How To Run A Sub-4-Hour Marathon

Nailing your mile pace to run a sub-4 hour marathon will guarantee a successful marathon build-up from the get-go.

After running nine marathons and jumping into parts of several with the athletes I’ve coached, I continue to learn the different strategies that work for the other runners aiming for the sub-4 hour barrier. There is no one right way that works for everyone, but there is something that works for you. Let’s find it!

Today, we’re going to review:

  • How to safely increase your running mileage and stamina to hold a sub-4-hour marathon pace
  • How to incorporate proper recovery techniques and running drills to keep you strong and injury-free during your build-up

The 4 Hour Marathon

A sub-4-hour marathon is well under the average time it takes for any runner to complete a marathon; it’s competitive!

In a recent study by Runnerclick, the fastest 40-49 with an average marathon time of 04:22:03.

Suppose you look at the data from the study above. In that case, it’s pretty clear that a sub-4-hour marathon is beyond your average marathon time – it’s incredible!

Running a marathon in under four hours means you’ve sustained an average pace of under 9:09 min/mile for 26.2 miles. To get to this level, you need to have:

A training schedule

A planner to time your runs around your busy work lifestyle and plan the appropriately timed workouts as your goal marathon race approaches

Proper recovery routine(s) and workouts that meet you where you’re at currently with your fitness

How To Run A Sub-4-Hour Marathon

To achieve a sub-4 hour marathon, below are training staples that would be great smaller goals to check off your list during your marathon build-up. These include:

Dedicating 25-30 miles a week on your feet

Training your body to be able to jog/walk for up to two and a half hours

Running, or run/walking a ~8:23 min/mile for a half marathon (1 hour 50 minute half marathon)


In order to avoid hitting the wall or getting injured while training, you should put in a minimum of about four to six months of dedicated marathon training.

The Training

A successful 4-hour marathon is all about pacing.

Your pacing strategy will ultimately allow you to run a sub-4-hour marathon. It’s helpful to follow a training plan or work with a coach to adapt your training to your fitness needs. If a running/walking strategy works best for you, that’s how you should train. Whichever way you choose to prepare, make sure it’s consistent and aligns with how you plan to participate in your marathon on race day. Full disclosure: a run/walk strategy for a sub-4 hour marathon works! I’ve coached Athlete Jennifer Chambers (below) through it! Just saying! If she found a way to train for a sub-4-hour marathon, so can you! It would help if you had discipline, time, patience, and resilience. That’s all:)

Athlete Jennifer Chambers ran a sub-4-hour marathon this past February at the Mesa Marathon!

The Sub-4-Hour Marathon Pace

In order to get around your marathon in exactly 4 hours, you would need to run under 9 minutes 9 seconds per mile pace, or under 5 minutes 40 seconds per kilometer for 26.2 miles.

The thing here is that no athlete running is the same, and anything can happen on race day. It’s essential to focus on what you can control, regardless of the weather, and trust your training. Also, it could be helpful to add a buffer of a couple of minutes during your race. Hence, you have the flexibility to slow down if you need to during it.

Do your running workouts at a pace faster than what you plan to run on race day. For example, if you plan to run intervals of 3 minutes at a pace slightly faster than a marathon pace effort, run these at a pace closer to your half-marathon goal pace. In other words, closer to 8:50-8:55 min/mile pace. Print this pace out, and write it down on a post-it note on your wall or whoever you need to see it to keep you motivated and remember your goal pace!

When I ran a sub-4-hour marathon, I made sure to get comfortable running a bit faster during Fartlek runs (runs with different paces during the run, both faster and slower). I also made sure to increase the duration of my long runs progressively. Hence, I had enough time spent on my feet, simulating what the fatigue on my legs would feel like on race day. Layering in some strides during some more effortless effort runs helped me learn how to push the pace on somewhat tired legs.

Training For The 4 Hour Marathon

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

My training plan intends to increase your maximum mileage and develop your running base to be super strong.  

Doing this is a critical ingredient in running at a consistent pace for four hours or finding your unique way to get there.

The types of training to include in your sub-4-hour marathon build-up I’d recommend are:

The long, easy effort runs – once a week to increase your stamina, your endurance, and your heart and lung strength

Interval training – introduce quicker paces to your training once a week to train your body to push the pace during race day. A great place to start would be to work towards breaking a 9-minute mile, as described here. Interval training is a mixture of running fast and slow, simply put!

Cross-training – include 1-2x/week to work your aerobic fitness in ways that running doesn’t. These sessions can range from 30-minutes to 60-minutes. You can access one of my favorite go-to cross-training workouts below!

Running technique and injury prevention drills (located here) – schedule time to perform these 2x/day daily to ensure your recovery approach between runs and between training blocks works best for you!

How Long Does It Take To Train For A Sub-4-Hour Marathon?

To build up the running stamina and the consistency of pace to run a sub-4hr marathon, most people with a reasonable base fitness level would require a complete minimum of six months. I recommend up to 8 if you’d like to include a pre-marathon base-building phase. The more time you give yourself, the slower you can progress in mileage and the added stress that marathon training brings. Doing this allows your body to acclimatize to new activities. It avoids the risk of overreaching or doing too much too soon. 

Customizable Marathon Training Plan

Please enter your first name and email address after watching the video in this link to gain access to your FREE Customizable 24-Week Marathon Training Program now! 

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