So you want to run a sub 3:30 marathon?
A sub 3:30 marathon is no joke. You can qualify for Boston if you achieve it.
To achieve this goal, you will need to have a solid block of training under you with plenty of long runs, workouts, and time spent running at 3:30 marathon pace.
In this article, I’m going to give you the strategies and spell out the training necessary to run a sub 3:30 marathon. These will include:
- How to pace to run sub 3:30,
- What that pace will be and how to get comfortable running it,
- The workouts and mileage you will want use for your training,
- The training structure to get you to sub 3:30 and a training plan you can follow along with.
Let’s get to it!
Running a marathon under 3:30 might not have the same ring as a sub-4-hour or sub-3-hour marathon, but it’s an incredible feat nonetheless.
If you’re reading this and are a female runner, a sub 3:30 marathon will qualify you for Boston no matter your age*.
*One note, because of the Boston Marathons rolling signups, sometimes you can run a qualifying time and not get in because the slots fill up before you are allowed to register.
Males 55 and older can also qualify for Boston with a sub 3:30 marathon.
A sub 3:30 is a difficult feat, and the training should not be taken lightly.
How to run 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.
These prerequisites are:
- Having run a sub 4 hour marathon 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, even better.
If none of these apply to you, I would proceed with caution.
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 chance 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 at a moderate level for several months, you could potentially skip the first four weeks of the training plan.
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 looking at what is required to run a marathon under 3:30, and then discuss the training we will do in order to get there.
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. This is 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 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 second half of the race slightly slower than the first half.
Any three of these strategies can work well.
The thing we want to avoid is running too hard early and then crashing over 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.
The 3:30 Marathon Pace
While a 3:30 marathon might not have the same ring as a sub-3-hour marathon or sub-4-hour marathon, the pace is easy to remember.
To run a 3:30 marathon, you need to run 8 minutes per mile, or 4:58 per kilometer.
Much like Thomas explains in the 4 hour marathon guide, planning to run our race at this exact pace leaves little room for error.
That’s why I recommend aiming for 7:50 per mile (4:52 per kilometer) as your goal pace.
This will be the equivalent of about a 3:25 marathon giving you a 5 minute cushion on your goal time.
This pace will be the main thing we focus on in training. You should get to the point where this pace feels natural, and you can run close to it by feel.
On race day, this is the pace you’ll want to make sure you are hitting. Check your watch each mile to ensure you are on pace.
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 7:30 pace for the first 5k could potentially cause you to hit the wall hard at 20 miles.
I typically even recommend starting the first 2-3 miles a little bit slower than goal pace to make sure you don’t get overzealous. Then, you can start gaining some of that time back 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 7:50 pace (4:52 per kilometer) to finish in 3 hours and 25 minutes.
Now that we know what we need to do in the race, let’s take a look at the training we will do to achieve this goal.
3:30 Marathon Training
You can find the 3:30 marathon training plan at the end of this post.
In this section, we will talk about what you can expect from the training plan regarding mileage, workouts, cross training, and rest/recovery.
For this plan, I would recommend that you’ve 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 out at 30 miles a week and peak at 55 miles a week. You will run 6 days a week with one rest day/cross training day.
The plan currently has a workout on Wednesday, rest day on Saturday, and long run on Sunday.
You can move these runs if you need to 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.
Types of training
These will be done several times a week and are designed to get you comfortable running 8 minute pace. They can be anywhere from 3 – 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 8 min pace.
There is a workout on Wednesday of each week so we want to make sure we are recovering before and after the workout to get the most out of it.
These will be done every Sunday. They will start at 10 miles and progress up to 22 miles.
This is the heart and soul of marathon training. If you aren’t getting 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 workouts.
In my own training and in coaching others, I’ve found it very difficult to fit in 2 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.
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!
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. If your marathon has rolling hills, incorporate those into your long run.
Your other workout day will be on Wednesdays. These workouts will start out around 8 miles but will progress up to 12-17 miles.
These will be a mixture of intervals and tempos.
For these workouts, we will be focusing on half-marathon pace to help improve your speed and running economy.
There will also be some workouts on the down weeks where we focus on critical velocity (CV) pace. These workouts are a bit faster and designed to work on your 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 3:20 and change when you cross the finish line.
Download the 3:30 Marathon Training Plan
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.
Previous visitor or not seeing where to sign up?
Head over to our marathon training plan database for full access to all plans.