Sub 4 Hour Marathon: How To Dominate The Barrier

The sub 4 hour marathon is an extremely competitive marathon time. There are only a small percentage of marathoners that break the barrier each year. What exactly must be done to sustain this 4 hour marathon pace without slowing?

sub 4 hour marathon

First, you have to have a great deal of patience. My goal was to break the 2:22:00 marathon barrier while I was still a 2:43:36 marathoner. Our paces may vary but I fully understand how difficult time barriers can be. That being said, I am certain you can get run a marathon under 4 hours if you implement the strategies I teach here.

One of the key tactics I used to drop my marathon best from 2:43:36 to 2:19:35 was the long run. The long run should be the most difficult workout you do. It certainly was not my hardest workout prior to working with a Boston Marathon champion who coached me.

The long run is thought of as this long, slow run runners complete to build endurance. In saying that, when it comes to the sub 4 hour marathon your tactics must change. There are far too many runners second guessing themselves when it is just a change in the way we train that needs correction.

The Best Kept Secret To Running A Sub 4 Hour Marathon

Well, it is not so much a secret as it is a fundamental that the best marathoners follow.

Increase the pace at which you conduct your long run. Vary your pace up. That being said, it doesn’t mean you want to run every long run fast. It simply means alternating your long run paces each week.

This will provide adequate time to recover from the previous week’s long run. Here is are a few examples of how I used to do my long runs and the changes. These changes helped me go from 2:43:36 to 2:19:35.

Long run examples while still a 2:43:36 marathoner

20 miler@6:45-7:00 mile pace

22 miler@7:00 mile pace

Changes made which helped me run 2:19:35

20 miler – first 4 miles@6:30 pace, 3 miles@5:5o pace, 4 miles@6:15 pace, 3 miles@6:45 pace, 1 mile in 4:55, 4 miles@6:30 pace, 1 mile jog cool-down

22 miler@160 BPM (beats per minute) -5:45-6:05 mile pace with last 2 miles@5:15 pace

Significant Changes

Do you see the massive difference in pace compared between the two? The trick to running the sub 4 hour marathon is running at or below your goal marathon race pace.

This is what I will be teaching in the upcoming Sub 4 Hour Marathon Mastery course. It will not be your average sub 4 hour marathon training plan. It is going to be an in-depth look at exactly what you need to do each day and through each week to break the barrier.

sub 4hr marathon
en route to running a personal best for the half marathon in Philadelphia (1:07:06)

One of the biggest hurdles runners face is wondering if what they are doing is correct. There are many marathoners out there within minutes of breaking the 4 hour marathon. Additionally, there are some that are within seconds of doing it.

The marathon is not like the 5K or 10K. There are many moving pieces to create a great performance in the marathon distance. Here are a few pain points that are stopping qualified athletes from breaking the sub 4 hour marathon

  1. Sipping rather than drinking in the race

Have you ever watched the top marathoners during a race? They are drinking, not sipping. A big mistake runners are making during the marathon is not taking in sufficient calories and enough fluid

This is one of the single biggest killers of a great marathon out there. We’ll be covering exactly how to conquer this in the Sub 4 Hour Marathon Mastery course.

The Long Run

2. Their long run is run too slow

The reason runners are not breaking 4 hours is not due to work ethic. It is simply being run too slow. The trick to running fast for the 26.2 mile distance is this. Get the body to clear lactic acid faster than it is building up in the bloodstream.

The hydrogen ion within lactic acid is the real culprit as to why our muscles shut down on us during a race. What you want to do is train at a higher heart rate for a longer period of time. What occurs? The heart doesn’t have to work as hard, the body produces less lactic acid and you are able to sustain pace longer.

The problem with this is it is extremely taxing on the body. These types of workouts are not easy. It is also not easy to run the type of long runs I mentioned above. It is one thing to go out and do a 20-22 miler at a slower pace. That being said, it is another thing to do a hard long run and change up paces throughout the run.

This is the necessary type of change that is needed to get you from a 4:45 marathon time to 3:59:59.

Training At Your Aerobic Capacity

Your aerobic capacity is the point where your body cannot clear lactic acid faster than it is building up. Heart rate wise, you are running at above 174 beats per minute.

Runners, in general, cannot spend much time training at this intensity level. That being said, this is why training at this intensity is also important for improving as a marathoner.

If you train at paces far below sub 4 hour marathon pace then race pace itself is going to feel more more relaxed and controllable.

Sub 4 hour marathon pace means you must sustain 9:09 mile pace for 26.2 miles. There are many athletes who are second guessing their capability. Why?

They are able to sustain 4 hr marathon pace for the majority of the race but seem to slow when it counts most. The last 10 kilometers of the race.

Remember, your focus should be on quality versus quantity. Long, slow miles will produce long, slow runners.

Furthermore, training at your aerobic capacity recruits more fast twitch muscle fibers. What does this do?

The more fast twitch muscle fibers you can recruit the more economical you are going to run. You can produce this physiological change by running slowly. Obviously, running slow is still important for your success in breaking the 4 hour marathon.

You need to recover and all of the benefits from the workouts we do come from within the rest. That being said, you also have to stress the body’s anaerobic systems to produce big-time results and chop time off your personal bests.

How Do The Pros Run The Marathon?

Well, we spend a great deal of time running faster than our goal marathon pace. I spent a great deal of time training to run much faster than 5:25 mile pace. This is the equivalent of a 2:22:00 marathon time. 5:25 mile pace or 3:22 per kilometer pace was the goal.

The tough part was what did I need to do in training to get those paces to feel manageable? What do you need to do in order to make 9:09 mile pace or 5:41 per kilometer feel easier? The good news is this is very possible. The bad news is it is very painful, takes a great deal of patience and initiative in order to make reality.

The best marathoners in the world make the event look easy for a reason. A large percentage of their weekly mileage is run at high quality pace. As a 2:19 marathoner, recovery days were taken equally as serious. I would have no problem jogging on my easy days.

I’ve trained with 2:10 marathoners (sub-5minute mile pace) who ran 9 to 10 minute mile pace on their easy, recovery days. The best marathoners know how to take it easy on their “easy” days. This is a learned trait as many runners are running too fast on their recovery days.

Heart Rate Monitor Training For A Sub 4 Hour Marathon

A great option is to consider purchasing a heart rate monitor. This provides a means to ensure you are not running too anaerobically on your recovery days. A good measure is to check your heart rate when you first wake up. If it is over 7 to 10 beats than normal take the day off or run easy.

I never trained with a heart rate monitor until my freshman year in college. Jack Hazen, the 2012 USA Olympic assistant Track and Field team coach got me involved with it. Hazen was also my collegiate coach from 1995 to 2000 while I attended Malone University in Canton, Ohio. Jack is one of the world’s top distance running coaches and has been at Malone now for 52 years.

One of the biggest reasons I was ultimately able to break the sub-2:20:00 marathon barrier was due to using a heart rate monitor. Obviously, we still have to do the hard training but a heart rate monitor can guide you. Lisa Rainsberger, 1985 Boston Marathon champion, and I worked together from 2007 to 2010. Our focus was doing the long run at 160 beats per minute.

This is approximately 88 to 90% of max heart rate for me or at least it was during that point in my career. Would I still focus on holding my heart rate at 160BPM now prepping for the 2019 racing season? Yes. Remember, these are just guides. There is no test anyone can give on the power of the mind.

Mental training is just as important as physical training. Billy Mills, the last American male to win an Olympic gold medal in the 10,000m event said it best.

The subconscious mind cannot tell the difference between reality and imagination

The Power of Persistence

You have to be consistent and persistent in this event. Changing the way you train is very critical in running a sub 4 hour marathon. The trick is to gradually increase the distance and pace at which you conduct your long run.

You also have to focus on training on the track and roads at speeds that far exceed sub 4 hour marathon pace. Remember, the idea is to make goal marathon race pace to feel easy. For example, during the 2007 California International Marathon I was still on 5:11 mile pace through 20 miles.

sub 4 hr marathon
en route to running 2:19:35, finishing as the top American and in 4th place at the 2007 California International Marathon

Additionally, it felt like any other long run I had done in training. The pace was slightly faster at 5:11 per mile through 20 miles but it didn’t feel much different. I had done countless long runs in the 5:20’s to 5:50’s pace. This was a drastic change in the way I conducted my past long runs but it was necessary to break the 2:20 marathon barrier.

The same goes for you. Our pace per mile or kilometer may be different but if you mimic the way I trained you will get massive results. If you are serious about running a sub 4 hour marathon fill out the information below. The Sub 4 Hour Marathon Mastery course is due to launch in February.

I’ll be covering everything 3 of the world’s top coaches taught to me. In addition, we will be covering the exact workouts you need to do in order to break the 4 hour marathon barrier. The course will conclude with an in-depth, 16-week marathon training plan. No stone is going to be left unturned with this course.

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