Sub 4 Hour Marathon Pace, Essential Guide + Training Plan

Follow our free plan to smash the 4 hour barrier.

In this guide, I’m going to break down everything you need to know to break the sub 4 hour marathon pace mark in your next race, and include our free training plan.

After running several of them myself and coaching many others through the process, I learned the right pacing strategies and training methodologies to break the four-hour barrier.

A sub-4-hour marathon is all in the training. Here, there are no shortcuts.

In order to avoid hitting the wall or getting injured while training, you’ve got to put in the hours – that typically means a minimum of three to four months of dedicated marathon training.

In this guide, I walk through the ‘how’ of a sub 4 hr marathon, starting with how your actual marathon will look and the pacing strategy to use, and then working backward from there to develop a marathon training program to get you to that point.

I’ll describe the elements of the training plan, the minimum recommended length, and why a training plan is so great in the first place.

sub 4 hour marathon pace shown

Why Is The 4 Hour Marathon A Common Benchmark To Strive For?

It just so happens that it takes most well-prepared marathon runners somewhere between three and five hours to run their 26.2 miles (see also: typical marathon times broken down by age and sex).

In the recent London Marathon, the average men’s marathon time was 4:21.09, while the average race time for women was 4:57.26.

This means that anyone breaking the four-hour benchmark is not just a marathon runner – they’re an above-average marathon runner.

Running a 4-hour marathon pace means you’ve sustained an average pace of at least 6.55 miles/hr for 26.2 miles—it’s a badge that shows not just endurance but also a good level of underlying fitness and training behind it.

The four-hour benchmark has become an important line in the sand, and many marathoners choose it as a goal. The difference between 3:59 and 4:01 finishing times is subjective but important to many runners.

Note: A GPS watch or running app is mandatory for the training I’m advising here. With these, you can track your workouts and progress.

What Is The 4 Hour Marathon Pace (In Km and Miles)?

To run a 4-hour marathon, your pace must be consistent at 9:09 minutes per mile or 5:41 minutes per kilometer.

Here’s the thing, though: no race day is perfect.

Whether it’s hills, fatigue, toilet stops, crowds at the start, or that old knee injury, something will likely slow you down at some point during your run.

That’s why I always recommend you plan to run a little faster than an exact 4-hour pace.

If you were to allow for 10 minutes of padding, thus crossing the finish line in 3hrs 50mins if all goes well, then your marathon pace would be:

8:46min/miles, or 5:27min/km

Write this pace down on a Post-it, stick it on your fridge, or somewhere you’ll see it!

The truth is, when I aim for a sub-4-hour marathon, I’ll constantly check my GPS and try to always be a little under the 4-hour marathon pace by a few seconds per mile.

It’s fine to go faster than this pace, but don’t go too much faster—all we want to do is finish within 4 hours, right?

And the last thing you want to do is use up all your energy early on, which you will absolutely need later in the race.

Our Marathon Pace Calculator provides a downloadable chart of the even splits for a 4-hour marathon. To get the recommended pace, just enter 3:50:00 rather than 4:00:00.

Birds eye view of a running race

What Is A Good Pacing Strategy To Break 4 Hours?

A successful 4-hour marathon is all about pacing.

Your pacing strategy can be broken into two elements: speed and consistency.

If you survey most marathon finishers, you’ll see their pace consistency is all over the place.

The average marathon runner starts off very fast, manages to sustain a good pace throughout most of the race, and then drops off in the last few miles.

This is typical.

26.2 miles is a long distance, and our bodies are not normally adapted to keep going for so long. It’s expected that your energy starts to sag after three or four hours.

So, how do we combat this?

We train for it. 

If you want to run a sub 4-hr marathon, the most comfortable pacing strategy is to run a consistent pace throughout the entire race.

This means you’ll probably be holding back in the first half marathon, but this will serve you well later on.

Right, so we’ve established that we have to train ourselves to run a consistent pace for four hours, but what pace?

(This strategy also assumes that your marathon route is uniform – if you have big hill sections or other challenges, you must factor these into your training and pacing strategy.) 

Runner's legs during a race

Are You Ready To Take On This Training Plan?

If this is your first marathon, I suggest using a training plan without a specific time goal.

If you have run a marathon or two, you already have a good idea of your current fitness level. Depending on the results of a time trial, you can see if this plan is appropriate for you.

To ensure you are ready to take on this time-based training plan, take a 3K or 5K test or use a recent road race result. These tests should be an all-out effort that you can hold for the duration of that specific distance.

The suggested results to take on this training plan are the following: 3K in 14:43, 5K in 25:15, or 10K in 52:24

What Training Methods Are Used In This Training Plan?

Since we are aiming for a specific time goal, we will combine two training methods: rate of Perceived Exertion and Pace Training.

Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is a method of training based on perception or how you feel. The scale ranges from 1 to 10, with 1 being extremely comfortable and 10 being an all-out sprint. Here is a complete explanation of RPE.

Pace Training, on the other hand, will be all about maintaining a specific pace, measured in minutes per kilometer or mile, for specific intervals during your run. It’s like setting a rhythm for your body to follow, ensuring you stay on track towards your time goal.

What Are The Key Training Sessions In This Training Plan?

 Jump to the end of the post to get a copy of our sub-4-hour marathon training plan.

My training plan’s intention is to increase your maximum mileage and develop your running base to become super strong.  

This is a key ingredient in running a consistent pace for four hours.

That is why the initial mileage is higher than in some of my other marathon training plans, which are less pace-focused.

So why do you need a training plan? Your training plan is going to be your guide.

By mapping everything out at the start of your training, you are giving your schedule some structure, allowing gradual increases in mileage and pace.

Alongside a rest day or two, here are the different types of training I recommend and have included in the downloadable training plan.

#1: Race Pace Run

Race-pace runs are just that: runs where you practice your estimated race pace for either specific intervals or the duration of the workout.

Warm up for 3 km or 2 miles and cool down for 3 km or 2 miles before and after each workout.

For a sub-4 hour marathon, your race pace is 5:27 / km or 8:47 / mile.

#2: Long Runs

Long runs gradually increase your volume, vital in preparing you for race day.

Unless otherwise indicated, most long runs will be run at a conversation pace, with an RPE of 3-4.

Long runs are also used as dress rehearsals for your race, so you should use them to practice race fueling and hydration strategies.

These runs allow you to very gradually build up your maximum mileage.  In my training plan, you’ll notice that the longest run is 19 miles or around 30km.  

This means that during your marathon, the final stretch will be uncharted territory.  

Don’t worry – if you’ve followed the training plan, even for your first marathon, you’ll be conditioned to hold your pace throughout these last few miles. 

See also: How long should my longest long run be?

Some ladies in a running race with shrubbery behind

#3: Threshold Intervals 

Threshold intervals are a type of speedwork.

You run the threshold intervals at your threshold pace, which, for our purposes, is 5:06/km or 8:17/mile.

These workouts improve your speed and ability to sustain harder efforts for longer periods of time.

Warm up for 2 km or at least 1 mile before and cool down for 2 km or 1 mile after the workout.

#4: Tempo runs

Tempo Runs are longer blocks of threshold training.

You will run for the indicated km, miles, or time at a sustainable, hard effort, an RPE of 6-7. You will run at a hard pace, but one you could hold for 60 minutes.

These runs improve your ability to run faster and harder for longer.

Warm up for 3km or 2 miles before each tempo run, and cool down with 3km or 2 miles afterward.

#5: Strides

Strides are short accelerations in which you begin easy and increase your effort level to almost top speed, RPE 8-9, and then gradually return to your initial pace.

Each workout will indicate the number of strides and their duration. You may run them at any time throughout the run. The rest of the run should be run at an easy, conversation pace.

#6: Distance Runs

Distance runs, also known as base-building runs, are crucial to your training. These runs, performed at a comfortable, conversational pace, help you gradually increase your volume and improve your aerobic base.

The rate of perceived exertion should be between a 3-4 on a scale of 1-10.

#7: Hill Repeats

Hill repeats are a type of interval workout.

First, you must warm up for 3 km or 2 miles. Then, you will run uphill, hard, between a 9-10 RPE, for the amount of time indicated in the specific workout. Then, you will jog back down to your starting point and repeat for the indicated number of times.

Cool down for another 3 km or 2 miles.

#8: Recovery Runs

Recovery runs are slightly easier than distance runs, with a rate of perceived exertion of 2-3. These runs aim to recover from a harder session and add easy volume to your week.

#9: Strength Training

Strength training is not just a beneficial addition to your running training plan; it’s necessary. It plays a crucial role in correcting muscle imbalances, making you a fitter, stronger, and faster runner, and, most importantly, it helps you stay injury-free.

Aim for two strength training sessions per week, ideally on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the PM, but whenever you can fit it in best. Incorporate compound exercises such as squats, lunges, glute bridges, calf raises, planks, push-ups, and rows.

How Many Months To Train For A Sub 4 Hour Marathon?

Most people with a reasonable base fitness level require a minimum of four months to build up the running stamina and consistency of pace to run a sub-4-hour marathon.

To do your marathon comfortably, I’d recommend looking at five to six months, if not more. Our training plan is 20 weeks from start to finish.

Sub 4 Hour Marathon Pace, Essential Guide + Training Plan 1
Sub 4 Hour Marathon Pace, Essential Guide + Training Plan 2

Download The Free Sub 4-Hour 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.  

After entering your email, you’ll be prompted to create an account on the Grow platform we use to control access to the plans. It’s completely free – make sure to complete the process to gain access to the plan!

Previous visitor or not seeing where to sign up?

Head over to our marathon training plan database for full access to all plans.

download the free training plan

The training schedule accompanying this guide is designed for five months of training. If you have more time, gradually build up to the mileage detailed in week 1.

If you have less than five months, I recommend you count backward from the end of the training plan and jump in there.

Get the Premium Version Of The Sub 4 Hour Marathon Training Plan

We’ve teamed with TrainingPeaks to offer a premium version of the sub 4-hr Marathon Training Plan:

Access the plan via the TrainingPeaks website and app, track your workouts in real-time against the plan, and get performance data analysis on your progress.

Check out the premium sub 4-hr marathon training plan here!

Sub 4 Hour Marathon Pace, Essential Guide + Training Plan 3
Sub 4 Hour Marathon Pace, Essential Guide + Training Plan 4

And don’t forget to check out my ebook, The 4-Hr Marathon. It’s 130+ pages of step-by-step advice on beating the 4-hour mark, including extensive details on the 4-hour marathon pace strategy!

4-Hour Marathon

Other Suggested Marathon Training Plans

Beginner + Novice Training Plans

Intermediate Training Plans

Advanced Marathon Training Plans

Photo of author
Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of MarathonHandbook.com. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Livestrong.com, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and playing with his two tiny kids. More at his bio.

82 thoughts on “Sub 4 Hour Marathon Pace, Essential Guide + Training Plan”

  1. I’ve read from multiple sources that 32K should be the maximum distance for a long training run, because running more than that distance would do more harm than good to your body! I see you have in your plan 4 runs above 32K! Do you disagree that distances above 32K are unsafe for training?

    All the best.

    • Hi!

      In terms of maximum distance and long runs, it all comes down to:

      – your running background
      – the amount of time you have to train for your marathon
      – your marathon goals

      The training plans I’ve added to this blog are based on a novice-intermediate level runner with 5 months to prepare, so although the distances are high, the incremental increases are gradual so shouldn’t shock the system. Also remember that these training plans are based on running a sub 4-hr marathon, which requires a lot of training your body to run at a consistent pace for a long time – so you have to get your body used to the long runs!

      In my experience, the ‘max distance’ of 30-32k is fine – assuming your goal is to complete the marathon comfortably. However, if you want to push to achieve even splits, you want to prepare your body for that final stretch too!

      Hope this helps πŸ™‚

  2. I’m into the fourth week of the 4-Hour marathon plan, and I’ve been easily running under the min/km goal for the race! I tend to push more in the typical runs during the week, today I completed a 7km run in 29:51 (4:15 min/km pace), and in my last long run of 13km, I ran at 5 min/km on a trail surface, with ups and downs. If it’s not too much trouble, maybe you could tell me if you think I’m overdoing it! I’ve been feeling sored legs during the day, but the soreness is usually gone after running for about 1km! I’m 39 years old and I’m afraid I may be exagerating and pay the price at the later states of the training program!

    All the best and thank you for your help.

    • Hi!
      Does your marathon have hills? If no, no need to train in them.
      Sounds like your training is going very well, the trick is to increase the miles without slowing down or getting injured!
      If the sore legs are just tired and you have no aches and pains as you continue to run, that’s a good sign. Make sure you’re not over-doing it and consider taking a rest day to see how your legs feel.
      If the pace seems very easy to you, you can always look to go a little faster – but if a 4-hr marathon is your goal, just stick to what is laid out in the plan – and by the time you arrive at the start of the race you’ll find it relatively easy.

      • Thank you very much for your help, Thomas! I’ll follow your advice and try to increase distance while keeping speed, I think I can keep a 13km/h pace during the typical runs, maybe I can aim for that speed in the marathon, I’ll see how I feel and try to adjust!

        All the best!

      • This didn’t go too well! Yesterday was speed work day of my 8th week of training! I had been running very fast and obliterating my PR’s in the previous week instead of taking it easy on the long runs like the plan said (that was my first mistake), I was feeling tired legs and had decided to take the day off instead of doing speed work but, by the end of the day, I throught “well… I’ll just go out and do 4 x 100m uphill sprints down the road from my house” (that was my second mistake), I DIDN’T WARM UP (that was my third mistake)… after finishing my first sprint and just as I was starting my second sprint I felt a sharp pain in my right calf, like a string breaking or an electrical shock. I instantly knew that was it! I could no longer set my right foot on the ground and had to limp home! I have a torn calf muscle and I’ll be having an ultrasound tomorrow to evaluate the damage, but I will definitely be off running for some weeks and I’m feeling very depressed about it! This was totally my fault for not sticking to the plan and the planned running pace! I was planing to run a marathon in March, but it seems I’ll have to postpone this to later in the year! This is a great running plan and was working very well for me if it hadn’t been or my lack of a brain!

        Thanks for your help and as soon as I get back to training I’ll let you know!

      • What a nightmare!

        Often the biggest obstacle we have to overcome is our self-discipline when it comes to training!

        Now might be a good time to get into other activities while your calf recovers – perhaps swimming? It’ll keep your cardio levels up πŸ™‚


  3. Hello. I’m a 49 year old male. I was overweight and took to running 4 months ago to get back in shape. I run on a nearly flat trail (with two small up/downhills). I’ve been able to run 12 miles at an average pace of 10 minutes per mile. I still have some energy in my tank. This has motivated me to run my first marathon in October, 2018. I plan to keep preparing for next 10 months using your 20 week program and stretch it out. Please provide tips for the following:
    1) avoid injuries while training
    2) should I include a full marathon distance for a few long runs since I have 10 months?
    3) drinks for hydration during my runs
    4) energy bars or nuts during my runs

    Thank you very much.


    • Vinnie,
      I’ve worked with a lot of runners in your situation.

      Your main focus should be to avoid injury before your race – your age and weight being the driving factors here.

      I would absolutely stretch out the training plan, if you are already at a stage where you can tackle the first week.

      What you should find is that running regularly will kick-start weight loss – this has the “compound interest” effect in that when you are lighter, running puts a lot less load on your joints – so reduces chances of injury.

      Email me and we can continue the discussion – hi@marathonhandbook.com – happy to help!

      Thomas @ Marathon Handbook

  4. Hi Thomas

    I`m 52 years old and have just signed up for my 2nd marathon – the first being 30 years ago !

    I`ve only recently discovered your training plan , which I intend to follow . I started training properly about three months ago (although Ive been running recreationally for a few years now) and am up to doing 17 miles on my long runs .

    The thing is , my marathon is still 5 months away so I`m just wondering how to progress my training . Do you think I should cut down the distance on my longer runs for a while or am I ok to carry on with them .

    I don’t want to over do it and end up getting injured

    Thanks , Colin .

    • Any thoughts , folks ? .

      I`m currently keeping my weekly long runs to 16 to 17m , and building my fitness base with a mixture of shorter , faster runs and various cross training .

      I`m on week 4 of the plan , now – 16 weeks until the big day !

      • Hi Colin,

        Sounds like you are doing great. What kind of pace are you completing your long runs in?

        Your long runs are already almost at the maximum distance many marathon trainers reach. If you are well-adjusted and your body is coping with the long distances every week, then no worries ! If it is taking its toll, or you are running them very slow, then you might need to adjust things.

        Which marathon are you running?


      • Hi Thomas

        I`m doing the Liverpool marathon in May .

        Normally , I aim for 8.50 on my long runs – which I seem to be able to maintain . Sometimes I feel as though I could do a couple more miles , and other times not !! .

        Not having completed a marathon before (my previous attempt – 30 years ago ended in failure!) , my worry is ” Am I capable of getting those final few miles ?” .

        I`m tempted to slowly build up to at least 22 miles – if not more . Is there a danger that completing too many long runs over a long period could lead to “burn out” ?

        Thanks Colin .

      • Well, it goes against the conventional wisdom, but I did something similar for my first marathon. I actually went out and ran 27 miles a month before the event at a slow, easy pace. It was a psychological thing as much as anything – to let me know that I could do it. Based on everything you’ve written though, you’re already golden and don’t have to push it – 22 miles would be fine.

        Do you have a GPS? Remember on the event itself it is easy to get carried away, change your plans – don’t! Stick to your even pace.

        And do you take energy gels or similar? I don’t take these often in training but take them in races and they help me to no end.


      • Thanks very much , Thomas .

        I can certainly understand why you felt the need to run the long distances before your first marathon . Its exactly the same thought process , I`m having right now ! Fear of the unknown , I guess ! I see quite a lot of plans that don’t use long runs , but rely on running two moderate length runs on consecutive days . I get the theory , but I wouldn’t have the confidence to leave the extra miles out there !

        I`m glad I`ve given myself the extra time to prepare – I think 20 weeks might have been a struggle for someone my age . With the extra time , I`ll just slowly increase the mileage over the next few weeks , and see how it goes .

        Yes , I do use gels . I normally take 2 on a long run , along with about 1 litre of Lucozade sport drink . How many would you expect to consume on a marathon , by the way ?

        And yes , I do use a gps watch . Its amazing how far off you can be from the pace you think your running , to what your actually running . I`d be lost without it !

        Thanks again – I`ll keep you updated .

      • Hi Colin,

        Sounds good on all fronts. I think you’re being very sensible with your long training schedule. It also gives you time to rest – make sure you don’t over-do things.

        These days I take a gel every hour, though the gels I take say you can take one every 45 minutes!



    • Hi Thomas ,

      Just thought I`d check in with an update !

      Its been a roller coaster ride over the last few months . I managed to injure my groin/adductor in February . Not sure how , but at first I thought it was a stress fracture – so it came as a relief when the diagnosis came back ! I took 10 days off , but have been unable to shift it .

      I know I should take a few weeks off , but think at this stage it would mean missing the marathon – which is 3 weeks away .

      As its basically a one off , I can take as much time as required to recover afterwards . So I decided to press on with a modified training plan . For the last few weeks I`ve been running 3 times a week – basically sacrificing my recovery run and supplementing with extra cross training . Everything seems to be holding up OK – I still get pain during the first few miles , but it fades during the run .

      Last week , I completed my final long run of 22 miles at an even pace of 8.40 min per mile and am now in the tapering off stage , and hopeful of completing the marathon .

      I`ll let you know how I get on .

      Colin .

      • Colin,

        Condolences about the injury, but sounds like it hasn’t stopped you in your tracks. The fact you’ve even completed a 22 miler in the past week at that pace is a great sign.

        I know the feeling when you have a slight injury and decide to go for an event anyway – I truly hope it goes well. Let me know how you get on either here or drop me a note – hi@marathonhandbook.com



      • Hi Thomas .

        I completed the marathon a couple of weeks ago .

        Unfortunately , things didn’t go entirely to plan . The weather turned unseasonally hot in the days before the race , and the coarse was a lot hillier than I`d expected .

        I set off at my usual pace of 8.40 per mile (probably a mistake) and started to struggle at halfway . At 18 miles I was pretty much spent and had to stop and walk at this point .

        I carried on walking and running to the finish and came home with a disappointing 4.14.48 . Not what I`d hoped for , but at least I finished .

        I`m still getting vey slight discomfort from my adductor injury when I run , but it feels as though its slowly clearing up .

        I`m hoping to run another marathon , next year – injury permitting , so haven’t yet given up on a sub 4 !

      • Just to let you know , I finally acheived my goal of a sub 4 marathon .

        After last years dissappointment in Liverpool . I decided to try my luck in Mamchester instead . Everything went well . the weather was perfect , and I started the race free from any injuries .

        Anyway the race went perfectly . I maintained a pace of around 8:50 min/mile right up until 21 miles , where I slowed slightly . I perked up for the last mile with the crowd noise , and being able to see the finish point and finished with a time of 3:53:05 .

        I`m hoping to do another marathon in the Autumn . and possibly try Liverpool again , next year . I think I`ll be better equiped to cope with the more demanding coarse , now I know I can run the whole distance .

        Thanks for your help and advice – its been a great help !

  5. Hi Thomas,
    Thank you for your charts and advice. I’ve been running at least three days a week for 5 weeks but only 5-8 kms/day. I have a marathon in 5 weeks and i’m looking for an 8 week plan. I feel fairly confident since I’ve been playing sport regularly all these years and have done a marathon in 2015 with 8 week training. I’m 24yrs old and 5ft12″ and 62kgs with a resting pulse of 52/min.
    My last marathon went pretty well, at 4hr 20min.
    I was wondering if you had an 8 week plan or if there was a way to get into your 4 month plan for the last few weeks. Is that a safe option? Or should I look elsewhere?
    Thank you,

    • Hey @Pranjal,

      The best I can suggest is to go and get my 3 month training plan from the downloads section and use the last 5 weeks.

      You really want to get in a couple of longer runs – half-marathon length, as soon as you can.

      Good luck and let me know how it goes!


      • Thank you Thomas. I’ll run two 22kms and 27kms the coming two weekends and see how that feels. Is there something I can do instead of the 1hr cross training? I don’t have easy access to that and would appreciate your suggestions.

  6. Hey – I’ll be running my 5th marathon in 2 years in Berlin in September. I’m 37 and not a fast runner – my fastest effort to date was 4h16m in the Phoenix marathon this past February. My goal has been to run sub-4 hour in all my marathons thus far, and the Phoenix effort was the closest I’ve come.

    Question regarding the speed days – do you have any recommendations other than what’s in the article? For Phoenix, I ran Yasso-800’s during the last 10 weeks of training, and found it to be good. Are you a believer that these are beneficial? If so, how would you recommend spacing them out over the course of the 20-weeks of training – I thought about just doubling up the weeks for each Yasso workout, would that be a good idea?

    • Hi Jeff,

      In short, yes – they are beneficial. They are the same concept as what I describe as Interval Training, or the same idea as Fartleks.

      Personally, my interval training is pretty much Yassos/Fartleks – I might use slightly different distances than what is prescribed elsewhere, I just do what I can with my surroundings (usually lampposts or street blocks).

      I should really expand on this speed / interval training section in a dedicated blog.

      Thanks for your question, hopefully this helps, and sorry for the slow reply – I have been on a trip for the past 10 days.



  7. Thomas – Your training plan has kept me, 52 year old male, on target with a dedicated schedule each week. My 8th marathon is 11 days away (my 7th was in late January, well only 13.1 was run that day as I had the flu the last 2 weeks before the event – so low low energy). My PR was San Diego Rock-n-Roll in 2016 at 4:01:23… Yes 3 seconds faster per mile was what I needed. LOL. I am feeling pretty good about the training the past 3 months overall with the training from the previous race in January of more than 5 months. So now this is my final days and feeling “sluggish” on my 3 mile runs, heavy legs of sorts. So as I head into the last week of training, what can I do to minimize the sluggish/heavy legs? More cross training? increase carbs? I know my carb loading plan will start midweek next week. Thanks for the training schedule and overall approach to success of 3:59:59 or less.

    • Hi Bob,
      If you’ve been tapering and pulled back on your training a lot on the past few weeks, heavy legs are fairly common. Its a sign that your legs are well rested and carb-loading. Check out this page and scroll down to the heavy legs heading. You can do some strides after your runs to shake off any rust.

      Good luck in the marathon and let me know how it goes – either reply here or email me! Cheers!

  8. Hello. Back from the marathon weekend and the results were not what I expected (guess you can say it was worse than expected). Ran my 2nd worse marathon our of the past 7 completed marathons at 4:29:23. Ran first half in 1:56:00, pretty much steady and on target for what I was targeting. Then by mile 15, the lugnuts were lose and by mile 18 the wheels fell off. The elements were warmer the expected (race start was 54 degrees and by 11:30 it was 82 degrees with bright sunshine. I took water at every water station (approximately every 2 miles or less in some cases as I knew it was going to be a warm run). Also had plenty of nutrients with me as well, so I never felt “hungry” or weak. Felt the IT bands on both legs tightening up and then the quads said that they had enough soon after. So even with the water and steady first half it came undone in quick time. As they say, “some days you have good training days and sometimes you have bad training days s d you hope that you don’t have a bad training day on race day” – well that is what I say. πŸ™‚

    Back to recover mode and summertime break from training but still running to maintain, then get back to preparing for a January 2019 marathon.

    PS – the strides helped greatly with the heavy legs feeling.

    • Bob,

      This sucks. I’ve been there myself more than once; I feel prepared, then the first half goes fine, before things going overboard soon after the halfway point.

      Do you feel like you had enough electrolytes (salts)? And gels?

      It can be tough to pinpoint one factor which can lead to these things. I sometimes wonder if it’s partially psychological – in the past its felt like my uncertainty about my performance begins to lead to tighter legs. Maybe I’m looking too deeply into it, however.

      A summertime break sounds like a great plan πŸ™‚

  9. Hi. I’ll be running my second marathon (first in 2010) in November. My first was just to finish, and over the years i’ve gotten a bit stronger and now run a 53-55min 10km comfortably, and a 1/2 just under 2hrs, relatively comfortably. I would really like to finish around 3.50 -so i was really excited to see your training plan. My question is about hill training. I’ll be doing the Athens marathon, and it looks like it has a long, gradual elevation increase from about km 13 to km 30 and then it decreases until the finish. It’s so flat where i live (and sea level), that i’m having trouble figuring out if, how and when to incorporate hill training. I would appreciate any suggestions!

    Thanks, Maria

    • Hi Maria,

      I just checked out the elevation profile here – http://www.mapmyrun.com/sa/yanbu-al-bahr-al-madinah/athens-marathon-route-7902856.

      Looks like a great run that finishes at the original Olympic games stadium – awesome! I was in Athens recently and loved it.

      Yes, you need to get yourself to some hills!! Hopefully you don’t have to travel too far to get to them. My suggestion would be to do at least one run per week on hills which have a gradient slightly more intense than those in Athens. Perhaps you can alternate between doing a ‘regular run’ on the hills one week and your weekend long run on the hills the next. Hills put different stresses on your feet and legs so yeah, you should get accustomed to them.
      Fortunately the Athens hills are fairly gentle and the last 10km is practically all downhill. But even when running downhill you can get injured if you’re not used to it.
      Hope that’s of some help – let me know how you are getting on!

      • Very good advice! This is useful for me too! I have recovered from my injury in December and have resumed this training plan aiming to run the Athens Marathon. I’ll try not to over do it this time and will run for a Sub-4 hour instead of a Sub-3:30! All the best!

  10. Thanks so much for your reply – it was incredibly helpful, especially knowing when to work it in to the workouts. I’ll go hill hunting this weekend out in the countryside to see what’s available. Athens is amazing – I was born there and have been wanting to do the marathon for years! Thanks again and I’ll keep you posted πŸ™‚

    • Hi Thomas, I have a follow-up question πŸ™‚ i’ve gotten it in my head that i would like to run from Copenhagen to HolbΓ¦k, a distance of just about 60km. I would like to do it soon after my marathon in November. So, my question is, is it ok to just continue building on my kilometers after the marathon, or will the tapering period throw me off and it would be better to start building kms from a shorter distance? Hope that makes sense πŸ™‚
      P.S. last weekend was my 27km training run from your training plan and i had some good hills and it felt great – maybe not fast enough for sub-4, but that’s ok with me πŸ™‚

      • Hi Maria;

        It’s hard to advise without knowing the specifics of your situation, therefore I’d suggest that you only commit to the 60km run after you’ve run your marathon.

        After you’ve done a 42km run, you’ll have a much better idea if you can face a 60km run.

        Assuming that you have trained sufficiently and complete the marathon without too much difficulty, then I’d say you should manage the 60km – as long as you have a few weeks to recover. Just imagine re-plotting your training schedule so that the 60km is your actual target, and the marathon is your longest training run πŸ™‚

  11. Hi
    I’m aiming for my second marathon in April next year and I’m looking at using your sub-4 hour training program.
    Can you give some ideas on cross training activity? Is general gym work ok? (weights for upper and lower body) or is it better to do cardio?
    Thanks for your help.

    • Dan,
      Absolutely, gym work is recommended.

      I personally always have at least a couple of gym sessions per week in the run-up to an event.

      It can be hard to convince distance runners to lift some weights (or even step inside a gym), but those who do will agree with me – it really boosts your endurance. Having some muscle form means your body stays composed for much longer. I try and squeeze in one leg day per week, obviously strategically scheduled so it doesn’t disrupt training runs

      Some of my best race results have been during periods when I’ve been training hard in the gym; you’ll find that after a few hours on your feet, the improved form and muscle strength will really help carry you through, while others struggle.

      I have been meaning to compile a post on this subject for a while . . . thanks for reminding me – and let me know how it goes!



  12. Do you bring any extra fluids with you during the race or just rely on the provided stations? I didn’t have anything extra for my last marathon and was pretty thirsty the last few miles. I have friends who bring running belts with small bottles and things.

    • Hi Andrew;

      Great question. It all depends on what is available at the aid stations, and how frequent the aid stations are. So doing some research is key here.

      If there are frequent aid stations (every 2-3km, or more frequent) then I don’t bring anything specific, and just rely on what is available. If they are less frequent, then I’ll bring something. The other option when there are less frequent aid stations is top-up extra bottles at the aid stations, and carry the excess with you – which is better than carrying fluid all the way round the course.

      So basically, make sure you investigate the frequency of the aid stations before your run, and what is available – and plan accordingly!

  13. Hi, I am going to run a full marathon mid-April and have decided to follow your training plan starting next week. I have 2 questions:

    1. I haven’t run more than 10kms yet, but I have been running 8-10 kms twice a week for the past 1 month. I can comfortably maintain an average pace of 5:10-5:20 per km. How can I tweak the plan to my current fitness level? Should I start with typical runs of 8.5k and long slow of 15k? May be I can then take it to 31-33k by the 12 week?

    This is my first marathon and I don’t feel comfortable doing 33k as my longest run before the race day πŸ™‚

    2. In the article you suggested to do typical runs at marathon pace. Does that apply if I can do it quicker without spending all my energy?


    • Hi!
      For a typical run, the article gives specific pace advice – check it out above.

      For Speed Runs, it is quite individual so I can’t advise on one speed. I would describe the desired pace as ‘unsustainable’ or ‘to the borders of uncomfortable’. For example in fartleks, the pace should be one that you can just sustain for the length of the sprint.

      For long, slow runs, the objective is to build up time spent running, as opposed to distance. So the pace should be one at which you could comfortably hold a conversation. It can help to basically ignore your GPS / Pace device and just look at the clock.



  14. Hi Could you tell me if the days of training in your Marathon training plan can be changed/swopped round as I prefer to train on both days over the weekend and also include the long run at a weekend.



  15. Thanks for your plan. I used it as I really wanted to go under 4hrs. Despite some set backs during my trainign like knee problems, I ran London Marathon last Sunday in 03:41:57 which absolutely blew my mind! And I even picked up the pace a little in the last 2-3 miles. Unbelievable to me so will be trying now to go under 3:30.

  16. Hey – First thanks for the awesome information! This has been a blessing! Im already on week 3, but, I’m still confused on the Slow long run pace. How slower should I go base on the target being 8:46/per mile? I read in another place that it should be 30 to 60 seconds more than your target pace. So, to say that the slow run pace should be between 9:16/per mile and 9:46/per mile? Is this accurate on the slow long runs? Thanks so much for everything !

  17. Hi,
    I like your plan, but I know I won’t be able to run 4x a week on a regular basis. 3 is a realistic maximum.
    How could I adapt your plan to my limited time?
    The good thing is that I still have 9 months to prepare (training for Munich Marathon in mid-October).

    • Hey Lin,
      Thanks for your question!

      In response, Don’t spread our the plan – you’ll be running heightened mileage amounts for wayyy too long.

      The point of a good marathon training plan is to build your endurance in a sustainable way for a limited period – marathon training is intense, so it shouldn’t be done for more than 4-6 months.

      Instead, spend the next 5 months or so building up a solid running base with longer runs at weekends, and 2-3 runs / strength training sessions through the week. Focus on form and discipline. Then kick in the training plan.

  18. I think it’s great that you respond to these comments. I’m running Boston in a few weeks and have used your direction as my plan. So far, so good. Just have to manage my pace for the first downhill miles and not get too excited. Thanks for your help!

  19. I finished Boston Marathon Monday in 4:05. Ran this plan almost exactly–the only exception being my weight lifting plan was a little different. 60 y/o man so anyone younger or faster (that’s most of anyone reading this!) can do it. My friends who have run Boston tell me that if I had been on a flat course I would have quite likely broken 4:00 but I was pleased overall. In sum this plan worked for me.

  20. Hi, first of all I greatly appreciate your website as a newcomer to runner, it’s super informative. Second, I have a question regarding the intervals in this training plan. Now, on the spreadsheet, it says 2x 800m and the total distance is not specified but I subtract the total at the end of the week from the sum of the other training runs assuming needs to be done? My main question tho, is regarding the number of intervals. So, it starts off with 2 and peaks at 4 intervals, but on your guide on interval training, you recommend starting off with 4 intervals and peaking at 10 intervals. Now, do I need more intervals on my interval runs or follow the plan and do 2-4 intervals?

    • Hey Tamara!

      The mileage isn’t adding up because it includes a warmup / cooldown before and after the intervals which is mentioned in the Guidance Notes attached to the plan.

      As for no. of intervals…stick to the plan! It’s specific to your goal!


  21. Hello Thomas,

    I’ve started following this plan and the pace runs and interval training take quite a toll on me, moreso than the long run as speed is a challenge for me. Now, I would like to get in another strength training session in hopes of improving my strength but I’m not sure which day to do this so as to not sabotage my pace runs and interval run which I am just barely pulling through. Based on your strength training article, would you recommend to do this on the long run day, after the long run?

    Thanks in advance,

    • Hey Tamara!
      Given the 4-hr plan is fairly intense and you are already noting that balancing pace / interval training, I’d probably not recommend adding another strength training session – your body will struggle to find a window to recover from all the exercise!


  22. Just ran a 10km race at 48min. Im about to start the 4th week of the training plan. Im a relatively young man so I think I should have a good chance of making my sub 4-hour goal if I stick to your plan. It seems like a good framework! Thanks for the help.

  23. Hey, thanks for the plan. It has been really informative. A question for you…
    I am generally a pretty consistent runner, was training to run my first marathon in March 2020 but ‘covid’ at that time I was able to run 5/5:15/ km pretty well for 30-33k. Fast forward to Oct ’21, some weight gain, and not the same level fitness, and I ran a virtual marathon in about 4:13 on a very hilly route, with some knee issues around the half way mark. Carried all my fuel. Tried to go for the real deal in May ’22 and had terrible leg cramps from 20k (my guess is actually too much electrolytes). Finished 4:35. In both of those cases, I ran all my long runs at marathon pace (or tried to). I’m now eyeing Jan ’23 … all that being said, I find that when I go out for my training runs I’m running them at 5:10-5:20 the route almost always has some hills based on where I live… hitting those times is challenging, 6-8RPE but up to 8.5 km, and I can hold the pace. Running intervals 4:30-5/k and long runs are about 6:20/k.

    – should i keep training at this slightly faster pace or back off?
    – if i train at the faster pace, should I still aim for 5:27 on race day?
    – how much harm is the ocasional extra slow long run (part of my social routine?)

    Thanks for your help

  24. Hi Thomas, I’m 55 and running my first marathon mid April this year. Aiming for sub4 which seems doable as running half marathon in 1 hr 50 now. I need to warm up though to run 8.46 on training runs at this time of year to look after myself. I take it these warm up miles are just a given really and not included in your plan?

  25. Hi Thomas,
    First of all, amazing website! The holy grail for everyone who wants to run a marathon.

    I am a beginner and I started to follow your amazing 16 weeks training plan with the goal of running a sub-4 marathon before finding this post that you made on purpose for a sub-4 marathon. I am currently at week 4. I run my pace run faster than my marathon run and the 2 training runs at my marathon pace (5:27). I am quite determined to achieve my goal.

    What would be you advice on my personal case? Do you think I should switch to this plan or continue with the 16 weeks plan and include some adjustments as I go through it?

    Thank you so much for this!

      • Thank you for the quick answer! This gives me more confidence.

        Since I already booked my half marathon, and that would be on a different day, I think I will then work with a mix of the 2 plans. I can see that at the end they are not too different and the core structure is the same.

        Thank you again for all πŸ™‚

  26. Thank you coach Thomas πŸ™πŸ½
    I just started my running journey last year, and did my first ever marathon on this July by following your Training Plan. And You know what, i finished my marathon 3 hours 54 minutes..

    Many thank coach 😁

  27. Hi Thomas
    Just a quick message to you and the team to say a huge thank you for such an informative website and such a great sub-4 hour marathon training plan. I’ve just completed my first marathon (Southampton, UK), having followed your plan to the letter, and was delighted to get round in 03:57:42, coming 33/99 in my category (V50) and 289/869 overall. Your plan design, giving you that 10 minute buffer to cover for unforeseen circumstances is genius and was much needed on the day, where I faced gusts of 45mph, some nasty hills and ended up having to run 26.55 miles to get to the finish line, with the extra 1/3 mile also eating up a few extra minutes. I am so chuffed with my achievement and so much of what made it a success comes down to your excellent plan. Thanks again and keep up the great work!

  28. Another thank-you from the UK. I’m a 56 year old man, running regularly for three and a bit years and did a sub 2 hour half marathon last autumn. I thought a sub 4 hour marathon would be a challenge, but not unimaginable if I prepared properly.

    I followed your sub 4 hour plan as closely as I could. I had a little time in hand so repeated a couple of weeks in the middle.

    This morning I had a bit of a crisis of confidence as my legs were achey in spite of the taper. But the plan worked, and I completed the Newport Marathon today in 03:49:37. I couldn’t have done it without you!


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