There are millions of men and women around the world asking this question, how to run a marathon under 4 hours? Are you one of them?
I have a friend of mine, Fred Lechuga, who has done a great job of proving to not only me but those who know him what determination and focus can do.
He has dropped over 150 pounds and lowered his marathon best to 4.11.
I can think of a lot of elite performances and athletes but he ranks up there with them. What is your road block in breaking the 4 hour marathon?
The common questions I get from runners wanting to know how to run a marathon under 4 hours is how do I maintain pace?
Pace and fueling are the two most important aspects of training for a sub 4 hour marathon.
I have talked to numerous runners over the past 21 years and I continue to tell them, it doesn’t matter if you are on record pace for 20 miles.
It is a 26.2 mile race and you have to train in such a way that you maintain and not slow so you can get to the finish line on the same pace.
I wish it were a 20 mile race but unfortunately Phillipides had a longer route to take.
I was still on 5.11 per mile pace (1.44.05) at the 20-mile mark of my current best marathon time of 2.19.35.
I would have loved to have maintained that 5.11 per mile pace as it would have yielded a finish time of 2.16.15 but I didn’t. It is sustaining pace the entire way.
If you have been on sub 4 hour marathon pace for 20 miles and fell short by races end my heart goes out to you.
How To Run A Marathon Under 4 Hours
1. Narrow your focus to practicing 9.09 per mile or faster
There is so much to be said on this but the game changer when it comes to running a marathon under 4 hours is the knowledge that you have done the necessary training to toe the line with full confidence you can hold this pace.
You have experienced the pain and sacrifice in training.
The training for a sub 4 hour marathon should always be far more difficult and daunting then the race itself.
If you have done the long runs, tempo efforts and track workouts for weeks and months on end, why stress the day of the race?
The race should always be the reward, the day you should be most relaxed, the most confident that a marathon under 4 hours is now evident.
No worry, no concern, total relaxation. Let the others around you waste their mental and physical energy.
You have done your homework and are about to ace the exam. Let go of the worry. If you have done the work there is no reason to be tense, relax.
You have done the necessary work so narrow your focus and bring it into that magic 9.09 per mile average pace.
The more you practice running at or below that pace the better equipped you will be to see the race through in record time.
2. Long duration repetitions at 10-20 seconds below goal marathon race pace
I continually use this tactic when preparing for longer distance races.
If you want to know the quickest way on how to run a marathon under 4 hours it is this.
I talk a lot about the importance of long runs at or near goal marathon race pace.
What also has to be done is running hard anaerobic workouts at pace below goal marathon race pace.
We both know doing long runs at or close to goal marathon race pace will create waves, but practicing paces that exceed race pace is your money workouts. They are what makes 9.09 pace feel ridiculously easy and why is this important?
9.09 per mile pace for 26.2 miles takes an individual’s physiology to the limit. Running at paces exceeding race pace is more toward your Aerobic Capacity.
These are running at speeds closer to 95-110% of your maximal effort. Speeds that are far faster then you intend on racing in the marathon.
What is 9.09 pace going to feel like if you have become acquainted to running at 7.00 pace?
Workouts like these do damage if you have done your homework and taken your recovery between them just as seriously.
You will react in the race and will feel totally in control, almost like you are floating in the race because you have trained so much harder then the pace you are asking of your body to withstand.
A few examples of workouts like this are:
- 3×4 miles at 8.45 per mile pace with a 1 mile ‘jog’ recovery between each
- 8x2miles on the road at 8.00 mile pace with 5 minutes recovery
- 6x1mile on the road or track at 7.00 per mile with 400m jog recovery
So, the long run itself is not the holy grail of how to break the 4 hour marathon, but also the other anaerobic work you are doing that exceeds the 9.09 per mile pace you are trying to race at.
3. Teach yourself by running fast to burn fat and conserve carbohydrate
This is where understanding fuel usage is vital.
We all know that running easy burns fat. We have a vast storage of fat stores within the body but only a limited amount of glycogen (muscle sugar) stored up.
The faster we run the more sugar is used. If you run out of that precious commodity while racing at maximum effort what happens? You shut down. If you have run a marathon and experienced the so-called ‘wall’ you clearly know where I am coming from here.
It is painful and will challenge every mental and physical capability you have just to jog. The best way to combat that is understanding the why’s and how’s of running at paces that far exceed your usual easy trot down the street.
The best runners in the world make it look easy for a reason.
They have trained ridiculously hard. I know because I have trained with some of the top runners on the globe and can attest to the fact that their hard training is unbearingly tough.
They have practiced running at such high-end speeds that they are using fat more relative to their race speeds as their primary fuel source. They conserve sugars and rarely will you see them slow but it does still happen.
I remember watching James Kwambai of Kenya place second the 2009 Fortis Rotterdam Marathon under the world record in 2.04.27. Ducan Kibet finished 1st in the same time. It was a beautiful race to watch.
In 2010, Kwamabi went back to Rotterdam to try to break the sizzling 2.04.27 he ran the year prior.
He was on world record pace, sub 2.04.00 pace, through 35K but fell apart and came in with a still very respectable time of 2.24.07.
The simple facts are these when it comes to sustaining 9.09 pace is understanding even the best have their off days (if you want to call a 2.24.07 marathon an ‘off’ day) and that you must get friendly with spending larger amounts of time running at or below the pace you want to compete at.
3. Persist, Persist, Persist
There is no single way to get under 4 hours for the marathon distance then this.
You have been told for too long that you aren’t talented enough, too slow, not quite good enough. Perhaps you have had the luxury of never being told this at all but you still have a burning desire in you to reach your full potential.
There comes a time when every runners life when they have tried everything and feel as though their time has past or that they need a new approach or they are going to hang up their shoes.
Please don’t do this to yourself.
Please know I have been there and understand how you are feeling. Your breakthrough is only a matter of time and your willingness to change the way you have done things in the past with your training is the determining factor, not age, not talent.
There is an 81 year old Canadian man by the name of Ed Witlock, who just recently ran a 3.30 marathon. Who told you that your time is past?
I can assure you Ed Witlock has had to run with 100% focus and an eye on pacing to run that fast at his age. He is a testament to all of us just how powerful drive and belief is.
Train faster, burn fat as your primary race fuel (at race pace) and persist.
Want to know how to run a marathon under 4 hours? Remind yourself of those key facts and you will be well under way to performing above your standards, surprising your friend and family and racing your best.