I must get sub 3hr marathon next Spring - but how?!!

Hi all,

I am an experienced runner (49) capable of 1.25m half marathon, 40m 10k etc., but nothing better than 3.07 for the marathon. Just ran Chester with just my normal weekly training runs of up to 7m with just 2 x half marathons as long run prep in the last 2 weeks beforehand and still managed 3.14 but really want to apply some extra attention to getting that elusive 2.59 next year for my 50th!

I guess I am guilty of simply heading out most days for between 4 - 7m and just run with no speed work etc., I then run the usual races throughout with 2 or 3 marathons per year mixed in.

Considering the above what would be the best advice for the next 6-months to seriously give it a good go in order to finally crack the sub 3hr? I usually find I can comfortably get to half way, and beyond, in the target time but then run out of puff before turning in some 8m miles for the last 4 or 5m's etc.,

What is the best option - is it to follow a dedicated sub-3hr plan, change diet, loose weight (11st 7lb) increase mileage (approx 150m per month) or all of these!! Plans seem the most difficult - much easier to just head out and run!

As I will be 50 next year I would love to achieve this either at London or a late summer marathon (Chester again) if things don't work out. Woudl love to hear from anyone with similar experiences of trying to crack this target.

Thanks all. 



  • you simply need to give the marathon the respect it deserves.

    if you're not doing a good 3-5 training runs around the 20mile  distance, how can you possibly hope to perform well over 26.2 on the day?

  • Thanks Stevie, perhaps I worded it wrong - my normal marathon trainign takes place in the months leading up to London where I certainly do put in the long runs (plus a 20m race which I did in 2.15 this year) but used the Chester example to illustrate some core fitness is there at least!

    Plan to keep the long runs going from now through to April (if it helps!).

  • To be fair, 3:07 is a pretty reasonable return off a 1:25 HM and 40 min 10K.


    You just need to concentrate on stuff that address what you perceive to be your weaknesses. So, fast finishing 22 milers for instance, 10 mile progressive runs starting steadily and working through marathon pace, HM pace and finishing around 10K pace for instance.

  • BirchBirch ✭✭✭

    HF - my last sub-3 was at age 47 (I'm 58 now), and I reckoned 1:24 ish converted to the mara goal. A (the) key factor relevant to you is that a 2:15 untapered 20 miler (6:45 pace) meant (with taper),  I could go thru in the mara at that pace, leaving 44 min for the last 10k ( a bit over 7 min pace);  which if properly prepared (see prf above), is definitely doable. 

  • Thanks all, I thought I was going to be fairly close this year after the 2.15 20m but then ended up with a stinking cold 2-weeks out which really put me back - was still not quite over it on the day. Perhaps not the best option either to run another, hilly, marathon 3-weeks out from London too so legs were probably still tired.

    Will leave the extra marathon for next April and concentrate on London. Just feel 2.15 for the 20m doesn't leave me enough for the final 6m but as Birch/PRF says is dooable if you have the prep beforhand. Perhaps I was on the way this year but need to find the extra 5% or so to be sure.

  • Since the numbers are coincidental, it may be of interest that I ran a 2:15:03 20 miler in the build up to VLM and then VLM was 2:57.

    For Chester last week there was no 20 miler in the build up but a 1:18:41 HM and that led to a 2:55 marathon (probably worth 2:53 as a VLM equivalent).

    It might help with some of your number crunching but so much of a marathon is circumstantial that you cant be surprised if the time isnt quite what it should have been in theory.

  • 15West15West ✭✭✭

    I went sub 3 at Chester getting a PB of around 15 minutes - the main difference to my training was more mileage...especially mid length mid week runs as well as the long run on the weekend. Some of the long runs were also partly ran at MP. I followed the P&D 50 to 70 mile a week schedule and didn't miss one session.  As a note I didn't race at all in my build up expect one 5k park run 3 weeks before; and my current half pb is 1.27 which I got in March.

  • Agree with 15West, I have done sub 3 twice now off of a 1:27 half pb. I have also found regular track sessions to be of help and of course "focus". The first time I achieved it, I was coming back from an injury and trained 10 months with the sole focus of a sub 3 at London. The second time it was a little easier only 6 or 7 months! Of course, if you have natural ability you probably can just turn up and do it. But for the rest of us it is amazing how far you can go on lots of miles and relentless focus.

  • One Gear, (with due respect) you need to give that HM time some attention. You should get 1:23.

    Personally, I fitted a similar profile to Hammers, who, if I recall correctly was a stalwart 3:15 contributor. I was aged 48 when I finally hit sub 3.
    Key factors?
    The previous year I did a lot of racing and long interval training. Pbs in every distance except marathon. On the year in question I still did a number of shorter races, but the focus was clearly on the big one. It was all about mental strength. You'll need to strength to put in some strongly paced distance training. I was recommended that I needed to be doing 60mpw, but the log shows only 50 average. Having the bottle to give it a go is important. But you've got to be prepared for it to go tits up and not have another chance for 6 months.
    The year I went sub 3, I did do it twice, but didn't pb in any other distance that year. What does that say? How do I know?

  • Blisters, 1:25 would be a dream. But I have to admit I haven't focussed on a half for some time - in fact I don't really do many races, usually just London and maybe my local half or 10k once per year. The fastest I have ever done a half has been the first half of London the last two times. I have done unofficial half pbs on both occasions.

    Apparently not allowed to claim these as official pbs and certainly not recommending to anyone else that the way to do a sub 3 hrs is to do a half pb for the first half and then just hang on!!!

  • HammersFan wrote (see)
    I guess I am guilty of simply heading out most days for between 4 - 7m and just run with no speed work etc., I then run the usual races throughout with 2 or 3 marathons per year mixed in.

    Herein lies the answer I'd have thought. Speedwork should be a core element of your training to get faster. marathon specific speedwork should include a mixture of fartleks, threshold/tempo runs and intervals in addition to your long runs which are designed to increase endurance.

    If you start to include these early in your schedule, you'll see the benefits

  • Thanks all, will especially look out for some speedwork plans as this seems to be the most obvious gap in my schedule. Some other great tips above though and I will be paying attention to them over the course of the next 6-months.

  • I too hope to get under 3 this year, last year only managed to do 3. 11 despite racing a 20 miler in 2 12 in the build up. Possibly slowed by the weather - was a storm during the mk mara. Am trying to do as much bad weather training as possible to toughen myself up.
  • Surrey - Racing a 20 miler in a marathon build up is a very risky thing to do. If you do, you'll probably have a 90% chance of having scuppered your marathon right there.

    A bit slower than expected marathon race pace is about where to pitch it.

  • Thanks park run

    The 20 miler was more than two months before the mara so should have been plen tof time to recover.
  • Best way I know to build up endurance is back-to-back long runs. If you're running out of puff like you say, consider trying these: - do a semi-long run the day after your long run, working up to 22+12, say every second week. Absolutely kills at first but it does get easier. I did them every other week in building up for a 50K which was 10 weeks before my mara. Then (after a week or two of rest & light running) dropped my weekly mileage a bit and went for speedwork in the lead up to the mara.

  • parkrunfan wrote (see)

    Surrey - Racing a 20 miler in a marathon build up is a very risky thing to do. If you do, you'll probably have a 90% chance of having scuppered your marathon right there.

    A bit slower than expected marathon race pace is about where to pitch it.

    Thanks PRF, this is interesting as I tend to do 4 or 5 half's in the 3-months prior to London and a 20m race about 4-weeks out. I would have thought this was good for building up race speed. Is this considered bad practice then?

  • Looking at some of the posts I must conclude that I am either not destined to run sub 3 or I am going about it all the wrong way. Perhaps its genetics? Some of the guys I run against in the local League fixtures I beat easy on the shorter distances?

    Regarding the point above i did neither a 20m or HM in the 16 week build to this Marathon. 

    As a very brief synopsis: Running seriously for 3 years. 1st Marathon 3:12 in atrocious conditions, London this year in 3:01, and I put that down to the hotel restaurant not delivering its promise to open early for breakfast and ended up running on a porridge to go) so immediately signed up for the Mablethorpe yesterday (6th Oct). Trained to a 16 programme, up to 65m at peak week. Had a plethora of PB's during the course as a 17:15 park run, a 36:11 10k, and a sub 1:20 HM. Carbed up 3 days before the Mablethorpe, iso gelled out of my eyeballs during the race and faded at 18 from a solid Avg 6:46 pace to 7:05, then 8, then walked 10 mmile, then jogged at 8 mmile to come in at 3:11:01. I don’t know what went wrong. I ran at least 6 plus 20 races at varying paces easy, steady and some split 10m at easy, 10m at MP. Intervals on a Tuesday on the track varied from 6 x 1m to 5 x 2k all below 5:20 pace, Wednesday was a mid-week long run peaking at 13m, Thursday was a traditional tempo at about 10k, and HM pace from 3-6miles depending on what was in store for the weekend. 4 weeks before I peaked at a 23miler at 7:10 pace and felt amazing!!!! I tapered from then and felt strong and fresh on race day. I have a Good for Age entry into London next year already, so what do I need to do? My diets spot on, I supplement, I ice bath after LR's...............I’m licking my wounds at the moment but know I can do it!!!!!

    Any advice and support would be much appreciated!!!!


  • Jason George 4 - you are clearly capable of sub 3 but your last post gives the game away.

    I did my first marathon in 3:12 at the age of 50 and got my first sub 3, five years later.

    Why does your post give it away? Because you blame the hotel for the breakfast, whereas I take my breakfast with me and have it in the hotel room and it is the same breakfast I always have.

    "Iso-gelled out of my eyeballs" - I  practise my fuelling in my training runs and I never change it for the race.

    It is also said that marathon running requires physical changes to your body that can take some years of marathon training before you are at your best.

    I personally wouldn't do a 20 mile race only 4 weeks from the marathon.

    Pay attention to these details and I am sure you will achieve it,

  • MillsyMillsy ✭✭✭
    One Gear, I think your points are spot on.
  • Thanks for the vote of confidence One Gear, i take on board all of the points you have made. I meticulously planned the breakfast before the Mablethorpe as we stopped in a caravan and the fuelling beforehand on the long runs and though i had it spot on. On the day, my point regarding the gels was that I had ended up taking extra on board just to complete the course! 

    Most of the schedules seem to peak at Wk 13 (of a 16 Wk programme) with the longest run of about 22-23 at about 10% plus on target MP. As I said I felt amazing after this and honestly believed it was in the bag thereafter. Peaked too soon????

    I have read that it can take a few years to reach your M potential. I just feel as though i had gone backwards after training harder and clearly getting stronger and faster!

    XC season is nearly upon me (5 weeks) so will get a good winter of aerobic endurance under my belt, before the build up for the London next year. 

    How soon do you think i should get back out on the longer runs? I would like to keep up my LR endurance and get back into 16m easy runs in about 4 weeks and up until Xmas concentrate on shorter Parkrun type goals. Not sure if i mentioned but i am a Vet 40 (42).  

  • Hi Jason - normally what I would be doing now is base mileage this would typically be 3 hard weeks and one easy.

    The hard weeks would be in the 40 to 50 miles per week and within this I would cycle my long runs 16, 18, 20.

    So a typical months running would be as follows:

    Long run 16 total miles 40

          "        18          "       44     

         "         20         "        50

         "        10          "        30

    That gives a very good base for when the training proper starts after Christmas.

    Other than London I do almost no races these days but my long training runs are at a much faster pace than usually recommended.

    So from this you can see that my advice would be to get back into those 16 m plus runs from here in.

  • Thanks again One Gear, I was afraid you would be telling me to have a couple of weeks off!! I am foing to follow that plan although I do have to commit to 4 XC league races from Nov to Feb. Still these are c10k on Saturday so will be planning these on my easy weeks as such.

    I figure if I knock out regular 16-20 in 6:40 - 7:00 mile pace come as you say proper training I will be good to go!
  • Whoaaaaa Jason!!! - when I said my long runs were faster than recommended I didn't mean that fast. Most schedules even for sub 3 would say the LSRs should be around the 8 to 9 m/m. Mine would come in at about 7:30 m/m.

    If you think about it 6:40 is sub 3 marathon race pace! There is no way I could do that in training and I think you will struggle.

    One other thing that I think is important is to find a track session once a week. Something a bit different and helps with basic speed. For me that was particularly important as I only have "One Gear" - for you maybe less so. Keep posting will be interesting to see how you progress.

  • Understood! Been to the track tonight to catch up with the guys! I was itching to get into a 6x1m sesh but maybe in a couple of weeks. Our Tue sessions are typically 4-6 x 1m 3-5 2k or 5-7 1k sessions with 1-2 mins recovery. Normally at c5:20 pace or below (I train with some quick guys!!).  

    Thu club sessions are normally a tempo at 10k / HM Pace between 3-6m depending on what is going on at the weekend i.e. Parkruns or XC.

    In a nutshell I get in three key sessions a week, our bread and butter, everything else is at recovery pace.

    Excuse my ignorance but unless I continue to improve my speed over the longer runs could I still fall short in the Marathon? A running friend only runs up to 10k’s but runs a regular weekend long route of 18m at 6:20 pace!!! I know a different class altogether (he’s sub 34 10k!) but is it all relative?

    Will keep posting now I seem to have the ‘ear’ of someone in the know!

    Would also be interested to hear from anyone else who has any supporting, conflicting or radical training advice / tactic! I am super psyched, primed and ready to go!! 


  • A classic track session is Yassoo 800s. If you can do repeat 800s - say 8 to10 with recovery in between each one - at sub 3 minutes you have the basic speed for a sub 3.

    From what you say you are well under that, so it seems that you need to get that endurance up to tough out the last six miles.

    There are people who advocate doing marathon race pace for part of the long runs but not for all of it.

    Other than the track sessions I don't do a single mile at race pace - other than on the day!

    The most "hardcore" my training has got was before London 2012 and for one "typical" week this was:

    61.33 miles @ 7:12 mm with 6822 ft ascent and 6762 descent. The long run that week was 16 miles @ 7:23 mm and I ran 6 times that week

    How I wish I had your basic speed. My half pb is 1:27 and I can only just scrape under 40 minutes for a 10k.

    Start toughening up your body with those regular long runs and sub 3 is a nailed on cert.

  • I would gladly swap a bit of speed for the ability to sustain a decent pace over the last six! I'll keep posting on the progress particulaly on the run up to London 2014. 

  • DT19DT19 ✭✭✭

    Interesting discussion. I seem to be in the same position in that i have a 1.27 half and just scrape a sub 40 10k and about to embark on training for my first marathon.

    My plan (which is based on nothing in particular) was to slowly build myself up starting with 16 miler next week and adding 0.5 miles eack week. With a few easy weeks in between I should have hit 20 by xmas. I was then going to pick up the last 4 weeks of a marathon training plan and cover it twice and start incorporating marathon paces into my long runs. Like one gear says, my lsr (and most other mileage) will be 8mm or below.

    If that all goes well then I may revise my target to sub 3.

    Jason- IMO, your friend runs his lsr way too fast. I remember reading the article on Martin Rees for example and even his long runs were 6.40-7mm. If you race your training you wont perform in the race, if you even make the start line.

  • Hi DT19, good comments again; i personally benefit from the structure of following a plan (14-16 wks) for a Marathon. I like to set my stall out and before hand and define my workouts Interval / Tempo and LR well in advance. Dont get me wrong i use my instinct as well and ease up / pull back dependant on how i feel on the day. 

    For Mablethorpe i followed a long run schedule as follows. Also included are some of my comments from the day's training diary. Anal maybe, ex forces tho!!! 

    13M Easy   15M Easy (1:59) 8 min miling. Felt OK, need proper breakfast next time though 15M steady (approx 1:51) Did it in 1:48 avg 7:14m with last 2-3 at MP, RED HOT today, 0.5m warm up cool down)) 16M (First 9M easy in 72 mins, last 7M at MP (6:50) in approx 48 mins (0.5 WU 0.5 WD) 18M Easy (approx 2: 24) Did 2:22 18M steady (approx 2hrs 15). Did 2hrs 10, avg 7:15m, last 2 sub 7. Felt good. 3 gels), 3/4m WU 20M - 10M easy (80min) then 10m @ MP (68.5min) (2hr 28) Did last 10 at an avg of 6:46 miling, 5 sec per mile better than MPace (4 gels) 13M at easy pace   20M steady (aim for approx 2hrs 28, sub 7:24 miling). Did 2:25:30, 7:16 miling with last 3 under 7. Half mile WD 20M in approx 2:35 (First 10M easy in 80 minutes, last 10M at marathon pace in 69 mins) Avg 6:48 (68 min), 3 gels, 0.5 WD 22M (approx 2:54) slow. Did 2:51 avg 7:46 HM Race (Sub 82 min) or 13.1m time trial! Did 12.6m in 78:30, easily sub 82 in terrential rain on muddy and puddled tow paths, Avg 6:14m's!!! 23M Steady (approx 2hrs 48) sub 7:20 miling. Did sub 2hrs 46, Avg 7:13 pace, felt really great and strong!!!!!! 15M Steady approx 1hrs 45) Sub 7min miling, 0.5 WU / WD. Avg 6:51 miling, felt strong! 10M steady (approx 75 mins) 7:30 miling. Did 7:18 miling 73 mins Mablethorpe Marathon: Sub 3 hr - Didn’t happen - I think the phrase rhymes with "Clucking Bell!"


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