The Sub 3:30 Marathon: Essential Guide + Training Plan

Break the 3:30 barrier with our training plan!

So, you want to run a sub 3:30 marathon? Maybe you’re doing it to qualify for the Boston Marathon, or maybe you just want to set a personal best.

Well, whatever you reason, you have decided to take on a tough task!

To achieve this challenging marathon goal, you will need to have a solid training program with plenty of long runs, speed workouts, and plenty of training sessions at race pace.

In this article, I will provide you with my strategies and training tips necessary to run a sub-3:30 marathon, including pacing, workouts, mileage, and a sub-3:30-hour training plan for you to start today.

If 3:30 isn’t fast enough for you, you can always check out the sub 3-hour marathon plan. Or if you find that the training for 3:30 is too much, check out the sub 4-hour marathon plan.

people running a marathon

Am I Ready To Train For A Sub 3:30 Marathon?

As with any meaningful running goal, running a sub 3:30 marathon is all about training.

In addition to this, there are a few prerequisites I would recommend before attempting this training plan:

  • Having run a sub 4-hour marathon time within the last year.
  • Having run a sub 1:40 half within the last year.
  • Having consistently trained (44-50 weeks a year) around 30-40 miles a week for 1-2 years.

If you can check off one of these three, you are in a good place to attempt this training. If you can check off multiple boxes, it’s even better.

If none of these apply to you, I would proceed with caution or consider a different goal, such as a four-hour marathon.

Certainly, many people have run sub 3:30 without one of these three things being true. However, there is a lower chance of success and higher risk of injury if none of the above apply to you.

In order to be in shape for a sub 3:30 attempt, you will need to dedicate 16-20 weeks of training geared specifically toward this goal.

If you have been training moderately for several months, you could skip the first four weeks of the training plan which is dedicated to build up base mileage.

However, for the best chance of success and lowest chance of injury, 20 weeks is what you will want to shoot for.

Let’s begin by examining what is required to run a marathon under 3:30 and then discuss the training we will do to achieve that goal.

Not sure this is the plan for you? – Check out our other marathon training plans.

runner jumping over camera

Consistent Pace is Crucial

The marathon can be tricky to run correctly. You can feel great for the first 10, 15, or even 20 miles. But after a while, it can all catch up with you.

This is especially true if you start out too fast.

The best way to run a marathon is with a slight negative split, which means running the first half of the race slightly slower than the second half.

The next best method is running even splits for the whole race. This means your first half and second half are run at the same pace.

Due to the length and unpredictable nature of a marathon, many runners will run a slightly positive split for their race. This means running the race’s second half slightly slower than the first half.

Any three of these strategies can work well.

We want to avoid running too hard early and then crashing during the last 10K of the race. To make sure this doesn’t happen, we need to really focus on pace.

Including our marathon pace into training runs and long runs will ensure we know what it feels like to run it when race day comes around.

Keep in mind, when we talk about a consistent pace, this will be dependent on the race course. A course with many hills or weather variations should be considered and factored into your weekly training.

man running on the beach

What Is A 3:30 Marathon Pace?

To run a 3:30 marathon, you need to run 8 minutes per mile or 4:58 per kilometer.

As Thomas explains in the 4-hour marathon guide, planning to run our race at this exact pace leaves little room for error.

I recommend aiming for 7:50 per mile pace (4:52 per kilometer) as your goal pace.

This will be the equivalent of about a 3 hour 25 minute marathon (3:25), giving you a 5-minute cushion on your goal time.

This training pace will be the main focus of our plan. You should reach the point where this pace feels natural and you can run close to it by feel.

On race day, you’ll want to make sure you’re hitting this pace. Check your watch each mile to ensure you’re on point.

You can use our Marathon Pace Calculator to get a downloadable chart of the even splits for a 3:30-hour marathon – just enter 3:25:00 rather than 3:30:00 as the time to get the recommended pacing.

feet of a group of runners

Be careful in the early miles. This pace will feel extremely easy, and you will be tempted to go faster because you feel good.

Running 7:45 for a mile or two isn’t likely to be the end of the world, but going out at a 7:30 pace for the first 5K could potentially cause you to hit the wall hard at 20 miles.

I typically recommend starting the first 2-3 miles a little bit slower than your goal pace to prevent overzealousness. Then, you can regain some of that time by keeping a few seconds under your pace for the rest of the race.

So, our plan is based around running 26.2 miles at a 7:50 pace (4:52 per kilometer) to finish your marathon race in 3 hours and 25 minutes.

fast runner's running shoes

How Do I Train For A 3:30 Marathon?

In this section, we will talk about what you can expect from our training plan regarding mileage, workouts, cross training, and rest/recovery.

For this plan, I recommend that you have spent 6-12 months running 20-40 miles a week. This will ensure you have a proper aerobic base for the marathon training.

The training will start at 30 miles a week and peak at 55 miles a week. You will run six days a week with one rest day or cross-training day.

The plan currently has a workout on Wednesday, a rest day on Saturday, and a long run on Sunday. You can move these runs if needed, but keep the same overall weekly structure.

For instance, if you wanted to do your long run on Saturday, your off day would now be Friday, and the workout would now be on Tuesday.

silhouettes of runners

What Are The Types of Training in The 3:30 Marathon Plan?

Training Run

These will be done several times a week and are designed to get you comfortable running at an 8-minute pace. They can be anywhere from 3 to 8 miles in length.

On Mondays and Fridays, you will include strides in your training run.

Tuesdays and Thursdays can be a little slower than the 8-minute pace.

There is a speed workout on Wednesday of each week, so we want to make sure we are recovering before and after the speed workout to get the most out of it.

sweaty woman running

Long Run

These will be done every Sunday. They will start at 10 miles and progress up to 22 miles.

Long runs are the heart and soul of marathon distance training. If you don’t get in quality long runs, you will have a tough time during the marathon.

For this plan, the long run will be one of your two weekly speed workouts. 

In my own training and in coaching others, I’ve found it very difficult to fit in two speed workouts a week plus a weekly long run. Most runners will have a hard time recovering from this workload.

For this plan, your long run will be one of your workouts. Almost all of your long runs will include several miles run at marathon pace.

These could include tempo runs, intervals, or just finishing the last 3-4 miles of a run at marathon pace.

In the long run, it is also great for practicing your hydration and fueling strategy. Try different gels or whatever you plan on ingesting during the race to see how your body handles it.

I’ve had some gels that gag me or don’t sit well on my stomach. You don’t want to find this out on race day!

It’s also important to figure out what clothes and gear you will use for the race. Make sure your clothes don’t chafe, and your shoes don’t cause blisters.

Since the long runs will be similar to your marathon in terms of duration, it’s a great time to dial in your race day kit and nutrition.

I would also encourage you to plan your long runs to be similar to the race in terms of elevation and terrain. If your marathon has rolling hills, incorporate those into your long run.

woman runner stretching

Speed Work

Your other workout day will be Wednesdays. These workouts will start at around 8 miles and progress to 12-17 miles.

These will be a mixture of intervals and tempos. 

For these workouts, we will focus on half-marathon pace to help improve your speed and running economy.

On the down weeks, we will also have workouts that focus on critical velocity (CV) pace. These workouts are a bit faster and designed to improve overall speed.

There is no such thing as a sure thing when it comes to training. There are no guarantees that any plan will get you to run a certain time.

However, if you have been consistently running for several months and follow this plan, you stand a good chance of seeing 3:25 and change when you cross the finish line. Let’s break that 3:30 marathon barrier!

Remember, having a running coach to guide you is always a great addition to your training.

Download the Sub-3:30 Marathon Training Plan For Free:

3:30 marathon training plan - printable
3:30 marathon training plan PDF image
  • Get the TrainingPeaks version of this plan, which you can sync with your device (coming soon).

Download The Training Plan Here

Enter your email, and I’ll send you this free training plan now, in PDF and Google Sheets formats (completely customizable), in both miles and kilometers.  

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Adam Rabo has been running since junior high. He has coached high school and college distance runners. Adam recently completed the UTMB Canyons 100k, making the cutoff for the Western States 100 and UTMB. You can generally find him on the rodes or trails in Colorado Springs, training for upcoming marathons and ultramarathons.

6 thoughts on “The Sub 3:30 Marathon: Essential Guide + Training Plan”

  1. I used this training plan to run my second marathon; the St. Louis Go marathon! I ended up running a 3:26:43 and Boston qualified!!!! I’m so thankful to have found this plan. Thank you so much!


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