Nathan Pennington Running in The Distance

8 Reasons A Sub 220 Marathon Is Possible

12 week half marathon plan

I wish I would have read a post like this back in 2002.

A 2.20 marathon is possible for anyone with a limited amount of ‘talent'.

My first marathon was a 2.43.36 that I ran at the 2002 New York City Marathon. I was a part of an armed forces marathon team that was running for lung cancer research. We started in last place (32,189th).

2:20 marathon

Chase Manhattan Bank was donating $1 for every runner each member of the team passed. I finished as the team's top finished in 253rd place. It was my first experience at the marathon distance.

It took some time to improve and figure the 26.2 mile distance out. I ran a 2.40.02. at the 2007 Grandmas Marathon. That being said, I hit the first half in 1:10:33. A sub 220 marathon didn't happen overnight.

I am going to be listing 8 reasons why a sub-2:20 marathon is possible. It isn't a time anyone can run. The sub-2:20 marathon will be accomplished by someone that is highly dedicated and not merely interested.

Interest Vs Commitment

There is a massive difference between interest versus commitment.

#1 Others Have Done It

If others have done it why can't you? Are you going to listen to those around you who openly state you need a great deal of talent to do it? Perhaps you do but talent that doesn't work won't do it either.

The key for you to run faster is your willingness to get out of your normal way of thinking. Is it going to require a ton of hard work? Yes, but it is not impossible.

The great billy mills said it best:

The subconscious mind cannot tell the difference between reality, or imagination.

Billy knew what it was going to take to win the gold medal in the 10,000m at the Mexico City olympics. He improved his personal best by nearly 2 minutes winning with a time of 28:24. He also did it on a cinder track against men that were far better than he was leading up to the race.

He wrote a great book called Lessons of Lakota worth reading. I have attached a great video that may add further detail for this post

I did not have a great deal of talent or ability but I did trust in my training. You have to rely on yourself, your family, faith and belief in what you are doing.


A marathon time under the 2.20 barrier will require an immense amount of work. You had better be highly motivated or don't expect to ever come close to this time.

I was only one of 63 men who broke the time in the entire nation in 2007. There are over 350 million people that live in the United States. The sub220 marathon barrier is routinely broken by motivated runners.

The motivated athlete is dangerous. The runner with talent that doesn't work hard had better watch out. My debut marathon was in Cleveland in 1999 where I ran 1:13.

My best 5000m in college was “only” 15:19. My times early on may not have shown my true potential. What I did have and relied heavily on is motivation.

I was willing to make the sacrifice to run as fast as I could. If you are visiting this site you are already highly motivated to learn.

This is the probably the best reason you can run a fast marathon time. You're coachable. This is why I created the RunDreamAchieve Academy to help runners committed to making the next jump.

It Is Consistently Done Every Year

Others have done it. Why not you? Don't give me this ‘Well, other runners are more talented than I'.

I don't want to hear it.

I didn't follow the status quo of placing limits on myself and neither should you. The guys out there breaking the 2.20 barrier want it. They are not interested. What they are is fully committed.

They do the work and understand what type of energy that is required to get a time like that. They are no different than you. I have known countless runners who were far more ‘talented' than I who never broke the barrier.

I'll never buy into the talent myth. Do you need to have some form of talent to run a sub-2:20 marathon? Perhaps some but talent has to be grown and nurtured. What most people see is the performance. They fail to see the process.

The endless amounts of miles run and speed sessions on the track. They term runners that run fast times as ‘talented' when so much goes unseen.

Will It Be Hard?

Hell ya it's going to be tough to do.

According to USA Track and Field, 50 men broke the 2.20.00 barrier at the 2012 USA Olympic Marathon Trials. This is just one race as it took a time of 2.19.00 to qualify for the 2012 US Olympic Trials.

In 2007, the standard was either 2.20.00 (“A” standard, USATF pays for flight/hotel to Trials) or the 2.22.00 “B” standard time (you payed your own way but qualified for the 2008 Trials).

If others are doing it, what is stopping you from doing the same. If you are slower than a 2.40's marathoner continue to read, there is something further down for you too.

Visit The RunDreamAchieve Academy

Negativity Will Make You More Determined To Do It

Haters and naysayers are everywhere. Focus on what you can control. If you are currently a 3 hour marathoner getting to a sub-2:20 marathon time is going to take some work. I was told by a prominent elite American marathoner that I should quit.

This was while I was still a 2.43 marathoner. He respected my work ethic but never thought I was capable of running anything remotely close to the 2008 US Olympic Trials “B” standard time (2:22:00).

You have to take negative comments and use them as fuel.

Think of what happens to most who do the opposite and choose to listen to the ‘experts' who seem to know us best. They never achieve what they dream of.

Revolve your thoughts around being positive.

Think of all the hardships the great Kenyan athletes have had to endure too. They are hungry and put in the work. They don't bitch and complain and live in poverty compared to most Americans.

You have to have that same tenacity in your own training.

It is your ticket to a sub 2.20.00 time. You'll have to change up how you train and study what the great runners do. You can also take a course at the RunDreamAchieve Academy and speed up the process.


I will never hide my Christian faith and can surely say that running 2.19 was a blessing from God. He put in the desire in me to train hard.

You have to rely on faith and the ability you have been given. There are no tests of how strong the mind is. It cannot be tested like a Vo2 max stress test.

I am no different than you. We both have faith in either ourselves or a higher power. The difference may be who is willing to put in the sustained work over a long period of time.

With man this is impossible, not with God, ALL things are possible with God-Mark 10:27

Practice running goal marathon race pace often

Expect tests and trials.

Make small goals and then bigger goals. See yourself dropping a few seconds or minutes here and there. It will become more attainable as time goes on. 

What percentage of your weekly mileage is run at or below 5:20 mile pace? If the answer is a very small amount you may need some more time before considering a 2:20 marathon.

Kenny Foster, a former member of the US Army World Class Athlete Program went from 2:29:59 to 2:19:49.

Kenny was much better than I was coming into the Army WCAP. I was “only” a 2.43.36 marathoner with a 51.51 10-mile best. 10 months later I was a 2:19:35 marathoner. Commitment, not interest, brought me to that time.

Kenny was accepted in mid-2009 and broke the sub-2:20 marathon barrier at the 2011 California International Marathon finishing with a time of 2.19.49.

He narrowly missed qualifying for the 2012 US Olympic Marathon Trials. Kenny needed a 2:19:00 or faster to earn a spot.

We both had to work extremely hard to break the 2:20 marathon barrier.

The training and races along the way got us into good enough shape to do it. The same goes for you. You have to be patient.

3:30 to a 2:29 marathon

Here is another example of why it is possible.


A great deal of time can be cut from marathon times. It is a matter of proper planning, persistence and patience.

Justin Mock did just that.

Boulderrunning did a great write up on him in as he finished as the top American at the 2010 London Marathon with a 14-minute personal best time of 2.29.59.

You can read his interview here Justin continues to inspire me to this day because I know of his background and how much he has improved.

Many of you are in the same ability level currently as he was or is. You could possibly be much faster. All the more reason to believe breaking the 2.20 barrier is within reach.

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think of these things- Phillipians 4:8

Rely on Your Mental Capabilities

It was the great Billy Mills who said it best

The subconscious mind cannot tell the difference between reality or imagination.

I envisioned myself breaking the 2:20:00 barrier while I was still a 2:43:36 marathoner. It happened in my mind numerous times before it happened in reality.

I have been fascinated with how our thoughts affect athletic performance. I have bought countless books over the years on sport psychology.

The Power of Your Subconscious Mind by Joseph Murray is a great one to read. People once said it was impossible for someone to run a mile under 4 minutes. The world record for 2 miles is now 7:58. 

Closing Thoughts

What I have tried to do with this post is simply to make you think. Breaking 2.20 for the marathon doesn't have to be a time that only ‘talented' runners do.

Who is stopping you from running that time? No one. The question is, are you willing to put in the necessary work to make it a reality. 

Here is Joseph Murray's story. Think about it.

Philippus Paracelsus, a famous Swiss alchemist and physician, who lived from 1493 to 1541, stated what is now an obvious scientific fact when he said,

Whether the object of your faith be real or false, you will nevertheless obtain the same effects. Thus, if I believed in Saint Peter's statue as I should have believed in Saint Peter himself, I shall obtain the same effects that I should have obtained from Saint Peter. But that is superstition., Faith, however, produces miracles; and whether it is true or false faith, it will always produce the same wonders.

Visit The RunDreamAcademy

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.