to do the necessary training to get sub 4 hour marathon pace to feel easier. The world’s top runners are running between 35 to 40 percent of their weekly mileage at or below their lactate threshold.

Remember, we are running between 85 to 89% of our max heart rate running at this intensity. So, running at faster speeds will help make sub 4 marathon pace to feel less demanding. The result is you will be able to clear lactic acid faster than it is building up. In addition, will be able to sustain race pace longer than your competition.

You will certainly gain a great deal of fitness from doing a 24-mile long run. You’ll burn fat and increase endurance. That being said, will you be teaching  your body to conserve carbohydrate? Will you be burning fat relative to the speed you want to race at.

These are questions you’ll have to consider when aiming for a 3:59:59 marathon.

How Hard is it to Run a Marathon in under 4 Hours?

It will not be easy. That being said, other runners have done it which means so can you. Again, do not run too much of your weekly mileage too slow. I highly recommend running your long runs at faster speeds. Of course, I do not mean you need to run every long run you do, fast.

Below is an example of a faster, varied paced long run I did prior to running 2:19:35 for the marathon. Yes, our paces may vary. That being said, I just want you to see how these types of long runs are set up.

  • 2 mile jog warm-up, 6 miles@5:30 mile pace, 2 miles easy, 1 mile in 4:55, 7 miles@5:55 mile pace, 2 miles easy, 1 mile in 5:10, 2 mile jog cool-down (23 miles)

I would always run the following week’s long run at or around 8 to 9-minute mile pace. So, recovery is absolutely essential in order to adapt to the hard training that you are doing.

Is Running a Marathon under 4 Hours Good?

Yes, to run a marathon in under 4 hours you need to be in superior shape.

Faster running is the only way to create that physiological effect within the body. Again, long periods of time run at easier paces will only build your endurance. There is certainly a place for long, slow running. That being said, you need to be able to become more efficient at clearing lactic acid. So, faster running is the way to do this.

Recovery is also very important when it comes to running a sub 4 hour marathon.

You can get more out of a 16-mile long run at or close to 4 hour marathon pace then a 24-miler at 10:30 mile pace.

Running too many miles too slow is the problem. Again, runners simply need to make a few small changes for significant improvements in their performance.

Have you ever heard any of your friends bragging about how many miles they ran last week? Remember, it is not the amount of miles you run but what you put into those miles. This will determine if you break the 4 hour marathon or not.

How Do I Pace Myself for a 4 Hour Marathon?

I always tell the athletes I mentor to focus on a negative split. So, focus on running the second half of your race faster than you run the first half. So, do not try to win this race in the first half-marathon. There are far too many runners who run too aggressive in the early stages of this race. The result is that they go into oxygen debt and are forced to slow down.

Remember, it is not about mileage to run a marathon in under 4 hours.  You can run 120-140 miles a week and still miss your marathon goal. It is about quality volume you are putting in.

What will 90 miles a week, run at 7:30 mile pace do for you?

It will make you a long, slow runner. There is certainly nothing wrong with that. In addition, you will also be very fit and confidence. That being said, when it comes to running faster times more specific training is required.

Is 40 miles a Week Enough for Marathon Training?

40 miles a week is enough mileage for most runners. Is your goal to start and finish a marathon or to race a marathon? So, each runners has his or her own objectives with this race. Of course, if you are seeking to break a sub 2:30 marathon than 40 miles a week may not be enough. World-class runners are running anywhere from 100 to 130 miles a week or more.

No, you do not need to run 7 days a week to run a marathon under the 4 hour barrier.

Remember, it isn’t about how many miles you run or how many days you run but what you do with the time you do have.

There are runners who can achieve the sub 4 hour marathon with as little as 4 days a week. I would certainly advise training at least 5 days a week and if possible, 6 days per week.

You can do a lot of damage on training 5 days a week and spend the other two days recovering and paying attention to other things in your life.

Adjusting Marathon Training


What If I Can’t Do My Long Runs At 9.09 Per Mile?

It takes a great deal of patience to built up to the fitness needed to handle race pace training. The key is breaking the training up in smaller segments.

The goal isn’t to run your entire long run at goal marathon race pace. You do want to have segments of your long run at varying paces. It can be below race pace, above and far below race pace sprinkled in.

Do one hard long run a week and follow that up with an easier long run the following week.

For example, break your first long run up into smaller segments run at goal race pace.

Here is an example.

5-mile warm-up

5 miles at 20 seconds slower than goal marathon pace (9.29 pace)

3 miles at 10 seconds slower than goal pace (9.19 pace)

2 miles at goal pace (9.09 pace) then close your last 5 miles relaxed.

The most important thing is to get away with the long slow distance idea.

It does have importance, don’t get me wrong, if running easy is called for which the following week does, then run relaxed so you can recover.

Do You Have to Run 20 Miles Before a Marathon?

I do not see any major advantages to running more than 20 miles for your long runs for the marathon. I do feel there is a point of diminished returns. So, running 30 miles for your long runs may not bring you any additional benefit. Yes, there are some runners will need to run further than 20 miles.

Again, it just depends on the goals of the athlete.

No. I did not have a great deal of talent and I broke 2.20.00 for the marathon. I had to rely on my work ethic. In addition, it took 15 years of preparation to run 2:19:35 for the marathon distance.

What is required is a lot of hard work. A sub 4 hour marathon is a very competitive time. It will require specific training in order to achieve.

Speed Enhances Race Endurance

There is a difference between endurance and race endurance.

Endurance is being able to go out for a 10-mile run without any problems.

Race endurance is being able to go out and do 2x4miles at 9.09 per mile with a 1 mile jog between sets.

What Percentage of People Run a Sub 3 Marathon?

I would say less than 3 percent of the world population break this time barrier each year. It is an extremely difficult time to achieve.

That being said, others have done it and so can you with enough consistent training. No, it will not be an easy task. The athlete needs to sustain 6:52 per mile or 4:16 per kilometer to run a 2:59:59 marathon time.

I created the Sub 3 Hour Marathon Pro course to help athletes break this time barrier. Again, you want to study what the best runners do and simply duplicate their work habits. Remember, the world’s top runners are running between 35 to 40% of their weekly mileage at or below their anaerobic threshold.

This is the point when lactic acid begins to build up in your blood.

The faster we run the more carbohydrate we burn. The goal here is to conserve carbohydrates and use fat as our main fuel source during the race.

Faster running means you teach your body to burn less carbohydrate and rely more on fat relative to the race speeds you are wanting to hold (9.09 per mile).

Is Running 3 Days a Week Enough for a Marathon?

3 days a week should be the absolutely minimum you need to be running. I would recommend running at least 4 and preferably 6 to 7 days week if you want to do it right. Of course, everyone has to start somewhere. Again, it takes between 21 days to 4 weeks for the body to adapt to any stress load being placed on it.

So, allow sufficient time for your body to adapt to the stresses you are placing on it. The result is you will be much more fit and confident. Also, you did not try to rush your fitness and will perform at a higher level.

Furthermore, if you have not trained to run at or below your goal race pace in training how do you think it is going to happen in the race?

A common problem I kept running into in the marathon was not hydrating well enough. I was sipping and not drinking during the race. The results?

I ran out of carbohydrates (sugars) and ended up running over a minute per mile slower than I was aim for. So, if you want to run a marathon in under 4 hours you have to set yourself up for success. How is that done?

One, drink and take in sufficient calories during the race. Remember, this is a 26.2 mile race. It is a long way and your body will need and rely on sufficient fuel. Marathon fueling is absolutely critical to your sub 4 hour marathon goal.

Closing Thoughts

Get to a point where you can do long runs at goal pace and smaller, shorter segments of that long run at paces which exceed your goal marathon race pace.

I believe in you, keep working hard, pay attention to recovery and gradually lengthen the amount of time you spend at 9.09 per mile pace.

Your sub 4 hour marathon is dependent on your willingness to keep doing the work when others would have given up long ago.

There are no short cuts in this sport but I know you are the type of athlete that doesn’t accept mediocrity and will see it through to the finish.

I hope this post on how to run a marathon in under 4 hours has been helpful to you. Make sure to subscribe to the RunDreamAchieve YouTube channel. I create new content there each week to help runners like you get to the next level in their training and racing.

Shopping cart0
There are no products in the cart!
Continue shopping