Finishing a marathon in 4 hours or less isn’t easy. According to most sources, the average marathon time is around 4 hours and 30 minutes.

As a recap, a marathon is 26.2 miles or 42.195 kilometers. That’s some serious running!

But you can run a marathon in 4 hours as long as you train consistently and for long enough.

Read on to find out how fast you need to run to achieve a 4-hour marathon pace and how to get there.

How Fast Do You Need to Run to Finish a Marathon in 4 Hours?

To finish a marathon in exactly 4 hours, you need to run at a pace under 9 minutes and 9 seconds per mile or a pace under 5 minutes and 41 seconds per kilometer.

Running at this pace, you can finish the first half of the marathon in 1 hour and 52 minutes and the second half in 2 hours and 8 minutes.

By comparison, a 5-hour marathon pace is 11 minutes and 26 seconds per mile (7 minutes and 6 seconds per kilometer).

Keep in mind that unexpected things can happen during a marathon that can slow you down, from resurfacing knee pain later in the race to the crowd getting in the way.

That’s why upping your 4-hour marathon pace might come in handy. So, what is the recommended pace for a 4-hour marathon exactly?

As any reliable marathon pace chart will tell you, you should aim for a pace of under 8 minutes and 50 seconds per mile (or under 5 minutes and 30 seconds per kilometer).

That way, you will create some padding that will enable you to accomplish your 4-hour marathon pace despite unexpected occurrences.

If that sounds impossible, here are a few comparison paces that will make this goal seem achievable:

  • 2-hour marathon pace: 4 minutes and 34 seconds per mile (2 minutes and 50 seconds per kilometer)
  • 3-hour marathon pace: 6 minutes and 51 seconds per mile (4 minutes and 15 seconds per kilometer)

Important: Don’t go much faster than this pace early in the race or you will tire yourself out and fail to reach your 4-hour target.   

How to Run a 4-Hour Marathon: Tips on How to Prepare

Preparing for a 4-hour marathon pace calls for more than serious and regular running. Here are some tips on how to train for a marathon and achieve your desired pace.

Become used to running at a slightly faster pace

Become comfortable running under 8 minutes and 50 seconds per mile (under 5 minutes and 30 seconds per kilometer).

Build up to this pace gradually. If you’ve never run a marathon in 4 hours or less before, it’s unrealistic to expect to achieve it on your first day of training.

Follow a personalized training plan

Your age, weight, gender, fitness level, injury history, and any existing medical conditions are just some of the factors that can influence how much and how hard you train.

A structured, personalized training plan can help you get the most out of every training session. Look for a plan that combines different types of training rather than one that focuses exclusively on running.

Combine different types of training

Long runs are not enough to build the endurance and toughness you need to complete a marathon in 4 hours.

Add to your training plan sprint intervals, speed workouts, and strength training. A 2018 review article suggests combining training can improve athletic performance more than single-mode training.

You can also cross-train by cycling and swimming to build endurance while reducing stress on your joints.

Choose the right marathon

Achieving the 4-hour marathon pace is less difficult on a marathon course suitable for fast running. If it’s your first attempt, you don’t want the course to make your run any more challenging than it already is.

Research different races and check what other runners have to say about them. That way, you will increase your chances of finishing the race in under 4 hours.

How Long Should You Train to Run a 4-Hour Marathon?

Most runners cannot go from couch to a marathon and reach a 4-hour pace immediately. You have to build mileage as a runner and improve your fitness before you can embark on a 4-hour marathon pace training plan.

If you’re new to running, your first goal should be to complete a marathon. Once you do that and build some experience as a runner, you can follow a dedicated 4-hour marathon training plan.

A 4-hour marathon training plan requires 16–24 weeks of intense and regular training. If you’re not in good shape and can’t put in at least 16 weeks of training, aiming for a 4-hour marathon pace might be unrealistic.

How to Increase Your Running Speed and Build Endurance

To achieve and maintain the 4-hour marathon pace, you need both speed and endurance. Running at that pace in training isn’t enough if you’re not able to maintain it. That’s where endurance training comes in.

So how can you gradually but steadily improve your speed and endurance?

Integrate speed workouts into your training

Weekly speed workouts like tempo runs, interval workouts, and Fartleks can help you build the speed to run the mile in under 9 minutes and 50 seconds.

  • Interval runs. During interval training, you combine running fast for short periods with jogging for longer periods.
  • Tempo runs. With this type of speed workout, you start at a slow pace and keep increasing it until you exceed the race pace before gradually slowing down again.
  • Hill sprints. One of the most challenging speed workouts, hill sprints involve sprinting up a hill and then jogging back down it to complete a rep.
  • Fartleks. A fun way to train, Fartleks are unstructured workouts that alternate running very fast with walking or jogging. You can use objects in the environment as tempo cues.

Do some strength training

Strength training that includes weight lifting and bodyweight exercises can boost your stamina and make you a faster runner. The fastest marathon runners tend to be lean rather than bulky. So focus on your core and lower body muscles.

  • Work your core. A strong core improves your stability and posture as you run. It can help your entire body run more effectively.
  • Strengthen your leg muscles. Exercises like barbell squats, dumbbell power cleans, and walking lunges improve the power of your strides and, with that, your running speed.

Don’t forget to cross-train

Swimming, cycling, or yoga are low-impact exercises that can improve your cardiovascular fitness or muscular endurance.

They can add variety and fun to your marathon training plan while enabling you to keep on exercising without putting too much stress on your ankles and knees.

The best part? You carry the benefits you derive from these exercises into your running workouts.

A Sample Marathon Training Plan

With the following marathon training plan, you will progressively increase your weekly mileage without overtaxing your body. As you near race week, your mileage will decrease to prepare you to give your all on race day.

Tip: For best results, follow a personalized 4-hour marathon pace plan.

Week 1

Monday: Run 3 miles or 30 minutes (light pace)

Tuesday: Strength training

Wednesday: Run 4 miles (moderate pace)

Thursday: Tempo runs or interval training (speed workout) + strength training

Friday: Rest

Saturday: Run 10 miles (light pace)

Sunday: Cross-train

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Week 2

Monday: Run 4 miles (moderate pace) + strength training

Tuesday: Rest

Wednesday: Run 5 miles (moderate pace)

Thursday: Speed workout + strength training

Friday: Cross-train

Saturday: Run 11 miles (light pace)

Sunday: Rest

Week 3

Monday: Run 5 miles (moderate pace)

Tuesday: Run 2 miles (moderate pace) + strength training

Wednesday: Run 5 miles (moderate pace)

Thursday: Tempo runs or interval training: 4 x 1-mile + strength training

Friday: Rest

Saturday: Run 12 miles (light pace)

Sunday: Rest or swim/cycle/yoga

Week 4

Monday: Run 4 miles (moderate pace) + strength training

Tuesday: Run 3 miles (moderate pace)

Wednesday: Run 5 miles (moderate pace)

Thursday: Speed workout + strength training

Friday: Rest

Saturday: Run 13 miles (light pace)

Sunday: Rest or swim/cycle/yoga

Week 5

Monday: Run 7 miles (moderate pace) + strength training

Tuesday: Run 2 miles (light pace)

Wednesday: Run 6 miles (moderate pace)

Thursday: Run 1 mile (light pace), do Fartlek for 3 miles, then run 1 mile (light pace) + strength training

Friday: Rest

Saturday: Run 15 miles (light pace)

Sunday: Rest or swim/cycle/yoga

Week 6

Monday: Run 7 miles (moderate pace)

Tuesday: Run 3 miles (light pace) + strength training

Wednesday: Run 7 miles (moderate pace)

Thursday: Speed workout + strength training

Friday: Rest

Saturday: Run 15 miles (light pace)

Sunday: Rest or swim/cycle/yoga

Week 7

Monday: Run 7 miles (moderate pace)

Tuesday: Run 3 miles (light pace) + strength training

Wednesday: Run 7 miles (moderate pace)

Thursday: Speed workout + strength training

Friday: Rest

Saturday: Run 17 miles (conversational pace)

Sunday: Rest or swim/cycle/yoga

Week 8

Monday: Run 5 miles (moderate pace) + strength training

Tuesday: Cross-train

Wednesday: Run 4 miles (moderate pace)

Thursday: Jog 1 mile (light pace), do Fartlek for 3 miles, jog 1 mile (light pace) + strength training

Friday: Rest

Saturday: Run 10 miles (conversational pace)

Sunday: Rest

Week 9

Monday: Run 5 miles (moderate pace) + strength training

Tuesday: Run 3 miles (light pace)

Wednesday: Run 7 miles (moderate pace)

Thursday: Speed workout + strength training

Friday: Rest

Saturday: Run 17 miles (conversational pace)

Sunday: Rest or swim/cycle/yoga

Week 10

Monday: Run 7 miles (moderate pace) + strength training

Tuesday: Run 2 miles (light pace)

Wednesday: Run 6 miles (moderate pace)

Thursday: Speed workout + strength training

Friday: Rest

Saturday: Run 17 miles (conversational pace)

Sunday: Rest or swim/cycle/yoga

Week 11

Monday: Run 7 miles (moderate pace) + strength training

Tuesday: Run 3 miles (light pace)

Wednesday: Run 6 miles (moderate pace)

Thursday: Speed workout + strength training

Friday: Rest

Saturday: Run 18 miles (conversational pace)

Sunday: Rest or swim/cycle/yoga

Week 12

Monday: Run 5 miles (moderate pace) + strength training

Tuesday: Run 3 miles (light pace)

Wednesday: Run 5 miles (moderate pace)

Thursday: Jog for 1 mile, do Fartlek for 40 minutes, jog again for 1 mile + strength training

Friday: Rest

Saturday: Run 20 miles (conversational pace)

Sunday: Rest or swim/cycle/yoga

Week 13

Monday: Run 7 miles (moderate pace) + strength training

Tuesday: Run 2 miles (light pace)

Wednesday: Run 8 miles (moderate pace)

Thursday: Run 5 miles (light pace) + strength training

Friday: Rest

Saturday: Run 20 miles (conversational pace)

Sunday: Rest or swim/cycle/yoga

Week 14

Monday: Run 5 miles (moderate pace) + strength training

Tuesday: Run 3 miles (light pace)

Wednesday: Run 4 miles (moderate pace)

Thursday: Speed workout + strength training

Friday: Rest

Saturday: Run 20 miles (conversational pace)

Sunday: Rest or swim/cycle/yoga

Week 15

Monday: Run 5 miles (moderate pace)

Tuesday: Rest or swim/cycle/yoga

Wednesday: Run 5 miles (moderate pace) + strength training

Thursday: Run 6 miles (moderate pace)

Friday: Rest

Saturday: Run 12 miles (conversational pace)

Sunday: Rest or swim/cycle/yoga

Week 16 (Race week)

Monday: Rest

Tuesday: Run 5 miles (moderate pace)

Wednesday: Rest

Thursday: Run 4 miles (moderate pace)

Friday: Rest

Saturday: Rest

Sunday: Race day

At What Pace Should I Be Doing Each Run?

Running at the right pace is more important than simply running a lot. This holds true whether you’re aiming for a 4-hour marathon pace or a sub-4-hour marathon pace.

Figure out the ideal pace for you using a training pace calculator.

Enter your most recent run data and distance, and the calculator will determine your paces for easy runs, tempo runs, speed runs, and long runs.

Keep in mind that you’re training for a marathon. Except for speed workouts, you don’t want to go all out.

How to Avoid Getting Injured?

When you set a 4-hour marathon pace as your goal and train for 16–24 weeks to reach it, you are more prone to injury than a casual runner.

The most common causes of injury include:

  • Running too much
  • Not doing strength training
  • Following the same workouts day in and day out
  • Not wearing the right running shoes

Next, here are some simple and effective strategies to reduce your risk of injury:

  • Follow a running plan personalized according to your age, weight, gender, and fitness level.
  • Stick to your running plan. Don’t run or train extra.
  • Give your body time to adapt. Increase gradually the distance you run and the intensity of your training, from one week to the next or according to your training plan.
  • Do low-impact exercises like swimming, cycling, and yoga.
  • Do strength training twice a week to prepare your muscles to withstand repetitive strain.
  • If you experience pain, stop and rest.
  • Build rest periods in your training plan. Don’t run or train every single day of the week. Give your body at least 1–2 days of full rest.

What to Eat While Preparing for a Marathon?

When training for a marathon, what you eat is as important as how well you train and rest. This isn’t the time to put on unwanted weight or follow strict energy-draining weight loss plans.

Here are some general guidelines to follow:

  • Eat balanced meals that include carbs in the form of whole grains, lean protein, and healthy plant-based fats.
  • Eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables every day for a healthy dose of nutrients.
  • Take a running supplement or vitamin mix if necessary.
  • Take a water bottle with you to stay hydrated.
  • Have a trail mix ready for long and tough runs.
  • Fuel 60 minutes before you head out for a run or demanding workout.
  • Load on carbs for energy in the week before the race.

Tip: Ideally, you want to follow a personalized meal plan that takes into account your weekly workouts.

Takeaways

Excited to prepare for a marathon at a 4-hour pace? Here are the things to remember:

  • Build your endurance and fitness level before embarking on a 4-hour marathon pace program – it’s serious work!
  • Work toward a pace of under 8 minutes and 50 seconds per mile to ensure you’ll finish a marathon in 4 hours or slightly less.
  • Don’t aim for a sub-4-hour marathon pace before achieving a 4-hour marathon pace.
  • Train for at least 16 weeks before race day.
  • Add to your training strength workouts, speed workouts, and cross-training.
  • Don’t push yourself too hard in the beginning, and rest enough – consistency is key.
  • Follow a personalized running and meal plan for optimal results.

Other Frequently Asked Questions

What is the strategy for a sub-4-hour marathon?

Achieving a sub-4-hour marathon requires a comprehensive strategy encompassing training, pacing, and mental preparation. Here are some key points:

  • Training: Follow a structured training plan that incorporates long runs, tempo runs, interval training, and easy runs. Prioritize running economy and building a strong endurance base. Strength training and proper recovery are also crucial.
  • Pacing: Start cautiously, even slightly slower than your target pace, especially in the first half. Aim for negative splits, gradually getting faster in the second half as you settle into your rhythm. Use pace bands or a GPS watch to stay on track.
  • Fueling and hydration: Practice your fueling strategy during training runs, using gels, sports drinks, or chews. Hydrate regularly throughout the race and at aid stations.
  • Mentality: Visualize success, practice positive self-talk, and stay focused on your goal. Be prepared for challenges and have mental strategies to overcome them.

What is a 3.5-hour marathon pace?

A 3.5-hour marathon translates to an average pace of 8:16 minutes per mile (5:10 per kilometer). However, actual pace might vary depending on the course elevation and your personal running style.

How many people can run a marathon under 4 hours?

According to the Boston Marathon data, roughly 43% of male finishers and 21% of female finishers achieve a sub-4-hour time. This percentage varies across different marathons due to factors like difficulty and competitiveness.

How many marathoners run under 3 hours?

Sub-3-hour marathons are an elite achievement. In major marathons like Boston and Berlin, only around 1-2% of finishers reach this mark. It requires exceptional training, talent, and ideal racing conditions.

What was Oprah’s marathon time?

Oprah Winfrey ran the Chicago Marathon in 1994 with a time of 4:29:20. This was an admirable accomplishment for a non-professional runner at her age.

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Written by

Chris Zibutis

Chris Zibutis is the Head Running Coach and founder of Joggo – that one person on earth who loves interval runs.  He holds a degree from Copenhagen Business School and is an avid runner – having participated in numerous marathons and triathlons, Chris brings substantial fitness and running experience to the Joggo team.