The Sub 4-hour marathon plan is designed for the beginner runners who is looking to take their marathon training to the next level. While it’s not required, it is recommended that you have trained for a marathon in the past. You should currently be comfortable running 20-25 miles per week. Your previous personal best should be at least better than one of the following:
5k – 25:00 10k – 52:00 HM – 1:55
The goal of this marathon plan is to train your body to the specific demands of the marathon race. This means three things:
1) Increasing your fitness so that you can decrease your marathon pace and make it more comfortable.
2) Teaching your body how to burn fat as a fuel source as opposed to carbohydrates.
3) Simulating the fatigue you'll experience the last 10k without getting hurt or becoming too tired in training.
To accomplish these three goals, this plan will employ faster paced tempo runs that are often broken into shorter, but faster intervals. These shorter intervals allow you to run faster, thereby working on your speed and mechanics, while maintaining an effort that develops your aerobic system. To encourage your body to use fat as an energy source and to simulate the fatigue at the end of the race, this plan incorporates steady runs before your long runs to simulate late race fatigue and deplete your body of glycogen. Furthermore, your critical long runs will include running portions at or faster than goal pace to practice running goal pace when tired and low on fuel.
Your long run will top out at 18 miles. The reason for this is that long and slow 22 milers provide a deceptive sense of confidence about completing the full 26 because they don’t address the fueling issue. Furthermore, runs over the 2 hour mark show a diminishing point of return when it comes to building aerobic fitness. Moreover, they breakdown the muscles and will completely exhaust you, which leads to a significant delay in recovery. In addition, running for longer than 2 hours can significantly increase the chance of injury and doesn’t provide significant benefits for the increased risk. Instead, this schedule places runs on both weekend days, which will allow you to carry the fatigue of Saturday’s run into Sunday, which will simulate the latter stages of the marathon without having to run 20 miles first. By spreading the mileage throughout the week and the long run on the weekend, this plan ensures you that you’ll stay healthy and have enough training under your belt to finish the race smiling at the finish line.
The result is a training plan that trains your body to the specific demands you’ll face on race day while building your aerobic system and mileage to handle the full 26.2 mile distance.
Jumpstart your body with a cardio cross training workout. During the course of this training plan, you're going do many aerobic workouts other than running to help build strength and endurance without the pounding that comes from running. Find a cross training activity (or a few) you enjoy, such as swimming or cycling. Concentrate on staying comfortable during this run, even if that means running outside of the recommended pace range. Tell your friends, family and/or coworkers about your goal to break 4:00 in a marathon. Committing to a goal is something to be proud of and talking about it helps many athletes stay dedicated and feel accountable to themselves.
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4 miles easy (11:30 to 12:50 per mile pace) w/4 x 20 sec strides after run w/full recovery + hip
Concentrate on staying comfortable during this run, even if that means running outside of the recommended pace range.
Strides are short accelerations from a stand-still up to a fast pace. They help refine your technique and improve efficiency at every speed. Take as much standing rest as you need between strides. Top out at a fast but comfortable speed--strides are not sprints. These will appear repeatedly through your training plan.
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Off or cross training
Cross training, which includes swimming, strength training, cycling, rowing, elliptical, stairmaster, hiking or another activity, is a good way to build fitness without risking injury or getting overtired. An off day will help your body respond to the training you've done; take at leasy one day completely off each week. Pick the day based on your fatigue and real-life schedule.
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2 mile w/u, 4 x 5 mins @ 8:10 to 8:20 pace w/3min easy jog btwn each, 1 mile c/d + core
When you have a rest period between intervals, what should you do? Stand, walk, jog? In short, I suggest standing if your rest period is less than a minute, walking if the rest is 1-3 minutes, and a slow shuffle jog if the rest is longer than 3 minutes (once you catch your breath). 4:00 is an ambitous goal. To reach that milestone, you'll have a short, fast workout like this one most weeks. They will improve your aerobic fitness, efficiency and confidence.
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Off or cross training cross training
Aqua jogging, or deep water running, is the best form of cross training for runners. The movement closely mimics running form, which provides a neuromuscular workout that, in addition to aerobic benefits, helps keep the running specific muscles active. Most importantly, aqua jogging is impact free, which means it can be implemented during almost any injury.
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4 miles easy (11:30 to 12:50 per mile pace)
Stay comfortable during this run, even if that means running outside of the recommended pace range. How is your body adapting to the new training load? It's normal to feel sore and tired, especially at the start of the plan, but it's important to stay on top of unexpected pain. Extra soreness in a singular spot of a muscle or a sharp pain can be a sign that you're experiencing the beginnings of an injury. If that happens, take extra rest and see a medical pro who specializes in endurance injuries. It's much easier to prevent an injury than fix one after it gets out of control. The difference betwen an easy run and a recovery run is subtle, but important. If you feel tired, run down or just not motivated during a recovery run, add extra walk breaks or pull the plug entirely. Rest for tomorrow's workout is more important than any gains you'll make today.
Exclusive training video: Judging Your Pace
12 mile long run - all easy pace (11:30 to 12:50 per mile pace)
Today's run is all about distance. Don't sweat the pace, just cover the miles. Today's run is more than two hours, which means you're going to need some water and some carbs to stay strong. Every long run is an opportunity to zero in on your own personal formula for nutrition. Start at a baseline around 10 ounces of fluids and 125 calories per hour. Pay attention to your body's reaction during the run and note it down afterward. Next week, adjust your nutrition strategy based on the results today.
Exclusive training video: Long Run Nutrition