22Feb, 2010

How to run a 4hr marathon

Last week I posted an interview with my client who runs a 3hr marathon time. In response to that blog post, I’ve had many of you ask me about how to run a 4 hour marathon.

 How to run a 4hr marathon

The difference in training for a 3hr and a 4hr marathon is the pace at which you run your speed interval workouts. The weekly mileage and long run will remain the same.

To start, we need to look at what is the pace per mile in order to finish in 4 hours

4:00: 9:10 mins per mile

So, for a 4 hour marathon finish you need to average a pace of 9:10 per mile. This is important to know for your training. Your training program should have two sessions per week of speed work. If you don’t have a program yet, be sure to check out my 16 week marathon training program guaranteed you to finish in your goal time.

Speed work to finish a marathon in 4hrs

Speed work for the marathon involves both short and long repeats of running a little faster than your goal race pace. For example, let’s say your workout has you doing 1 mile repeats and you want to finish your marathon in 4 hours. Those repeats need to be at a pace just less than 9 minutes per mile (about 10-15sec faster than your goal pace).

Start with 2 mile repeats in the first session. Add another mile repeat the following week. Try to work up to 5 or 6 repeats. Recover at an easy pace for a half-mile in between repeats. Make sure your breathing and heart rate have recovered before you start your next repeat.

The other speed work session in order to run a 4 hour marathon is a tempo run. Tempo runs are great because they teach your body to run faster before fatiguing. A tempo run looks like this: a slow 15-minute warm-up, followed by 30-35 minutes at a challenging but manageable pace, then a 15-minute cool down. The challenging pace is run at 20 seconds faster than your goal pace. Therefore, your goal is to run the temp at an 8:50 per mile pace.

Those are two examples of speed work sessions to keep in mind on how to run a 4 hour marathon. For a better understanding on how to fit these into your weekly training, here is an example week of training (this is a sample week taken exactly from my marathon training book):

Monday: Rest

Tuesday: Speed Work (1 mile repeats)

Wednesday: 6 miles easy

Thursday: Rest

Friday: Tempo Run

Saturday: Rest or Cross Train

Sunday: Long Run

Running a 4 hour marathon is a nice goal for marathon runners who are already fit for running and would like to challenge themselves further. It is a difficult and relatively fast running pace for the distance, but not an impossible time to achieve – that is if you train well and follow a program. Good luck and please feel free to leave a comment here if you have any questions on how to run a 4 hour marathon.

Posted by admin | in Faster Marathon Time, Marathon | 12 Comments

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Comments on “How to run a 4hr marathon” (12)

  1. Awesome advice!

    I’m working my way up to my first half marathon next month, but want to run a full marathon sometime in the near future. I’ll bookmark and share this link. Thanks again.

  2. admin

    Thanks! good luck with the upcoming half marathon. You’ll be hooked for the marathon by the time you finish the race :)

  3. Katie


    I am running the chicago marathon Oct. 9~ I have been traing for a 4 hour marathon but am a little nervous about the predicted weather. 76 high. This is my second marathon I ran my first in 4:20 but really held back on my pace. Any thoughts?

    Thanks Katie

  4. admin

    Make yourself a pace wristband so you can track your pace. You can print one online here : http://www.marathonguide.com/fitnesscalcs/PaceBandCreator.cfm

    Start the marathon at your goal pace and no faster. From there you just have to go with how you feel. I ran Chicago last year and being from Seattle I was not prepared for warmer weather and I felt it and my pace slowed. At mile 15 I just had to tell myself to run smart and not worry about my pace. No matter how well trained you are you can’t do anything about the weather so just be ok with doing whatever your body tells you.

    Take a sip of water at EVERY water station. Stay hydrated and you can drink the sports drink offered but be sure to drink water as well so you aren’t getting too many electrolytes. I usually take a sip of the sports drink and then the full cup of water. Walk through these stations if you need to.

    Other than that, keep a positive mind and start telling yourself today you will have a great race and feel awesome!

    let me know how it goes.

  5. Katie

    Thanks so much for the advise. I found it so hard to pace myself with the crowds. I felt like I went out slow because of the crowds and then ran to fast trying to get back on track. First 18 miles were ok but then the heat and sun started to affect me, by mile 22 my IT band started hurting ~ so at that point I just wanted to cross the finish. I finished 30 seconds slower then my previous marathon. I was a little upset but I think I realize what you said is true, no matter how great my training was there are so many variables that can affect you on race day~ especially weather. So on to the next marathon~ Grandmas in June. Thanks again for your help:) Katie

  6. Karen

    I am preparing to run a 4 hour marathon in Jacksonville in 3 wks. My last marathon was Chicago in 08. The heat and dehydration got to me. My time was 4:25. I feel much stronger and have gotten faster, I have a tendency to go out too fast. I think its because I anticipate stomach issues and like to have “wiggle time.” Is it realistic for me to think I can shave 25 mins off?

  7. admin

    absolutely, you can shave off 25 minutes! My suggestion is to print off a marathon pace band to wear during the race and that will keep you on pace. Its so common to go out fast because you feel good and adrenaline is going….but, hold back. That’s why I suggest the wearing the pace band..it will keep you from going out to hard.

    you can make a pace band on this site: http://www.marathonguide.com/fitnesscalcs/PaceBandCreator.cfm

  8. Ali_M

    I am so happy i stumbled upon your site! I am running the San Francisco marathon in just 17 days. I’m really excited and a wee bit nervous, going for a PR of 3:59:59. This will be my 3 rd marathon and my second time in San Fran; and with each of my races i find the pacing to be the issue that brings me the most stress. Little did i know about the magic of a pacing band. Thank you for introducing it to me, and thank you for the other info and tips. I will be checking your site often now that i know you exisit. Happy running!!

  9. Cherilyn

    I will run my first marathon at the Air Force Marathon on Sept. 15, 2012. I am 53 and just ran 12 miles in 2 hours. Is it realistic for me to shoot for 4hr 15 min. for my first marathon? The furthest I have run is my 20 miler last week. I would like to shoot for 10min/mile. I just made myself a paceband for 4hr15min but I’m just not sure if that is realistic.

  10. Cherilyn

    Oh BTW, I forgot to mention that I did a half marathon a couple of years ago in 2hr 4min and believe I am in better shape now.

  11. admin

    It is very realistic to achieve that goal time of 4:15. The pace band will help keep you on track and from going out to slow or too fast. I would suggest making your pace band for 4:10 or 4:12. Just to give you some room for slow down in those last few miles
    Also, just remember anything can happen on race day. Im sure you will have a fantastic day, but sometimes weather or a “just not feeling it” day can happen, so be sure you have a plan B. Either way, you are awesome for having trained for this big race and even setting a finish time goal. I look forward to hearing all about the race.
    Lastly, so much of the race is mental. Believe you can and will reach your goal. Look at your pace band every day from now and until the race. See that 4:15 and believe it (I do)!

  12. Cherilyn

    Awww that’s nice of you to be so encouraging! Thanks for this advice. It helps so much that you think my goal is realistic. I will remake a paceband for 4:10 and I will let you know how things go! :)
    Thanks so much,

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