Sub-4 Marathon goal

Any advice would be appreciated. I have run 4 marathons but failed to break 4 hours in each - PB is 4h15m.

My PB for the Half is 1h43m.  In training I run around 40 miles a week, in 5 sessions; 1 long slow run per week, top 5 long runs adding up to 90 miles; 1 lactate threshold run a week (5 to 10 miles) at sub 8' mile pace; 1 set of intervals a week (eg 10 x 800 or 4 x 1m, at 7' mile pace); 2 easy jog days.

I am getting slightly quicker with each marathon, but nowhere near a sub-4 h.  Usual tail-off in last 6 miles.  Given my Half M time I should be well under 3h50....what am I doing wrong?



  • You could try more long runs in your training. Anything up to 5 x 20 plus mile long runs should help improve your marathon time.

    Your half PB suggests a sub 4 is possible and if your finding it difficult for the last 6 miles I feel it is your endurance. So more long runs would help.

    40 miles total weekly mileage is a bit light too. Possible build this up to 50 - 55 miles. This will also make an improvement. Just remember with the total weekly and long run mileage, only build up by no more then 10% a week.

  • yes what are your long runs building up to race day?
  • TeknikTeknik ✭✭✭
    16,18,18,18, peaking at 20 three weeks before race day ...although this year, as Solent Runner says, I'll probably try a few more 20's
  • TeknikTeknik ✭✭✭

    Thanks Solent Runner

    If I need to up the mileage from 40+ to 50+, that sounds like cutting one of the two rest days. What would the best use of my time be - a 10 mile marathon pace run? 

  • Teknik I went sub 4 first attempt

    And as above did 3 long runs 20 plus, 20 21.5 & 23
    Lots just under too, 18.5 & 19.5. All of these had some tough hills in too.

    My peak week was 50ish too. Although I had some kick back weeks to let my body catch up if feeling tired.

    Lots of cross training, core & circuit classes every week as well.
  • TeknikTeknik ✭✭✭

    Thanks fit-running-cat

    What pace did you do those very long runs of 20/21.5/23 in?

  • What about adding in a medium length run in midweek e.g. 12m on Wed. This could be more beneficial than the the intervals, or rotate between the two
  • TeknikTeknik ✭✭✭

    Thanks dean101

    I guess that would be the link between the 40m per week and the 50m+ Solent Runner was suggesting (assuming I build up to it over a few weeks). What pace should I run a 12 miler - goal marathon pace?

  • My HM PB is 1.43 but I managed my first marathon (VLM) in 3.54.
    I think the tip about longer "big" runs is right. Lots of miles per week is important but the "experience" of those monster runs trains the brain as well as the body. I did 3 x +20 miles in weeks -3,-4 and -5 of the marathon. Longest was 24 and that was in 4.00!
    Mentally those monster runs were critical - getting used to that total physical emptiness that hits you sometime in last 6 miles but still having the mental determination to dig deep and keep up a pace that will break the 4.00 barrier.
    Best of luck, train hard and I'm sure you'll get there.
  • I think you would benefit from extending your long runs to peak at 22, if you then work backwards from that, you'll be putting in proportionally longer runs earlier in your campaign too.

    A longer midweek run really works for me, starting at about 7or 8 and building up to no more than 13 in the third week before the race.

    I rarely run more than 4 times per week, I would do a long run, a midweek "longer" run, a tempo run of 5-6 miles and a session that rotated between fartlek/intervals/hills.   I often run only 3, and skip the tempo run.

  • Oh, and if I skip a run I go to the gym and do rowing, a tready hill session and the cross trainer.

    Re the pace, for my own long runs around 30 seconds per mile slower than MP.

  • I really feel for you... with that training, you deserve better times. In no particular order, some random thoughts.

    Is there anything else we'd want to know about you that might help us understand these times? Age/weight/injuries/athletic history/diet?

    Do you feel like you're recovering enough between runs? Perhaps less is more.

    What kind of race day nutrition/hydration have you been doing? Carboloading beforehand?

    Were these awful conditions (hilly/cold/ ...)?

    I hate to mention it, but some people just aren't cut out for distance (just as some aren't made for sprinting). If this is you, are there other distances you'd feel good about focusing on?

    Good luck!

  • Geordie Boys description of the last 3-5 miles is spot on too.. it does get tougher. Increasing "your ability to suffer" was the phrase one coach used in a workshop.

    Teknik, My long runs varied between 8.30 - 9.30 minute miles.. though there were hills in there. Never completely flat. Argueable that these runs were faster than I needed to do them at, but worked for me.

    Re-reading your first post

    Teknik wrote (see)
    My PB for the Half is 1h43m.  In training I run around 40 miles a week, in 5 sessions; 1 long slow run per week, top 5 long runs adding up to 90 miles; 1 lactate threshold run a week (5 to 10 miles) at sub 8' mile pace; 1 set of intervals a week (eg 10 x 800 or 4 x 1m, at 7' mile pace); 2 easy jog days.

    I am getting slightly quicker with each marathon, but nowhere near a sub-4 h.  Usual tail-off in last 6 miles.  Given my Half M time I should be well under 3h50....what am I doing wrong?

    I never did 5 days a week, always 3, and occasionally 4 so worked out minimum of 30 miles a week.. you need to have time to recover, although I did cross train as well, often on the same day as a run.

    Not anal/ specific on threshold/ tempo/ intervals either...  Just long/ slower, medium/ hard/ recovery...

    I thought intervals were meant to only be every fortnight or more?

    Anyway, 1 long run Saturdays (but not every single week, occasionally a rest week) 14-23 miles

    Tuesday short recovery run 5 miles or hard hills / tough run 10 miles faster pace.

    thursday recovery run 8-11 miles - very slow pace 10-11 min miles.

    occasionally one of these slow ones fridays too, but as a trail run, so hills - allows you to get the mileage in safely when tired.

    Also football (speed session sort of), 2-3 gym classes so core work covered, and some personal training sessions.

    End result 3h 48m last month - and that was on a tough course with 3 lots of varying tough hills - so on a flat, 3hr 40 ish likely according to people is possible.

    Just knocked off 3min 30s of my half time last week, now 1hr 36, and was very close to getting into 1h35.

  • TeknikTeknik ✭✭✭

    Thanks all

    It is a tricky balance between getting the miles in (quality miles) and recovering.  I've just tweaked by schedule to get it over 50 miles per week and it is a scary sight.

    As an example: (4 weeks to go)

    M: rest

    T: 22m long run

    W: 4m recovery

    Th: rest

    Fr: 10 x 800m at 3'15" pace (I am living proof that Yasso 800 is a poor predictor) 

    Sa: 6m easy

    Su: 11m at goal pace (9'09") 

    I've done lots of the predictor tests (eg McMillan) and the usual result is, based on the Half M time, the predicted Marathon time is too fast, whereas I am in fact much faster than predicted at shorter distances ( eg sub 40 10k).

    I am a 46 year old man, 12 stone (by the end of the training !), 6 foot tall. I do all the right things re hydration/gels during the race. No excuses re conditions - my last race was Berlin (4h15). Previous PB (4h17) was Halstead (which is really hilly).

    Maybe I should just go back to the 400m hurdles....

  • Teknik, what do you do for recovery exactly?

    Best tip I got, week 2 of 20 from a sports scientist guru.. was chocolate milk straight after the LSR.. literally 2 minutes after.

    Either a goodness shakes (expensive) or a kids yazoo (cheap and exactly the same, even in 2 for 1 offers). Then porridge with fruit and maybe more good food if needed on the really big runs.Tons of liquid, water, and also some zero tablets to replenish salts, minerals.

    Looking at your suggested plan, seriously for me would be too much. I'd swap in some cross training for definite to be fresh. You just to do longer runs the last 3-5 weeks of your plan, rest is probably fine.

    There is a sub 4 thread on here.. come join.

  • TeknikTeknik ✭✭✭


     Like the choccie milk's on the shopping list now.

    The "recovery" run is a treadmill job, slightly uphill, at a slow pace (10' mile)

  • 11m at goal pace...Is that with or without a warm up?

    That sounds like a tough session - could you not make the goal pace sessions part of your long run i.e. 7m aerobic run, 11m at goal pace, 2m warm down for an example 20m.

    Also, this would be far too hard to do every week, only 3 or 4 throughout the training plan.

  • Seriously choc milk works.. I was out on my feet the first week or two of long runs.

    Chocolate milk is a perfect carbs and protein mix right when you need them... intravenous style !

    I'd would drink anything upto 2 litres of water after that, with zero tablet in one of these.

    Yazoos are in 500 ml size, but you can also get pack of 3 x 200 ml.. handy for shorter runs.

     and as for the 5 days running, no, just concentrate on the quality, especially that long run.

    I got into a pretty good routine, up for small breakfast 6 ish, out at 8.30am, then finishing whatever time that week, food & choc milk after.

    Oh, breakfast, other sports science thing, you've got to have something before going out.. even light.

    And Dean is talking sense, you would'nt do goal pace every week.

  • TeknikTeknik ✭✭✭

    Hi dean 101

    The goal pace medium run is a new addition to the plan, so I haven't thought it through...maybe it should be 2 warm up/ 7 goal pace / 2 warm down.

    My long runs in past years were mix a slow long (eg 20m) in week A, with a "fast finish" long (eg 13m with last 4m at goal pace) in week B.

  • I think you are doing everything right. Do you include a half marathon and 20 mile race in your training program as milestones to reach in your build up to the marathon? Do you taper sufficiently? I did 1:39 in a half this year and ran two 3:46 marathons and one 4:06.. I believe you sometimes need a bit of luck. Do you think it's physical or in your head? Do you pace yourself properly? Do you overtrain or leave your best race in training?

    I'm sure you will run sub 4 next time!

  • TeknikTeknik ✭✭✭

    Hi Russell

     I think it's a yes to every question, including perhaps overtraining. If I'm honest the last few miles are a psychological issue - I train and run on my own, and the last few miles are a constant "why am I doing this..." battle.

  • I wish I could offer some concrete advice, but you do seem to have all the obvious areas covered.

    On a gut level, I don't think you need 50 mpw to go sub-4. I'd consider cutting back on some of the quality work to see how that feels.

    As far as the psychological side of things, I've drawn lots of inspiration from the race reports in the sub 3:15 thread. (It's a slog to find them, but if you troll through just after the vlm date, you'll get some. edit: see page 583 of the sub 3:15 as well for a good'un from Race Jase.)

    Again, good luck.
  • Race Jase did a blog for Liverpool too, will dig it out

    Think I only went 50 plus once in training and suffered for it the week after
    Being fresh for the next week was more important to me
  • TeknikTeknik ✭✭✭
    Thanks for the tips guys...will trawl the threads for inspiration.
  • You do not need to be running 50 plus miles a week to run a sub 4 marathon, but from a personal point of view I found increasing my mileage to that level had good results for my marathon PB. I suppose it depends what sort of free time you have each week.
  • TeknikTeknik ✭✭✭

    You've not met the wife...

  • With your avatar picture, it looks to me that should not be an issueimage.
  • I was in exactly the same position. 4 marathons between 4.07 and most recently 4.27 in March this year. I changed schedule and did the latest 3.45 version on this site. It made an incredible difference. Main improvement was that most long runs are split runs. This means that half of the run is at an easy pace with the second half being at race pace. Really got used to running long with tired legs. Only needed the 2 suggested 20 mile runs. Found myself really looking forward to the 'hard' second half of the session.

    Anyway, just got back from Athens where I ran 3.36! Can't quite believe it and feel i could have gone quicker! Now for sub 3.30....
  • TeknikTeknik ✭✭✭
    Wow, that's an incredible improvement.  Did you change anything else, other than the "fast finish" long runs?
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