Hoping to run a sub-5-hour Marathon?

Whether it’s your first or one of many marathons, completing a Marathon in under 5 hours is achievable with the correct training plan, professional guidance, race day strategies, and mental strength to stay motivated throughout the entire process. 

We’ve put together a Marathon training plan, specifically for runners wanting to cross the finish line feeling strong and uninjured in under 5 hours.

Let’s have a look at… 

  • Approach To a Sub-5-Hour Marathon
  • How To Run a Sub-5-Hour Marathon 
  • Sub-5-Hour Marathon Plan Overview
  • Marathon Run Walk Strategy

Approach To a Sub-5-Hour Marathon

To achieve a sub- 5-hour Marathon finish you need to run at around 11:27min/mile, 7:07min/km.

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 sub-5-hour marathon time you are hoping to run?

Normally it is quite easy to draw a line.

You should have at a minimum completed a 21km distance in a race or training, preferably close to 2:20. 

If you have not done 21km or are far off this time, you should chat with one of the Coach Parry coaches and they will advise on getting you onto a more appropriate training plan to ultimately reach your goal.

Program selection is key to ensuring the success of the framework and the program.

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 event you are training for.

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.

Now that we know how to approach tackling your goal of completing a marathon in under 5 hours… let’s have a look at how to achieve the goal.

How To Run a Sub-5-Hour Marathon 

To determine who should be looking at running or following this particular sub-5-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-5-hour marathon with a current marathon time of 6.5 hours… This is an example of unrealistic goal setting.

It’s not to say that you will never get to a 5-hour marathon … it is however important to note that if you are currently running a 6.5-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.

Your half marathon time should be close to 2 hours and 20 mins.

Sub-5-Hour Marathon Plan Overview

The Coach Parry sub-5-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-5-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-5-hour plan.

We break those 12 weeks into 3 smaller cycles of 4 weeks. Each 4 weeks 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.

Note: The platform is flexible so it’s possible you load a sub-5-hour plan, however, once you run your 1st  5k time trial and run a lot faster than the required time – we need to look at moving you to a faster marathon plan.

This plan is a four-day running week, meaning you will be running four days a week on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday & Sunday. (We do allow for flexibility so the days can be changed around)

There are long intervals built into the plan, these are there to build muscular endurance so that you can sustain the higher intensity for a longer period of time.

The intervals in the first cycle of the plan are four-minute intervals. These help build speed endurance, to limit the loading, they will not increase in number over the 3 weeks.

Thursdays are usually a 1hr 20 min 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.

Saturdays are usually the long run day. For example, a 2-hour long run followed by a Sunday recovery 45-minute run.

This is a sneak peek into what your plan would look like:

It is important to adhere to all the principles in this program to ensure success:

• Doing the strength training is critical to increasing resistance to injury.

• Consistency. Keep turning your blocks green and watch how you blossom over the coming weeks.

It is very important to stick to your training paces, training faster will feel good but it will work against everything we are trying to achieve.

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.

Making sure you do the correct strength training is important. The good news is we’ve created a free strength training plan for runners that you can download by clicking here.

Training Paces:

Easy Runs: 6:55-7:10/km (11:08-11:32 min/mile)

Long Runs: 7:00-7:30/km (11:16-12:04 min/mile)

Recovery Runs: 7:20-7:50/km (11:48-12:36 min/mile)


The Marathon Training Roadmap

What you do in the 12 weeks leading up to your Marathon will either set you up for success or failure…

Ensure your success with 12 weeks of access to the Coach Parry Marathon Training Roadmap

Marathon Run Walk Strategy

Following a run/walk strategy has many benefits, it can be effective and result in you completing the marathon in your time goal… when executed correctly.

Walking a marathon is far from a sign of failure and giving up…

Runner and coach Jeff Galloway made the run-walk method or the “Jeff Galloway Method” popular in the 1970s.

The Run/walk method is a running strategy that involves incorporating planned walking breaks throughout your run.

If the run/walk strategy sounds like something you would like to try, we teach you all about it here.


Devlin Eyden has a passion for seeing his athletes grow and excel. From novice runners or cyclists across all disciplines to elite mountain bikers representing South Africa at World Championships. In addition to helping you ride faster, for longer, Devlin also has the personal touch when it comes to your bike setup, aiming at improving the overall rider experience. With his background as a Sport Scientist as well as a Strength & Conditioning specialist, performance is Devlin’s main priority, be it in the gym, the lab or out on the road or trails. Being a keen runner & cyclist and having completed the Cape Epic among others, Devlin has first hand experience in what it take to reach your goals. If you’re looking for a once-off training program or ongoing, high touch support Devlin has you covered.

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