The Sub 4 Hour Marathon Training Plan You Need

running stretch

Looking to run a sub-four-hour marathon?

Then you have come to the right place.

Breaking the four-hour marathon barrier is one of the most sought-after goals in the running world.

In today’s article, I’ll share with you my best training tactics and pacing strategies to break the four-hour marathon barrier.

In this article, I’ll explain:

  • What is a proper marathon pace strategy
  • How to get comfortable at this marathon pace
  • How to train for a sub-4 marathon
  • How to plan your training schedule
  • And so much more.

Sounds great?

Let’s lace up and dig in.

Average Marathon Runner?

World-class male runners can finish a marathon within two hours, while elite female runners are around 2 hours and 15 minutes.

The world record for the marathon is about two hours for men and 2:15:25 for women. Elite male athletes tend to average about 2:30, and elite women score around 2:40:00.

But unless you’re a serious runner making a living out of the trade, these scores will be out of reach for most.

But, as you can already tell, the vast majority of marathon runners don’t run anywhere close to those times.

In fact, surveys show that only 5 percent of runners complete the 26.2 distance in under three hours.

The average marathon finish time for men in the United States is roughly four hours and twenty minutes.  For women, it’s around four hours and forty-five minutes.

So, unless you’re an elite athlete, four hours or less would make for a good marathon time. In fact, it means that you’re no longer an average marathoner runner. After all, surveys show that less than 25 percent of marathoners have broken the four-hour barrier. 

Before You Start Training For A Sub-4 Marathon

Let’s make one thing clear.

The below sub-4 hour marathon training schedule is not one of those “couch to marathon” plans. Instead, it’s actually designed for the runner who already has experienced training for a marathon.

If you’re a novice runner and would like to run a marathon for the first time, I recommend instead checking my couch to a marathon training plan.

To get on it, you’ll need to have a decent amount of running experience. This training schedule is 16 weeks long, so it’s key to have enough endurance to run 18-22 miles per week out of the gate.

The 26.2 miles event is not an easy beast to tackle, and having experience surely helps.

Here are the main conditions you need to fulfill before you start my training plan below.

  • Already running at least 20 miles per week regularly.
  • Being able to run for 90-minutes non-stop.
  • Having at least one year of solid training
  • Having run a sub-1:50 half marathon, which is about 8:20 per mile.
  • Having run a sub-50:00 10K, which is roughly 8:00 per mile.

Not sure?

Do a 10K run test and see.

At the very least, you should be able to run a 10K in 55 minutes before you start the plan.

The 4 Hour Marathon Pace

In order to complete the 26.2 miles in exactly four hours, you’d need to run at a pace of 9:09 per mile on the big day (or 5:41 per kilometers). This is a mildly fast pace for most runners.

How Many Months To Train For A Four-hour Marathon

Typical marathon training plans take roughly 16-20 weeks to complete. The plan below is around four months.

The first week start with over 20 miles. Therefore, make sure you’ve spent enough time building your mileage up to the mileage detailed and explained in week One.

I’ve linked to a few resources down below if you feel like my plan is not for you (I’m also sharing a couch to marathon plan for newbies out there, just don’t expect to run a sub-4 hour marathon on your first try).

The Training Plan For Running A Marathon in Four Hours

Training for a marathon under four hours requires a minimum of 4-5 days a week training.

Throughout the plan, you’ll be doing basic runs, easy runs, speedwork, and long runs, as well as non-running exercises that hill help improves your endurance and speed without adding too much stress on your body.

You’ll also be doing some form of cross-training on your easy days and non-running days.

But first things first, let’s us break down the main running workouts that make this training plan.

Easy Runs

Sure, there’s nothing glamourous about an easy run, but they allow your body to recover while keep you moving.

Easy runs should perform at a comfortable and easy pace—roughly 60-65 of your max. You should be able to hold a conversation without trouble. Try reciting the pledge of allegiance out loud. If you can’t do it without getting too winded, you’re going too fast.

woman running

Basic Runs

Basic runs are 3-7 miles in length.

You still can say odd sentences but not keep a conversation. This is, by the way, equates to your marathon pace.

That’s why you should run them at 8:46 minutes per mile or a four-hour marathon pace.

Don’t beat yourself up if your pace is a bit slower during the first few weeks of training. But halfway through the program, you should be running at this marathon pace throughout your basic runs.

Speed Work

Although marathon training is basically aerobic training, speed work is also important.

Speedwork it’s key because it pushes you out of your comfort zones which forces you to run more efficiently.

The training can take various forms, from Fartleks, interval training to tempo runs and hill reps.  The best form of speedwork for serious marathoners is interval training which consists of a combination of running fast and slow.

When you do an interval workout, you set a precise rest period between speed intervals. These intervals could be 400-meter reps, one-mile reps, or a mix of different distances. Choose what works for you.

For example, you run close to maximum power for one minute, then recover with an easy jog for two minutes. Repeat eight times.

According to my experience, doing one-mile repeats is one of the best training strategies for running a faster marathon. That’s why the below plan has one session every other week or so.

For the first few sessions, start with no more than three reps, then slowly work your way up to six repeats.

These one-mile reps should be run at least 10 to 20 seconds faster than your goal marathon pace. Remember to recover fully in between intervals.

Tempo Training

Temp training has a lot to offer. These train your body to keep speed over distance by improving your anaerobic threshold, which is key for running faster.

To perform a tempo run, begin with 5-10 minute of easy running, then gradually increase you your speed for 15 to 20 minute of running until your reach your 10K pace. The pace should feel unsustainable. Your perceived exertion level should be at least a seven or eight on a scale of 1 to 10. The perfect tempo pace is one in which you can barely talk at all. This is roughly your 5K pace.

Once you peak, spend the last 5-10 minutes cooling down.

Long Runs

Long runs are the bread and butter of endurance training.  These consist of slow and easy distance run that will build your endurance.

The most important session of marathon training should be performed at a mostly easy and conversational pace—or about 60 to 70 percent effort level—one in which you can recite the pledge of allegiance with ease. The ideal long-run pace is roughly 30 seconds to one minute per mile slower than your goal pace.

Cross-Training

Cross-training is any type of non-running workouts that helps improve endurance and strength.

Some of the best options for runners include:

As long as the activity is low impact and doesn’t stress your body the same way that running does, you’re good to go. Cross-training should complement your training efforts instead of compromising them.

The Actual Four-Hour Marathon Training Schedule

Without further ado, here’s the weekly breakdown of a proper sub-4 marathon training plan.

Week – 1 (20 miles)

  • Monday – Run 3 Miles at a steady pace
  • Tuesday – Rest or Cross-Train
  • Wednesday – Run 5 Miles at a steady pace
  • Thursday – Speed: 3 X 1-mile reps.
  • Friday– Rest or Cross-Train
  • Saturday – Run 10 miles at an easy pace
  • Sunday – Rest or Cross-Train

Week – 2 (22 miles)

  • Monday – Run 4 Miles at a steady pace
  • Tuesday– Rest or Cross-Train
  • Wednesday – Run 5 Miles at a steady pace
  • Thursday – Speed: 8 X 400-meter
  • Friday– Rest or Cross-Train
  • Saturday– Run 11 miles at an easy pace
  • Sunday– Rest or Cross-Train

Week – 3 (25 miles)

  • Monday—Run 5 Miles at a steady pace
  • Tuesday—Run 2 Miles at a steady pace
  • Wednesday—Run 5 Miles at a steady pace
  • Thursday – Speed: 4 X 1-mile
  • Friday– Rest or Cross-Train
  • Saturday– Run 12 miles at an easy pace
  • Sunday– Rest or Cross-Train

Week  – 4 (27 miles)

  • Monday—Run 4 Miles at a steady pace
  • Tuesday—Run 3 Miles at a steady pace
  • Wednesday—Run 5 Miles at a steady pace
  • Thursday – 10 X 400-meters
  • Friday– Rest or Cross-Train
  • Saturday– Run 13 miles at an easy pace
  • Sunday– Rest or Cross-Train

Week  – 5 (30 miles)

  • Monday—Run 7 Miles at a steady pace
  • Tuesday—Run 2 Miles at an easy pace
  • Wednesday—Run 6 Miles at a steady pace
  • Thursday – One-mile jog, then three miles, or 30 mins, fartlek, then one-mile jog
  • Friday– Rest or Cross-Train
  • Saturday– Run 15 miles at an easy pace
  • Sunday– Rest or Cross-Train

Week – 6 (32 miles)

  • Monday—Run 7 Miles at a steady pace
  • Tuesday—Run 3 Miles at an easy pace
  • Wednesday—Run 7 Miles at a steady pace
  • Thursday – 4 X 1-mile
  • Friday– Rest or Cross-Train
  • Saturday– Run 15 miles at an easy pace
  • Sunday– Rest or Cross-Train

Week – 7 (36 miles)

  • Monday—Run 7 Miles at a steady pace
  • Tuesday—Run 3 Miles at an easy pace
  • Wednesday—Run 7 Miles at a steady pace
  • Thursday – 10 X 400-meter
  • Friday– Rest or Cross-Train
  • Saturday – Run 17 Miles at a conversational pace
  • Sunday– Rest or Cross-Train

Week – 8 (25 miles)

  • Monday—Run 5 Miles at a steady pace
  • Tuesday – Rest or cross-train
  • Wednesday—Run 4 Miles at a steady pace
  • Thursday – One-mile jog, 30 mins fartlek, one-mile jog
  • Friday– Rest or Cross-Train
  • Saturday— Run 10 Miles at a conversational pace
  • Sunday– Rest

Week – 9 (40)

  • Monday—Run 5 Miles at a steady pace
  • Tuesday —Run 3 Miles at an easy pace
  • Wednesday—Run 7 Miles at a steady pace
  • Thursday – 6 X 1-mile reps
  • Friday– Rest or Cross-Train
  • Saturday- Run 17 Miles at a conversational pace
  • Sunday– Rest or Cross-Train

Week – 10 (40 miles)

  • Monday—Run 7 Miles at a steady pace
  • Tuesday—Run 2 Miles at an easy pace
  • Wednesday—Run 6 Miles at a steady pace
  • Thursday—10 X 400-meter
  • Friday– Rest or Cross-Train
  • Saturday— Run 17 Miles at a conversational pace
  • Sunday– Rest or Cross-Train

Week – 11 (44 miles)

  • Monday—Run 7 Miles at a steady pace
  • Tuesday—Run 3 Miles at an easy pace
  • Wednesday—Run 6 Miles at a steady pace
  • Thursday – 6 X 1-Mile
  • Friday– Rest or Cross-Train
  • Saturday— Run 18 Miles at a conversational pace
  • Sunday– Rest or Cross-Train

Week – 12 (44 miles)

  • Monday—Run 5 Miles at a steady pace
  • Tuesday—Run 3 Miles at an easy pace
  • Wednesday—Run 5 Miles at a steady pace
  • Thursday – One-mile jog, 40 minutes fartlek, then one-mile jog.
  • Friday– Rest or Cross-Train
  • Saturday— Run 20 Miles at a conversational pace
  • Sunday– Rest or Cross-Train

Week – 13 (44 miles)

  • Monday—Run 7 Miles at a steady pace
  • Tuesday– Run 2 easy miles
  • Wednesday—Run 8 Miles at a steady pace
  • Thursday – Run 5 easy miles
  • Friday– Rest or Cross-Train
  • Saturday— Run 20 Miles at a conversational pace
  • Sunday– Rest or Cross-Train

Week – 14 (40 miles)

  • Monday—Run 5 Miles at a steady pace
  • Tuesday – Run 3 easy miles
  • Wednesday—Run 4 Miles at a steady pace
  • Thursday – 6 X One-mile
  • Friday– Rest or Cross-Train
  • Saturday— Run 20 Miles at a conversational pace
  • Sunday– Rest or Cross-Train

Week – 15 (30 miles)

  • Monday—Run 5 Miles at a steady pace
  • Tuesday—Rest or cross-train
  • Wednesday—Run 5 Miles at a steady pace
  • Thursday—Run 6 Miles at a steady pace
  • Friday– Rest or Cross-Train
  • Saturday— Run 12 Miles at a conversational pace
  • Sunday– Rest or Cross-Train

Week – 16 (Race week)

  • Monday—Rest
  • Tuesday—Run 5 Miles at a steady pace
  • Wednesday—Rest
  • Thursday—Run 4 Miles at a steady pace
  • Friday– Rest
  • Saturday– Rest
  • Sunday– Race day.

Conclusion

There you have it. If you’re serious about achieving your sub-4 marathon goal time, then today’s article will set you up on the path. The rest is really up to you.

Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.

In the meantime thank you for dropping by.

Keep Running Strong.

David D.