The 3-hour mark is a target for many ‘club’ runners when it comes to a marathon. This is not least due to the Good for Age (GFA) qualifying time for London and the Boston Qualifying (BQ) time being exactly that for the male senior classification. It is also a very respectable time if achieved. 6:50/mile for 26.2 miles is some going.
Unfortunately, I am quite some way off this time, with 6:50/mile being quicker than my target 10km pace, never mind further, but I do know a number of runners who have achieved it, male and female, and a few others who are in the process of trying to achieve it.
A friend of mine, and often my long-distance running partner, sent me a link to a blog post around Christmastime regarding achieving a sub-3 hour marathon using a “just enough approach.” The just enough approach involves just three runs per week; a tempo run, an interval session and a long, slow run with some marathon pace work towards the end.
The tempo run involves running at marathon pace (MP) for a set number of miles, with a warm up and cool down at either end. Week one starts with three miles at MP, building one mile per week to a maximum of 12 miles before reducing by two miles per week for a four-week taper.
The interval run is a simple Yasso 800 session. If you’re unfamiliar with the Yasso 800 workout, it was developed by Bart Yasso, and is claimed to be able to predict your marathon finishing time. The session includes a set of 800m repeats, with the same amount of rest in between as it takes to run the 800m. Your average time for the set of 800m efforts is your prediction for the marathon. 03:00 per 800m suggests you are in shape to run a 3:00:00 marathon, 03:30 for a 03:30:00 marathon etc. In this case then, the plan asks you to run 800m in three minutes, with three minutes rest in between. Again, there is a build up before a taper. Week one takes in just two repeats, increasing by a further set each week before maxing out at ten reps for two weeks and reducing by two reps for each of the final four weeks.
The final session of the week is the long, slow run with a MP finish. The MP section starts off at one mile and builds by a mile each week up to six miles, where it stays for eight weeks leading in to race week. The easy portion of the long run builds from 1:30:00 to 2:00:00.
The biggest week then is week 9, where you’ll complete a tempo run of 11 miles at MP, an interval session of 10 x 800m and a 2 hour long run followed by another 6 miles at MP. It may be “just enough” but that sounds quite intense to me.
The longest run I’ve ever done is 18 miles, so I’ve never ran, and neither have I ever trained for, a marathon. What I have learnt about running over the years though is that specificity is key. If you want to run a race at a certain pace, you need to ensure you practice running at that pace during training. This plan has specificity in abundance. If you struggle finding your MP at the beginning, you should be well versed by the end. My concern though, is making it to the end in one piece.
As mentioned, the plan is quite intense. Each week includes a lot of hard miles. It’s certainly a tough plan to stick with and execute, not to mention the repetitive nature of it. I don’t like the lack of easy miles either. I guess one of the prerequisites of the plan is that you already have a solid endurance base to build from, likely with a marathon or two already underneath your belt, but I would at least expect some recovery miles in there somewhere. Also, three runs per week, is this really enough? Although to be fair, the blog post does suggest some cross training on the non-running days.
That being said, I’m not a marathon runner. My friend is however, and he achieved a 3:07 shortly before Christmas and so is the perfect customer for such a plan. 14 weeks ago, he picked up the plan and this coming Sunday, he will be shooting for sub-3 at the Boston (Lincolnshire, UK) marathon.
He has adapted the plan to suit though. Backed off when he felt it was necessary, used the cross-training days for recovery runs and has got himself to race weekend in excellent shape. By his own admission, it has been hard, really hard! I wish him all the best for Sunday.
For more details on the plan, I have linked below to the original blog post. No credit at all taken here by me. Reading the comments, it seems to have worked for many, although some have altered it to suit their own needs and beliefs.