How to run a sub-3-hour marathon

Have you got what it takes?

If you are looking to push your boundaries to achieve a sub-3-hour marathon then consistent quality training is the key. Find out from marathoner Scott Overall how to achieve the impressive sub-3-hour marathon milestone.

If you are planning a marathon you might start thinking of the time you want to run and planning your training around running that time. Sub-3-hours is a very good marathon time and will involve training hard and being consistent in the training that you do. There is no point having a good 10 days training and then having a week of interrupted mediocre running, that is not what marathon training is all about.

Average pace of around 6:50/mile (or 4:15/km)

The basics of running a sub 3 hour marathon is that you have to run 26.2 miles averaging around 6:50 per mile or approximately 4:15/km. This means that you are going to have to get comfortable knowing what that pace feels like and during the course of your training week running quicker than that, and slightly slower to recover. The more minutes you can clock at running race pace during the week the better you are going to get at running that pace.

I believe there are three main sessions that you need to be doing in order to run a sub 3-hour marathon and these are, a long run, a tempo and a speed session. If you can do each of these over a 7–10 day period then you’ll be well on your way to achieving your target. The minimum period for a marathon build up is around 12 weeks, but obviously this depends on your level of fitness prior to starting your marathon-specific training.

Tempo training session

A tempo is running at a pace that you can sustain for a set period of time, as I have explained in a previous tempo training article, you need to be conversational while running a tempo. It won’t be the hardest session you’ll do in the marathon build up and you’ll find they get easier as the weeks go on. The idea is that you get your energy systems more efficient at running at ‘pace’. The length of the tempos will increase as well as the pace, and I think the most you should be running would be around 12-15 miles (or approximately 19-24km).

Speed session

The speed session of the week can include a whole host of sessions and the idea of these is to make marathon race pace feel more comfortable. If you are used to running faster than 6:50 per mile, a marathon should feel like a jog! As I said there are a number of different sessions you can do, examples include 6 x 1 mile at 6min mile pace, 10 x 800m, 8 x 1000m, 5 x 2 miles. As you can start to see they are all short sharp sessions that get you running much quicker than at any other time.

The long run

Last, but not least is the long run. I believe if you do nothing else during the week the long run is the one thing you should never skip – at the end of the day that is all the marathon is, a long run. There are two different techniques to the long run; firstly you can just run at a ‘solid’ pace for around 20-24 miles (approximately 32-38 km). This will build your endurance and get the legs used to running for long periods of time. Secondly you can treat the long run almost like a tempo. Gradually picking the pace up as the run goes on until you are eventually finishing the last 2-3 miles at race pace. The idea here is to get your legs used to running race pace when they are fatigued. This sort of run I would only recommend you do every 2-3 weeks.

There are so many ways to train for a marathon and it really is trial and error to find out what works for you. Your running history will depend what type of sessions you need to work on to get your best marathon times.

Written by Scott Overall

Scott is a British long distance athlete who represented Team GB at the 2012 Olympics. His marathon PB is currently 2:10:55.

Comments (4)

  • lowpay 'never heard 5x2 mile described as a short sharp session before lol, atb '

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  • realrunnersrunfast 'I have also never heard of 5 x 2 mile as short sharp session unless you are a 2:20 marathon runner '

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  • realrunnersrunfast 'Ned can run a 2:10 marathon that is impressive running, Some sense but a lot of this info is very old fashion and there are much better ways to train. Traditionally the 20 mile run was designed for good club runners in the 80's & 90's most came from a track background who could run sub 2 hours for the marathon. There is a lot of evidence of that running more than 20 miles in training will have a negative on the marathon. Yes consistency builds endurance.. Yes you can hydrate after a 32k run yes you can replace carbohydrate with a few hours but the body takes considerable time to adapt much longer for sub 3 than elite . Been there got numerous sub 3 hour marathon times'

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  • KyleKranz_dot_com '@realrunnersrunfast - I'd be interested in seeing the evidence that 3 hour marathoners should not be doing 20 mile / 3 hour long runs. For a 5 hour marathoner, a 20 miler may be overkill as it's a LONG long run. But for a 3 hour marathoner a 20 miler should only take about 3 hours. '

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