Sub3 hour marathon: an unorthdox plan

It remains a great target for club runners and noteworthy achievement for those that can achieve a sub-3 marathon; training isn't an exact science, depending heavily on an individuals background fitness, natural talent and dedication. This training build-up shows that speed and daily consistency aren't particularly necessary, however week on week accumulation of 'time on your feet' goes a long way.

Fitness background

It's important to set realistic goals as runners to avoid injury and disappointment. Very few runners achieve a sub-3 marathon without at least two years of running - that was certainly the case for me having been running consistently for 3-4 years, with this being my 3rd marathon training cycle. I was about 29 years old when I started running regularly, however I wasn't exactly a couch potato beforehand, with a generally sporty background playing football and keeping fit.

One thing I would recommend is testing yourself over some shorter distances, for example 5K. This distance still relies on mostly on aerobic energy conversion, therefore it's not a bad marker for gauging your ability before getting into longer endurance training. Some people though don't have the speed, particularly older athletes, so they tend to fair relatively better the longer the distance. I was 17:12 for the 5K (flat course) and 36:57 for the 10k, which is on the quick side - generally speaking under 18:00 for 5K is probably a fair marker in preparation for a flat marathon course.

Training

Normally people train for a marathon starting from 12-14 weeks out. The idea is not to burn out but peak at the right time, allowing a few weeks to taper the training. 

The training should ramp up slowly, culminating in a number of weeks upwards of 60 miles per week. 

Looking back at the training I did in early 2014 prior to the Vienna marathon, I was surprised how slow many of the runs were. I was in relatively good shape having also done a number of long runs at the back end of 2013. I even managed to run a 3:09 training marathon in early January - so things must have been going well!

By no means your orthodox training plan therefore, it's nevertheless a reflection of what I did and shows in many way how difficult it is to keep a plan on track around life's commitments. I would recommend trying to smooth this plan out in the heavy weeks, there are some days when the mileage looks a tad high and maybe an injury risk.

Most of the runs I did were flat, along Edinburgh's shores including Cramond and Portobello prom out to Musselburgh. Some hillier long runs were done around the Dalmeny estate, and around Arthurs seat (Edinburgh is a great place to run!).

Try to keep the miles ticking over - even on the bad days try to get out for 20 minutes. I also think it was important for me to register a really solid 5-6 week block of 60-70 per week average before tapering 3 or 4 weeks out. My final two weeks were very relaxed before the race.

Race day was pretty awful, as usual, waking up around 5:45am. I paced it really well, aiming to run a 7:00 minute first mile then slowly move up to 6:50 per mile pace. I also ran a negative split, which is a sign I was well trained for the distance and the following day, unlike other marathons, I could actually walk.

A lot of these runs were logged on Strava, unfortunately I didn't clock them all:

https://www.strava.com/athletes/2441718#interval?interval=201352&interval_type=week&chart_type=miles&year_offset=6

Training Log

Week 1

Monday  4 miles @7:30
Tuesday  4 miles @7:40
Wednesday  1 mile warm-up, 5 miles steady, 1 mile slow
Thursday  5 miles @8:00
Friday  7 miles @8:00
Saturday  -
Sunday (6th April 2014)  13 miles @7:30 inc 1 mile steady finish (@6:50)
 Total: 40 miles

 

Week 2

Monday  3 miles @7:45 
Tuesday  -
Wednesday  1 mile slow, 5 x 1 mile (approx |6:15 per mile), 1 mile slow
Thursday  6 miles @7:00
Friday  4 miles @8:00
Saturday  5 miles @8:00
Sunday (6th April 2014)  17 miles @8:00
Total: 42 miles

 

Week 3

Monday  3 miles @7:45
Tuesday  -
Wednesday  1 mile slow, 2 x 2 mile (6:15 per mile), 1 mile slow
Thursday  6 miles @7:30
Friday  10 miles @8:00
Saturday  5 miles @8:00
Sunday (6th April 2014)  15 miles @8:00
Total: 45 miles

 

Week 4

Monday  3 miles @7:45
Tuesday  -
Wednesday  1 mile slow, 2 x 2 mile (6:15 per mile), 1 mile slow
Thursday  6 miles @7:45
Friday  10 miles @7:45
Saturday  5 miles @8:00
Sunday (6th April 2014)  15 miles @8:00
Total: 45 miles

 

These next 5 weeks are the real big weeks and where most injuries will surface. Some days my training looks heavy, although the overall weekly mileage less so. Be weary of pushing on the faster intervals and focus on keeping the mileage up rather than speed.

Week 5

Monday  6.5 miles @7:45
Tuesday  AM: 3.5 miles @9:00  PM: 6.5 miles @7:45
Wednesday  AM: 8.5 miles @9:00   PM: 9 miles @8:00
Thursday  6 miles @9:00
Friday  -
Saturday  8 miles @7:50
Sunday (23rd Feb 2014)  22 miles @7:30
Total: 70 miles

 

Week 6

Monday  3 miles @9:20
Tuesday  6.5 miles @7:30
Wednesday  AM: 5 miles @9:00   PM: 10 miles @6:50
Thursday  AM: 2.5 miles @8:40    PM: 3 miles @9:20
Friday  5 miles @9:20
Saturday  8 miles slow
Sunday (2nd March 2014)  17 miles
Total: 60 miles

 

Week 7

Monday  8 miles @8:00
Tuesday

AM: 6 miles @8:30  PM: 9.5 miles (inc 6 x 800m @5K pace)

Wednesday  AM: 6 miles @8:30    
 PM: 13.5 miles steady (last 2 miles at HM pace)
Thursday  AM: 7.5 miles @8:30   
Friday  19.5 miles @7:40
Saturday  3 miles @7:45
Sunday (9th March 2014)  11 miles @7:00 (Steady, last few at marathon pace)
84 miles

 

Week 8

Monday  7.5 miles @7:30
Tuesday  1 mile slow, 6 x 800m (5:35 per mile pace, 2 mins rest ), 1 mile slow
Wednesday  9.5 miles @7:15
Thursday  4 miles @8:00
Friday  15 miles @6:50
Saturday  4 miles @8:00
Sunday (16th March 2014)  24 miles @7:45
Total: 70 miles

 

Week 9

Monday  1 mile slow, 2 x 1 mile, 1 x  0.5 mile, 2 x 1 mile, @5:40 to @600 (2 mins recovery) (8.5 miles)
Tuesday 8.5 miles @8:00 (included 1 mile hill climb)
Wednesday  9 miles @7:30 (inc 3 miles @6:50)
Thursday
AM: 4.5 miles @8:20   PM: 13 miles @7:00
Friday  3 miles @8:20
Saturday  -
Sunday (23rd March 2014)  16 miles @7:15
Total: 62.5 miles

 

Week 10

Monday  11 miles @7:45
Tuesday  2.5 miles @8:00
Wednesday  1 mile slow, 6 x 1 mile (@6:00, 2:30 mins rest), 1 mile slow
Thursday  -
Friday  5 miles @6:50
Saturday  6 miles @7:50
Sunday (30th March 2014)  16 miles
Total: 49.5 miles

 

Week before race week

Monday  -
Tuesday  -
Wednesday  5.5 miles @8:00
Thursday  2.5 miles @8:00
Friday  -
Saturday  2.5 miles @7:30
Sunday (6th April 2014)  8 miles
Total: 18.5 miles

 

Race Week

Monday  3 miles (8 mins per mile)
Tuesday  6 miles tempo,10K pace last mile (maybe a bit hard this in hindsight!)
Wednesday  -
Thursday  2 miles (obviously slow)
Friday  -
Saturday  -
Sunday (13th April 2014)  Vienna Marathon (2:59:30)
 Total: 37 miles