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Achieving The Elusive Sub 3-Hour Marathon

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running trail marathon training

For many marathon runners (myself included) a big goal to is to join “the sub three club”. This is something I knew I was probably capable of, having run 3hr05 off the back of half Ironman training.

Earlier this year, having trained hard and put in specific marathon training, I finally achieved my goal and ran 2:57:30 at Brighton Marathon. I therefore thought I’d write a piece on how I approached my training whilst still having fun and effectively working full time (on placement for university, training as a physiotherapist).

I didn’t have a coach or a 16-week plan, however I trained a lot with my boyfriend (who has run a much faster marathon than I have) and knew the kind of sessions I needed to fit in. I actually started training for the marathon more than 16 weeks prior to the event following a rest at the end of triathlon season (the marathon wasn’t until April). The beauty of this was that I could have a bit of “down time” with some easier weeks with more cross training allowing for recovery and ensuring I continued to enjoy the training.

Each week I would aim to fit in an interval session on both Tuesday and Thursday, a Parkrun at tempo pace on the Saturday and a long run on Sunday. The interval session would be anything from 400m reps to 5km reps at half marathon/marathon pace and the Sunday long run would sometimes be easy off-road and sometimes included the longer intervals.

I was also careful to increase my weekly mileage and the distance of my long run gradually. As a triathlete, I continued to swim and run as well as include strength and conditioning in my weekly training. This served as great cross-training as well as reducing my risk of injury.

Compared to many runners, my weekly run mileage wasn’t actually that high. I usually ran about 60-70km a week with a couple of 100km weeks nearer race day. In the winter, I had a 35km round commute to work which I would normally cycle but occasionally ran at an easy pace with 5km at marathon pace to help fit the mileage in.

Here is an example of an average training week:


Bike commute 35km (22 miles)

Interval Swim ~3000m


Bike commute 35km

16km (10-mile) run with 5 x 1km @ 10km pace


Bike commute 35km

Interval Swim ~3000m


Bike commute 35km

12km (7.5-mile) run with 3 x 6 x 30/30 efforts


Bike commute 35km


Parkrun (~14km with 5km tempo)

70km (43-mile) bike ride (easy with efforts on hills)


22km (13.6-mile) run with 5km @ HM pace + 5km MP

Recovery Swim ~2000m


running Parkrun Brighton training marathon

I spent a week in the South of France over New Year with my boyfriend’s family. The warmer weather and time off work meant we could have an intensive week of running and cycling training with much higher mileage, having the same effect as a “training camp”.

As part of my training, and also to get an idea of my progress/running fitness, I picked a couple of races in the lead up to the marathon. I ran PBs at Chichester 10km and Brighton Half Marathon two months prior to the marathon which gave me confidence that my training was paying off and that at the very least I was on track for a marathon PB.

Following the “warm up” races, we had a week of “down time” where we went on holiday for a week with friends to Italy. Of course, we still fitted in some running, but easy miles exploring rather than hard structured training. I think this really helped me mentally to push through the final month or so of hard training before taper time!

Come race day I knew I had been consistent with my training and that breaking three hours was definitely possible. Knowing that the second half of the marathon will always be slower than the first due to fatigue; I was very happy to run under 1:28 for the first half, after that it was just a matter of holding on to the finish, crossing the line very happily in 2:57:30.

Hopefully this can show you how it is possible to train for a marathon (be that a first marathon, PB or sub 3hrs) around a full-time job, without the crazy high mileage of some runners, whilst ensuring you have fun along the way. At the end of the day, we’re doing this for “fun” so we’d better make sure we can enjoy it!

About the author: Bethan Male is an Ironman triathlete and Sundried ambassador.

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