Running a 4 hour marathon is an incredible accomplishment. Training to maintain a 4 hour marathon pace requires dedication, commitment and a great deal of grit. Even so, this goal is on the bucket list for many runners.
What is a 4 hour marathon pace?
The pace for a 4 hour marathon works out to 9:09 minutes per mile, or 5:41 minutes per kilometer. In general, most runners aim for to run around a 9:00 minute mile to feel confident hitting their 4 hour marathon goal.
Running with a pacer or pace group on race day is a great way to stick with an exact pace and finish within minutes of a 4 hour marathon. However, if you plan to run solo, it might be advantageous to train to allow 5-10 minutes of padding. A sub-4 hour marathon includes anything that is faster than a 3:59:59 finish.
>> Check out all the marathon pace charts here!
Am I ready to train for a 4 hour marathon?
The key to successfully running a sub 4 hour marathon is waiting to train for this goal until you have the physical fitness to do so.
For many runners, understanding whether they are physically able to finish a marathon in 4 hours can be very tricky. Here are a few general benchmarks to have completed before beginning training for this marathon goal:
- Able to comfortably maintain a 9:00 minute per mile pace for 5-8 miles
- Have finished a sub-2 hour half marathon, 51 minute 10k or sub-25 minute 5k
- Able to complete 400 and 800 meter intervals at paces between 7:30 – 7:45 minutes per mile
- Marathon finish time between 4:00 and 4:15
Many runners find themselves aiming for a 4 hour marathon pace after finishing a marathon somewhere in the 4 hour range. Making the leap from a 4:30 marathon to a 4 hour marathon is certainly possible, but will require significantly more time an effort than jumping from 4:05 to 4 hour marathon.
>> Try the Break 4:30 Marathon Training Plan
Why is the 4 hour marathon a common goal?
Finishing a sub 4 hour marathon seems to be a popular goal for recreational runners. The average marathon finish time for both male and female finishers is significantly higher than 4 hours. Therefore, running a 4 hour marathon pace means that you are faster than most runners.
The average marathon finish time for males in 2023 was 4:21:03, and 4:48:45 for females. In both cases, finishing a marathon in 4:00 or less would certainly be something worth celebrating.
Pacing Strategy for a Sub 4 Hour Marathon
When most runners struggle to achieve their goal of running a 4 hour marathon, it is not due to lack of effort or motivation. In most cases, runners fail to train strategically and adjust based on their initial fitness level. It is incredibly discouraging to give it you all during training, yet still see paces slower than your goal.
In order to find success on race day, you’ll need to prepare and practice a pacing strategy ahead of time. In addition, you’ll want to adjust your base training according to your starting fitness level. Here are a few strategies to nail that sub-4 hour marathon.
- Run a consistent pace during the marathon
- Train for a 5-10 minute buffer
- Incorporate race pace miles during long runs
- Practice and perfect a fueling and hydration strategy
- Prepare techniques for boosting mental strength
Breaking 4 hours in the marathon for the first time will no doubt be a challenge. Regardless of whether you have finished a 4:05 marathon previously or this is your first marathon, there will be many obstacles to overcome along the way.
How long does it take to train for a 4 hour marathon?
Most 4 hour marathon training plans are between 12-16 weeks in length. For runners training to run their first sub-4 hour marathon, a training period of 16-20 weeks (4-5 months) is a realistic length of time.
However, runners who are training for their very first marathon ever, or those hoping to shave significant time off a previous finish, might require more time to train.
It’s important to map out your training throughout an entire year, regardless of how long the formal training plan may be. Take time to include some off-season, base building and practice racing. The longer you give your body to build a solid fitness base before beginning a training plan, the better prepared it will be.
Training Runs in the 4 Hour Marathon Training Plan
Training to maintain a 4 hour marathon pace involves so much more than simply completing each mile at a 9:09 pace. This training plan includes a variety of different runs – long runs, easy runs, tempo, marathon pace, intervals, hills and more – in addition to strength training, cross training and rest days.
These short, mid-week runs are completed at an easy, conversational pace. They serve the purpose of improving overall running fitness and do not need to be pushed. Pace should be relaxed and about 60 – 90 seconds slower than the 4 hour marathon pace.
On Friday, you’ll find a recovery run to be completed at a very slow, easy pace. These runs help increase overall mileage without contributing to burnout or fatigue, while also stretching out the legs and preparing the body for the upcoming long run.
Each weekend, there is a long run. This long run is key to a successful marathon PR, and its distance gradually increases over time before a drop off at the end (taper). Long runs should be prioritized each week and never skipped. The pace for each long run is slow and easy, about 1-2 minutes per mile slower than goal race pace.
The 4 hour marathon pace is 9:09 minutes per mile, which is incorporated into regular weekday runs as well as some long runs. These race pace miles are to be completed in the middle of a run; for example, a long run of 14 miles with 3 at race pace might begin with 5 easy miles, 3 at race pace, and finish with 6 easy miles.
Every Wednesday, you’ll find a speed workout on the calendar. These workouts alternate between 400 and 800 meter interval repeats. 400s can be completed as one lap around the track, or 0.25 miles when road running.
Now is the time to push the pace and give it your all – each 400 meter interval should be completed at a pace that is about 60 – 90 seconds per mile faster than goal race pace (7:30 – 8:00 minutes/mile). Complete a warm up and cool down before each interval, as well as a 400 meter/0.25 mile recovery in between each repeat.
Another interval used in speed workouts is an 800 meter (0.50 mile) repeat. This can be completed as two laps around the track, or ½ mile in distance on the roads. 800 meter intervals are significantly faster than easy runs, but not quite as fast as 400s.
Complete each 800 at about 60 seconds faster than goal race pace (8:00 minutes per mile). This pace should feel sustainable for the duration of the interval, but nothing more. Complete the workout with a warm up and cool down, as well as a ¼ mile recovery after each interval.
Regardless of the goal race distance, strength training is key for long term health and injury prevention. This 4 hour marathon training plan includes weekly strength workouts, which should not be skipped. Strength training helps build muscle, prevent imbalances and improve power on the run.
>> Try this bodyweight Strength Training Workout at home for convenience each week!
Another workout in the 4 hour marathon training plan is cross training. Each week, one day is designated to finding a workout that is not running. This can be swimming, spinning, biking, weight lifting, a sport, or anything else. Use this day to build fitness while giving your body a break from running.
Another key element of any training plan is rest – and it should not be skipped. It is important to dedicate at least one day each week for rest. During the rest day, active recovery activities (such as walking or gentle yoga) can be completed, but it is important to spend time off your feet. Listen to your body and adjust your activity level accordingly.
This 4 hour marathon training plan can be downloaded in PDF format for free! This training plan will prepare you to maintain a 4 hour marathon pace for 26.2 miles – all while helping reduce the risk of injury and stay mentally strong on race day.
Key elements of the 4 Hour Marathon Training Plan
- 20 week training plan
- Weeks 1-4 feature a base building program
- 4 runs per week: one weekend long run and three mid-week runs
- One recovery run per week
- One easy run per week
- One long run per week
- One speed workout per week – paces and interval splits broken down
- One rest day per week
- One cross training day per week
- One strength training day per week