Running a marathon is an outstanding achievement on its own but running a marathon in just 4 hours is a particularly impressive feat for a first-timer. The average man takes about 4 hours and 10 minutes, and the average woman takes about 4 hours and 40 minutes to run a marathon.
Is running a marathon in 4 hours a good time?
Absolutely! But how hard it is going to be?
To achieve a 4 hour marathon pace, you should be comfortable running 20 to 25 miles weekly, and you should work towards running 40 to 50 miles per week over the course of 16 to 20 weeks. Along the way, you might aim to achieve a 5k time of 24:30 and a 10k time of 50:55. Do one long run every week and be consistent!
If running a 4-hour marathon is a goal that you’ve set yourself, the good news is that it’s achievable for most beginner and intermediate runners.
Here, we discuss how to train for a 4-hour marathon, the pace you need to run at, and the benchmarks you need to achieve first. We’ll share expert advice on how to prepare your body and mind to accomplish that elusive 4-hour marathon.
- How Fast Do You Need To Run To Finish A Marathon In 4 Hours?
- Tips To Prepare For Running A 4-Hour Marathon
- How Long You Should Train For To Run A 4-Hour Marathon
- What Should A Marathon Training Plan Look Like?
- How To Increase Your Running Speed And Build Stamina
- How To Know When You Are Ready To Run A 4-Hour Marathon
- Perfect Pacing Is Key To Achieving A 4 Hour Time
- Our Verdict on Breaking 4 Hour Marathon Pace
How Fast Do You Need To Run To Finish A Marathon In 4 Hours?
The average male marathon runner can run 1 mile in 9 to 11 minutes, while the average female marathon runner takes 10 to 12 minutes to run 1 mile.
To complete a marathon (26.2 miles) in precisely 4 hours, one needs to keep up a pace of 9:09 minutes per mile. That’s pretty fast for the average runner!
It is easy to run at this pace for a 5k or even a 10k, but consistently running at this pace for 4 hours is a real challenge. Achieving a 4-hour marathon pace is not so much about being able to run fast. Rather, it is about running fast and far.
Take a look at our pace charts to see what times correspond to the pace you can currently run at.
Tips To Prepare For Running A 4-Hour Marathon
To develop the strength and endurance required to complete a marathon in 4 hours, you should follow these expert tips:
- Give yourself time to train. Put in the hours and be consistent. At the very least, you should train for 16 weeks in preparation for a marathon, but 18 to 20 weeks is better.
- Get comfortable running at the pace required to finish a marathon in under 4 hours. It is best to be able to run at a slightly faster pace than is required for a 4-hour marathon time to prepare yourself for all eventualities on race day.
- Follow a structured training plan where you build up your core running base and gradually increase your weekly mileage.
- Do different types of training – long runs, speed workouts, sprint intervals, and strength training.
Of course, you can give yourself a head-start by choosing a marathon that has a favourable course profile for fast times.
How Long You Should Train For To Run A 4-Hour Marathon
Running a marathon in 4 hours takes a substantial amount of strength and stamina. This is not something that you can develop in a month or two! And it’s certainly not achievable if you’ve skipped the actual marathon training.
To develop the level of base fitness you need to run a 4-hour marathon, you must give yourself a minimum of 4 months to train. Experts recommend giving yourself 5 to 6 months.
Depending on your level of running experience and your fitness, you should choose a training plan that is between 16 and 24 weeks long.
Training for longer is almost always better, but you should not train for so long that you feel burnt out by the time the date of the marathon comes.
What Should A Marathon Training Plan Look Like?
A good training plan will give you the structure you need to consistently work towards your goal. There is no one-size-fits-all training plan to follow, and there are many different recipes for success. You should choose a plan that aligns with your level of fitness and running experience.
A balanced training plan should have the following basic characteristics:
- An average of 5 training days per week (1 or 2 rest days).
- A combination of easy, short runs, long runs, recovery runs, and speed work (fartleks, sprint intervals, hill sprints etc.).
- 1 long run per week.
- 2 strength training workouts per week.
- Gradually increase weekly milage from about 25 miles to about 48 miles.
- Gradually increase the total duration of training sessions from about 5 hours to about 9 hours per week.
How To Increase Your Running Speed And Build Stamina
To prepare for running a marathon in 4 hours, you will need to work towards being able to maintain an average running pace of 8:46 minutes per mile. There are many ways to improve your running speed and stamina:
The best way to increase your pace is through speed workouts. Do fartleks, tempo runs, and hill sprints on a weekly basis in combination with slower, longer runs.
Fartlek workouts involve intervals of running at high speed interspersed with recovery intervals (walking or jogging). These workouts are intended to be unstructured and fun. Intervals can be based on landmarks, like lamp posts and stop signs, or on music.
Tempo runs mean that you start out at a slow pace and gradually increase your pace until you peak at a faster than race pace. You then slow down again gradually over 5 to 10 minutes.
Interval workouts can involve running at a fast pace for 30 seconds, then jogging at an easy pace for 3 minutes. This is repeated for 10 rounds.
Hill sprints are fiery, but they are great for improving your running economy and speed. Find a nice steep hill in your neighbourhood and race up it as quickly as possible. Jog back down the hill and repeat. Depending on your fitness and the length and steepness of the hill, do 4 to 10 rounds.
Strength training is a fantastic way to increase your speed, stamina and injury-proof your body. Lifting weights strengthens your muscles and soft tissues by forcing them to adapt to progressively heavier loads.
Developing the leg muscles and core through weightlifting allows you to take more powerful strides and, therefore, run faster. Strengthening your core improves your running posture, helping you to run more efficiently.
Including other types of exercise in your marathon training plan is an excellent way to keep yourself from becoming bored. Once or twice a week, go cycling, do a swimming workout, or practise yoga.
Low-impact exercise will support your running training by increasing your muscular endurance and cardiovascular fitness. It will help you run more efficiently, so you can run faster for longer.
How To Know When You Are Ready To Run A 4-Hour Marathon
In the weeks preceding the marathon, you may begin to wonder if you really are ready to run it in 4 hours. How does one know if a 4-hour marathon is a realistic, achievable goal?
There are a few key benchmarks to achieve before you can be sure that you’re ready to run a 4-hour marathon:
- You should easily be able to run a mile in 7:05 minutes.
- 15 minutes to run 2 miles should feel comfortable.
- Your 5k time should be 24:30 minutes or better.
- Your 10k time should be 50:55 minutes or better.
- Your half-marathon time should be 1:53:30 or better.
It’s hard to prepare for the feeling of running a marathon, but you can set these useful benchmarks to guide your expectations.
Perfect Pacing Is Key To Achieving A 4 Hour Time
A good training plan will prepare you to reach a 4-hour marathon pace, but actually achieving a marathon time of 4 hours comes down to how you pace yourself. You will need to watch your GPS like a hawk during the marathon!
No marathon is 100% free of unforeseen challenges – toilet breaks, an old injury playing up, steep hill climbs, or fatigue. Therefore, during the race, you must try to maintain a pace that will allow you to finish in less than 4 hours.
Give yourself a 10-minute buffer by running at a pace that will theoretically allow you to finish in 3 hours and 50 minutes. This means that you should maintain a pace of 8:46 minutes per mile.
Keep checking your GPS watch during the race to ensure that you are running at this pace, or at least faster than 9:09 minutes per mile.
You can run a little faster than 8:46 minutes per mile but do not run too much faster because you need to be able to maintain your pace over 4 hours. Find a speed that is most sustainable for you.
Many marathon races will have professional pacers who are trained to guide you through the race in a specific time. Using a pacer can be very beneficial for cracking the sub-4 hour mark.
Our Verdict on Breaking 4 Hour Marathon Pace
Running a marathon in 4 hours is a phenomenal accomplishment for somebody who has never run one before. But this time is perfectly achievable for beginners and intermediate runners.
It takes many hard months of preparation and dedication to your training plan. A balanced combination of speed training, strength training, and normal running training will help you increase your pace to that magic number you require to finish a marathon in 4 hours – 9:09 minutes.
To prepare to run a 4-hour marathon, you should start by running 20 to 25 miles a week and gradually increase this to 45 to 50 miles per week over the course of 4 to 6 months.
You will know you are ready to achieve your goal when your 5k time breaks 24:30 minutes and your 10k time breaks 50:55 minutes – and you’ve ticked off some long runs spanning at least 20-22 miles.
It’s time to get to work!