How To Run A Sub 3 Hour Marathon + Training Plan

How To Run A Sub 3 Hour Marathon + Training Plan

Running a marathon is a goal within itself, however, once you have completed a marathon, the next step is to give yourself time goals. 

One of the most coveted time goals for marathon runners is running a sub-3-hour marathon

While it is possible, but not recommended, to run a marathon with very little training, running one in under 3-hours is not. 

In order to beat the clock, you need to put in the work and preparation. 

In this article, we will be looking at some tips on how to run a sub-3-hour marathon and a general training plan. 

Sub-3-Hour Marathon Tips

There are some general pieces of advice that can help you achieve your goal of running a sub-3-hour marathon. 

Other than undertaking a training plan, it is important that you give yourself enough time to improve before the marathon otherwise you will be shooting yourself in the foot. 

Below are some tips to help you get through your training in the best physical and mental health possible.


One of the main things that prevent people from achieving their marathon goals is a lack of focus. 

No matter whether you are attempting a sub-4 or a sub-3-hour marathon, without focus and dedication to your training, it will be very difficult to reach your goal.  

There are many things that you can do to help keep you focused and motivated during your training. 

These things include recording your progress and keeping those records easily visible to you. 

Whatever you choose to keep you focused, it is important to remember that without focus, you will be less likely to stick to your training plan and reach your goal.  


In a similar category to focus, consistency is key in being able to achieve a sub-3-hour marathon time. 

Without focus, you will have no consistency, and without consistency, you will struggle to make enough progress to finish the marathon before the 3-hour mark.  

Missing a training session for anything other than illness or injury may not seem like a big deal. 

However, when you factor in the risk of injury setting back your training, the odd missed session can soon add up. 

There is no worse feeling than falling short of your goal and knowing that you could have put more effort into your training. 


Pacing is important in marathon running no matter how quickly or slowly you want to do it and can make or break your success. 

The art of pacing comes naturally to some runners, but for others, it can take some practice. 

When training for a marathon you should practice running at a certain pace to ensure that it is ingrained in your mind and muscle memory.

Rest And Recovery

As with any kind of physical training, rest and recovery are one of the most important aspects. 

Without adequate rest and recovery time, you will become burnt out before the marathon and will likely struggle to get anywhere near sub-3-hours.  

Sub-3-Hour Marathon Training Plan

A reasonable sub-3-hour marathon training plan should begin 20-24 weeks before the event. 

A reasonable training plan should begin 20-24 weeks out from the event. 

The general idea is to begin gradually and build up to full-distance runs. 

In between this, you should pepper targeted strength training and higher intensity runs and workouts. 

It is important to factor in one rest day per week which can be increased during illness and injury. 

Your training plan should be broken up into 4-week sections.

Strength And Conditioning

A running-specific strength and conditioning routine should be implemented before you attempt to increase the mileage of your runs. 

This can help reduce your risk of injury and improve your overall performance.  

Typical running conditioning exercises include core workouts, single-leg balance work, and plyometric exercises such as burpees. 

Ideally, you should incorporate these types of workouts 2-3 times per week at the start and reduce the frequency as you increase your mileage. 

Easy Runs

Easy runs should be completed on days that follow an intense run or workout the previous day. 

They can also be incorporated as a second run if you are completing two sessions in a day.

The method of completing an easy run after an intense one is a typical workout method of East African elite runners.  

Long Runs

Long runs are the pinnacle of marathon training plans. 

Best implemented on your days off from work, these runs should be around 10kn at the beginning of your training and stretch to around 22 miles towards the end.

It is a good idea to run these training runs at an average of one minute slower than your intended race pace.  

Approximately 8 weeks out from the event, it is a good idea to introduce blocks of race pace running. 

These are best done at the end of your runs to experience running race pace when you are fatigued.  

Tempo Runs

Tempo runs are essentially runs that are faster-paced than other training runs.

You should be running on the edge of your comfort zone or your ‘threshold’.

A tempo run should be 45-60 min, once per week. It is a good idea to run tempo runs at ~25-30 secs quicker than your intended race pace

Speed Work

Speed work involves hill sprints and interval runs to help with conditioning and overall fitness. 

Hill sprints are great for improving form and strength. 

A good session should last for a total of 40 minutes after a sufficient warm-up. 

20 minutes will be taken up with high-effort sprints up the hill. 

The other 20 minutes will be spent on recovery jogs or walks down the hill.  

Interval runs are designed to improve your overall cardiovascular endurance and fitness. 

It is easiest to perform these on a running track, but any flat, quiet sidewalk or park will do. 

Common intervals are 16x400m and 8x800m. You should build up to the maximum number of repetitions throughout the program.

A ‘pyramid’ style interval workout can provide some variety. Intervals of 200m, 400m, 600m, 800m, 1km, 1.2km, 1km, 800m, 600m, 400m, 200m with 90 second recoveries will cover 7.2km.

Final Thoughts

A sub-3-hour marathon is perfectly attainable for almost any runner provided that they follow a good training plan, are consistent, and remain focused.

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