Completing any marathon in under 3 hours is an incredible life achievement and is at the tip of most runners’ marathon dreams… it is a realistic goal for those who have accomplished a few consistent marathon finishes at around 3:30 hours.
If you’re ready to embrace this challenge head-on and take on the mental and physical requirements for the next 12 weeks leading up to race day… Let’s do this!
We’ve put together a training plan, specifically for runners wanting to cross the finish line feeling strong and uninjured in under 3 hours.
Let’s have a look at…
- Approach To a Sub-3-Hour Marathon
- How To Run a Sub-3-Hour Marathon
- Sub-3-Hour Marathon Plan Overview
- What Percentage Of Runners Can Run a Sub 3-Hour Marathon?
- Tips To Help You Achieve a Sub-3-Hour Marathon
Approach To a Sub-3-Hour Marathon
To complete a sub-3-hour Marathon, you need to run at a minimum pace of 6 minutes 50 seconds per mile/ 4 minutes 15 seconds per kilometer = 2:59 finish.
The first place to start is to look at your overall training program.
What sort of training are you doing?
Secondly, is your 10km or half marathon time matching up to the 3:00 marathon time you are hoping to run?
There Should be a correlation between your shorter distance times (10km) and your long-distance times (Marathon).
If the correlation is poor, for example, if your half marathon times are slower relative to your 10km time then you need to work on your endurance, and make sure that you are not doing your long runs too hard, and that you are doing long runs and that your long runs are the appropriate distance for the marathon.
If you get relatively faster the longer you go, 10k’s are slow relative to your 21s and 42’s then we know that endurance is good and we have to focus on speed. A focus on shorter distances will lead to exponential improvements over longer distances
For most people, there is work to be done on both shorter and longer distances.
Program selection is key to ensuring the success of the framework and the program.
To run a sub-3-hour marathon you should be capable of running 10km in close to 38 minutes 30 secs.
Now that we know how to approach tackling your goal of completing a marathon in under 3 hours… let’s have a look at how to achieve the goal.
How To Run a Sub-3-Hour Marathon
To determine who should be looking at running or following this particular sub-3-hour marathon program it is important to note that there are a couple of time goals you have to achieve.
We often get athletes who have a goal of running a sub-3-hour marathon with a current marathon time of 4hrs or 25min 5km.… This is an example of unrealistic goal setting.
It’s not to say that you will never get to a sub-3-hour marathon … It is however important to note that if you are currently running a 4-hour marathon, you need to take smaller stepping stones to make sure that your easy runs are easy enough, the long runs are at the correct paces and you’re not doing too much too soon.
You should be capable of running one of the below times AND have been pretty active following at least a 5-day-a-week regime in the recent past.
- 5km: 18:30
- 10km: 38:30
- 15km: 59:30
- 21km: 1:25:30
- 42km: 3:05-3:10
Let’s have a look at an overview of the sub-3-hour Marathon training plan…
Sub-3-Hour Marathon Plan Overview
The Coach Parry sub-3-hour marathon plan is structured like most of our other plans. It is a 12-week plan, however, you cannot progress from no running … to a 12-week marathon plan and then run a sub-3-hour marathon.
This plan assumes you have been doing at least 8 – 12 weeks of consistent training or that you have progressed from a 10km or half marathon plan in the lead-up to starting the sub-3-hour plan.
We break those 12 weeks into 3 smaller cycles of 4 weeks. Each 4-week cycle is broken down into 3 weeks of loading and 1 week of recovery.
For example, weeks one, two, and three will be building volume and some Intensity, and every fourth week will be what we call a recovery week.
During each of the 3 cycles, we use different interval sessions to focus on building the different components of running fitness and address the requirements specifically for your Marathon.
The long runs build up through each cycle and through the plan to ensure that you progressively prepare for your marathon without risking overuse injury.
In some of the recovery weeks, you will do a time trial. Time trials are used to measure progress.
This plan is a six-day running week, meaning you will be running six days a week except for a complete rest day on Fridays. (We do allow for flexibility so the days can be changed around)
Tuesdays are usually 1km repeats followed by coordination drills.
Wednesdays are usually a 1hr 45min easy run. We drive home that easy means that you should be able to have a full-on conversation if you’re running with someone or if you running alone- break into song if you dare!
Basically, you should be able to breathe really comfortably, have a light sweat, and at the end of that session feel that you can actually go a lot longer.
Sundays are usually the long run day. For example, a 2-hour 45min long run followed by a Monday recovery 45-minute run.
This is a sneak peek into what your sub-3-hour plan would look like:
It is very important to stick to your training paces, training faster will feel good but will work against everything we are trying to achieve in this program.
It is very important to note that these are average times and should be adjusted for when running up or down hills. You will be anywhere between 15-45sec/km or a mile slower going uphill (gradient dependent) and 15-30sec faster going downhill.
- Easy Runs: 4:20-5:00/km (6:58-8:03 min/mile)
- Long Runs: 4:25-5:10/km (7:06-8:19 min/mile)
- Recovery Runs: 5:00-5:30/km (8:03-8:51 min/mile)
What you do in the 12 weeks leading up to the Marathon will either set you up for success or failure…
What Percentage Of Runners Can Run a Sub 3-Hour Marathon?
In 2021 the Marastats.com website estimated that only 4% of all marathon runners of any age manage to break 3 hours.
According to RunRepeat’s 2021 and 2022 research on running, the countries with the fastest average marathon times are:
- Switzerland: 3 hours, 50 minutes
- Netherlands and Spain: 3 hours, 52 minutes
- Portugal: 3 hours, 59 minutes
- Ukraine: 3 hours, 59 minutes
- Norway: 4 hours, 1 minute
Based on the information above it’s very obvious that the percentage of runners who break the sub-3 barrier is very small.
Tips To Help You Achieve a Sub-3-Hour Marathon
- Go into training knowing you’re at the correct level and that this is an achievable goal for you.
- Run your long runs at an easy pace to build a solid aerobic base.
- Strength training is vital. (FREE strength plan here)
- Stay consistent with training
- Pace yourself well in the race.
- Stick to the plan and trust the process.
- Try a variety of nutrition products specifically on your long runs to make sure you have a sound fuelling and hydration plan that has been practiced come race day. (The BEST Marathon Hydration Strategy According To Experts)
- Eat and sleep well. (Why Runners NEED More Sleep: The Science-Based Facts)
- Take a rest day for a physical and mental break.
- Take your taper weeks seriously. (Marathon Tapering Method GUARANTEED To Have You At Your BEST Come Race Day)