Training for a Sub 3-Hour Marathon

Running a sub 3 hour marathon is a dream for many runners.

It’s a lofty goal, and there’s something magical about the even ‘3 hour’ mark.

2:59 sound so much more impressive than 3:01 – as if you’ve broken through some barrier.

But how hard is it to finish sub-3? You’ll find a wide range of opinions on the internet – ranging from ‘anyone can run sub-3’ to ‘it’s a nigh unreachable goal.’

Let me share some data to show you just how common (or uncommon) this feat actually is – and then I’ll point you toward some resources to help you if you’re looking to run a sub 3 hour marathon yourself.

So How Common Is It To Run a Sub 3 Hour Marathon?

I’ve collected and analyzed a lot of data on marathons for various projects. So I happen to have the data lying around to effectively answer this question.

Based on a representative sample of runners from 2010 to 2019, a little under 3.5% of men finished their marathon in under 3 hours. Note: Read more about the sample here on Medium.

If you drill down to focus on the youngest age group – men under 35 – the percentage goes up quite a bit. Close to 6% of men under 35 meet the mark. That rate drops to 4% for men 35-39, 3% for men 40-44, and it becomes increasingly rare after that.

So is the sub 3 hour marathon something that is nearly impossible?

If you’re a man in your 60’s, then yes. It’s exceedingly rare. But for a young man under 35, it’s merely an uncommon but achievable goal.

I’ll be updating this article shortly with more detailed graphs and statistics.

Reaching the Goal: A Sub 3 Hour Marathon Training Plan

So how do you actually go about reaching this goal?

It’ll take consistency, grit, and determination. But with consistent training, you have a good shot of getting there.

It’ll take a combination of speed, volume, and experience.

Ultimately, someone who runs a three hour marathon should be able to finish a 5k in 18 minutes or so. If you can do that – move on to focusing on volume and mileage. But if you haven’t breached the 20 minute mark, you may want to spend a few seasons focusing on shorter distances first.

When it’s time to focus on volume, do your best to get up to 70 miles per week. For a first or second marathon, 55 miles per week is a decent amount of running. But to really reach your potential, you should be logging 70+ mile weeks while you’re in training.

Here’s a guide to choosing a marathon training plan – but you’re probably going to want to go with Pfitz or Jack Daniels.

Finally, be ready to give it a few tries. You can’t expect to run your best marathon your first time out – so unless you’re in amazing shape, sub-3 isn’t usually in the cards for your first rodeo. But it gets a little easier every time you race. You learn more about nutrition and pacing, and you know what to expect.

Good luck!

Get out there and get it done.

And when you’ve crossed the three hour mark, be sure to come back and leave a comment. Let everyone know how you got there.

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