Training for Sub 4

On some of the running groups I chat in, I regularly see people asking about training for a marathon, so thought I’d share my experiences on the subject.

OK, first thing to point out, is that all runners are different. Our bodies react differently to running, we are at different levels, we have different capacity for training and some are more prone to pick up injuries in training.

Also, even for the marathon, people train to very different goals. Training to safely complete a marathon, would be quite different to training to get your best time having run a few marathons before.

So really, you can consider this plan to be an example plan that has worked for me, training to run one particular marathon, and trying to PB, from a decent base of running mileage. In my case this was trying to get under 4 hours.

So before the ‘plan’, here are some points of guidance.

1 – The ‘plan’, is more of a framework. Try to complete all the runs, but don’t be a slave to it. If you need to drop a run, or swap a long run from one week to a different one, don’t stress about it. However, don’t cheat yourself. If you keep skipping the long runs for example, you are just reducing you own chances of success. Use it as a framework, that way it’s easier to make the training fit into the rest of your life without upsetting your spouse and your kids forgetting who you are!

2 – Prioritise the long runs. To me they are the foundation of training for a marathon. If you need to skip a speed session for example, to be OK to do your long run at the weekend, do it.

3 – Weight! For me, my weight is absolutely key to running performance. I have run marathons at just over 11 stone, I have run marathons at around 12 stone, the difference is huge. I would estimate from my own experiences that half a stone could make a difference of 15 minutes to my race times over the marathon. So my plan will usually include some planned weight loss if needed.

4 – Core. I don’t cycle, swim or do spin classes, so need to be aware that purely running does not make for good training. I have been more successful when I have added core work to my training, either by forcing myself to do it, or by doing sessions with a personal trainer. If doing it yourself, pick some exercises and make a little routine, for example – push ups, crunches, mountain climbers, planks, burpees, etc.

5 – Race planning. You will know which marathon you are running, so know that course and know the way your drinks etc will work on the day. As your training progresses, you will have a pace in mind that you think you can run at, practise running at that pace for some of your runs.

6 – I read a tip from a Boston qualifier, that he always aimed to do 3 x 20 mile runs in advance of a marathon, so that was in this plan to do at least that (You would not do this as a first timer).

So here would be my training framework, this was for London 2018

Each week I would normally expect to contain at least 4 runs: a speedworkout (e.g. 400m or 800m intervals, I like Yasso 800s), some hills (a hilly run or hill repeats), a social run and the all important long run as listed below.

Each week, mileage would be approx 25 to 30 miles. On 2 evenings when not running, do core excercise routine.

Week 1 (first week January) – 12 miles @ 8:40 mins per mile (Starting weight – 11st 12). Fit in a short workout at 7:20 mins per mile, as have 10k race at weekend.

Week 2 – 10k race (11st 10)

Week 3 – 14 miles @ 8:40s (11st 8)

Week 4 – 16 miles @ 8:40s (11st 6). Building up the long run mileage.

Week 5 – 10 mile race @ 8 min miles (11st 4)

Week 6 – 18 miles, can we do 8:40s over that distance? (11st 2)

Week 7 – Social run with some others, no plan (11st – maintain weight from here). Have built quite quickly to this point, so have an easier week.

Week 8 – 20 miles close to marathon pace.

Week 9 – No plan / run for fun. Again, take it easy this week. Some slack here if you need to re-arrange things due to niggles.

Week 10 – 20 mile hilly route, easy paced. A lot of mile to this point have been at around marathon pace. It’s important to train at different paces to benefit different muscles.

Week 11 – 10k race, back to something speedier.

Week 12 – 22 miles @ 9 minute miles.

Week 13 – 14 mile long run. A bit less mileage this week.

Week 14 – 20 miles @ 8:45s. Last big run, try to match drink / gels to race day. Wear something close to your race day kit. This is pretty much a dress rehearsal.

Week 15 – 10-13 miles (taper)


So, did it work?

I think so yes. I felt compared to other runners I knew, I maybe was race ready maybe a couple of weeks early, but wanted the 3 or 4 20 milers in the bank.

As it turned out, it was the hottest London Marathon on record and I really struggle in the heat as a sweaty runner, so was pleased with how I ran but it was 4:03, I snuck a PB by 20 seconds.

Didn’t want to ‘waste’ my training, so 3 weeks later I entered the Shakespeare Marathon in Stratford on Avon. It was not as hot, and I finished in 3:57.

I should point out that this is not how I have trained this year. Doing a marathon every month requires a different approach altogether!