The 4 hour marathon is a respectable time.
It may not mean much to an elite level marathoner (but should), but to someone else it is just as impressive as any world beating time. We’re all working hard and want to improve, not just elite athletes.
I have been involved in competitive sport since I was a teenager and have had, through an enormous amount of non-stop work, been able to compete and hold my own against some of the best runners in the world.
What I don’t hear enough elite athletes talking about is runners of a different, yet unique, athletic ability level, 4 hour marathon runners.
Our media and culture respect and admire people who do anything at the elite level.
Well guess what, other people deserve just as much respect, who are training at an elite level, at their level, and trying to do something those at the top can’t understand, a 4 hour marathon time.
There Are A Number Of Ways To Run A 4 Hour Marathon
You must train yourself to run at 9.09 per mile pace.
What runners who are looking to run at a specific pace for an extended period of time are not paying attention to is sustained pace training.
I see guys who are running 5.00 per mile pace and wonder what needs to be done to maintain that pace for 26.2 miles.
My best marathon is 5.19 per mile so like you, I have to ask myself, what must be done to drop that type of time?
The answer is long, sustained anaerobic running. This is not jogging pace.
A 4 hour marathon means 9.09 per mile pace must be held. You can’t train at 10 minute mile pace for 6 to 8 miles per day and truly prepare yourself correctly to run a 4 hour marathon.
Why? You have to be able to train at 9.09 per mile pace and feel controlled for 6 to 8 miles before you can start thinking of doing it for 26.2 miles.
Running at a faster pace is demanding. Running slowly will build fitness and on a molecular level will build red blood cells (transport oxygen to muscles), capillary beds (which will increase blood flow to the working muscles) and mitochondria (powerhouse of the cell).
These are all vital, important physiological adaptations that will occur from running easy. In addition, your heart rate will drop so your heart doesn’t have to work as hard as it did prior to you starting.
This is huge. Wonder why at first your struggling just to run a mile and a few weeks down the road a mile is a joke to you? Your heart has adapted.
Endurance must be built over time. It can’t be rushed.
A Four Hour Marathon Takes A Pace Plan
Runners who want to hold 9.09 per mile pace, consecutively, 26 miles in a row plus an additional distance equivalent to half a lap around the track, means you have to sit down and think of what must be done to sustain the pace
Here are a few things you can do to help you reach this goal.
It is not just how many miles a week you are running needed to run a 4 hour marathon. Is mileage important?
Yes, of course, we discussed a few things above that prove this, but to run a marathon in a specific time we have to train in a specific way.
There is a science behind this. When you run fast you are recruiting more muscle fibers.
You can’t do this running easily.
“The difference between a novice and elite runner is that the novice’s muscles haven’t been trained to generate enough sustained force.” Pete Migill
The trick is the quality of the miles you are running.
This doesn’t mean you have to run fast everyday, certainly this would be counterproductive, what it does mean is focusing on extending the length of your longer runs and the pace at which you hold them at.
This is the secret that too many runners don’t pay enough attention to. They’ll do a long run at 9.50 per mile pace, which is great, they are building endurance and overfall fitness, but is 9.09 mile pace being targeted?
The key for you to run at your lactate threshold or slightly above it. Your lactate threshold is the point at which lactic acid begins to build up in the blood stream.
If you can target the pace you need to run at, where your body adapts to the build up of lactic acid and doesn’t slow down, then you will be well on your way to hitting your 9.09 per mile race plan.
A few examples of workouts you can do (after you have build a large base of mileage) to accomplish this are as follows
- 20 mile run running the first 5 miles easy, next 5 miles at 20 seconds per mile slower than goal race pace(9.29), followed by the next 5 miles at 20 seconds faster than goal pace (8.49), 5 miles easy
The idea behind this workout is building strength, not simply endurance.
You are basically warming up with the first 5 miles (and fatiguing), than asking yourself to gradually increase pace the further out you get into the run.
You are teaching your body to not only run longer, but run in a fatigued state and but most importantly, increasing pace as you fatigue.
You will have no rest in a marathon and to run 9.09 per mile pace you have to build sustainability of that intensity in training.
You have to prepare in training before you ever execute in the race
- 10 mile run (1 mile warm up and cool down) running at 20 seconds per mile faster then goal marathon race pace.
You are increasing your aerobic capacity by doing a workout like this.
Aerobic capacity is the maximum amount of oxygen you can bring to your body during an exercise activity. You increase this ability and you will nail the 4 hour marathon.
Have you ever wondered why runners who seem to run effortlessly run in that manner?
They do so because they have trained their system in such a way where they have a greater percentage of muscle fibers recruited.
They have also maximized their ability to transport more oxygen to their muscles.
You will not be able to do this affectively unless you can make a plan to do more than just run easy miles.
Easy miles will help you to finish a marathon. A systematic plan will provide you a way to attack a specific time such as 4 hours
A Four Marathon Takes Pace Training AND Recovery
We clearly now know this. What you must also keep in mind is the importance of recovery in all of this.
Specific marathon pace training is demanding. I don’t care if you are aiming for 9.09 per mile pace or 5.10 per mile pace like me.
We all have to train at or above the paces we are wanting to hold for our marathons, but if we don’t give equal attention to the paces we are running on our recovery days all that motivation and work will not give back.
A rested body is ready for a golden performance.
Furthermore, a tired body will give you the complete opposite.
You have to gradually build into doing runs at a 9.09 per mile pace. It would not be wise to be running for two weeks into your training plan and begin doing runs at 9.09 pace (or faster).
You would not only be unprepared to hold it for very long, but you clearly wouldn’t have the necessary foundation built.
So, the most important thing to remember if you have a 4 hour marathon as your goal, train at 4 hour marathon pace as often as possible with a careful eye on ‘jogging’ on recovery days.
Lastly, easy running is good for building general fitness and endurance, but training at an intensity where you are challenging the body’s systems will you be training like the world’s best runners.
Results will come from this, they will not come overnight.
Stay motivated and grow in patience. Patience is difficult in this sport. It is, sometimes, the most difficult part of training for marathons.
If you can see this as a long-term process and on a weekly basis train at this intensity you will have conquered the distance before you even toe the line.