The Essential 4 Hour Marathon Training Plan

The average median finish time for men running a marathon in the United States is around four hours twenty minutes. Traveling that same distance for the average woman takes about four hours forty-five minutes for most women.

Once the marathon bug bites, a common goal for runners is to break four hours. Breaking the four-hour barrier while running 26.2 miles is not easy but it is certainly doable with proper training.

Can Anyone Break Four?

Experts agree that a runner needs to be in good fitness before setting out to break four hours in the marathon. Most sub-4 hour marathon training plan schedules state that in order to consider this as a goal, you should first have run a marathon.

The marathon is not an easy beast to tackle and in this, experience certainly matters. When you hit the wall at mile twenty, it helps to have prior knowledge of what to expect on the remaining 10k.

Second, you should be able to run a 10K in under fifty-two minutes in order to plan to run a marathon under four hours.

Third, it is helpful if you are fairly comfortable and experienced at running double-digit mileage for long run days.

Lastly, most running gurus suggest that you have a minimum six months of solid training under your belt before setting this type of goal.

Training Parameters

Training for a sub 4:00 marathon will require minimum five days of week of training. Within this training will be long runs, speedwork, hill repeats and other exercises that’ll help increase the 4 hour marathon pace. You need to be prepared to dedicate a good chunk of time each week to training.

There are many free training plans out there that can help you to reach your running goals. When searching for a 4-hour marathon training plan you need to jump right past the beginner plans and into intermediate or advanced.

These plans include higher mileage and key components like speedwork and/or hill repeats. In a more rigorous training plan, mid-week runs are also higher mileage than in novice or beginner plans.

Most marathon plans take around 20 weeks to complete, so bear that in mind when setting your goal and choosing a race.

Free Training Plans

Hal Higdon

Hal Higdon is a big name in the running world. Whether you are a novice or experienced runner, Higdon has a plan for you. Just remember that if trying to set the world on fire and reach epic goals, look past those running plans for beginners.

Runner’s World

Runner’s World magazine publishes many different types of training plans and they are also without charge. Some plans are created with a particular time goal in mind, but most are simply based on runner ability.

Cool Running

Another familiar organization is Cool Running. There you will also find marathon training plans tailored to meet every need.

Cool Running takes the plans one step further and includes a competitive category for athletes already running fifty plus miles per week and looking to increase the 4 hour marathon pace.

Coaches and Individualized Training

Many runners choose to turn to a coach for a more individualized approach to a 4-hour marathon training plan. Sound expensive? It doesn’t have to be.

There are virtual coaches who will create a plan based on your preferences, skill level and the time you can invest in training. These coaches vary in what that looks like.

Some coaches write plans on a bi-weekly basis and include a set amount of feedback and contact. Workouts can be sent back and forth through different methods of communicating such as Training Peaks, an online forum. The coach can set up two weeks’ worth of workouts and the athlete can input their paces and times once completing the workout.

Other coaches will send a weekly training plan full of workouts, with paces individualized based on the training cycle of the accomplishments of the athlete. Some even offer frequent phone, email and text conversation.


For fresh legs on race day, follow your training plan carefully in regards to the taper. Most plans have the longest run taking place between three and four weeks before the big day.

In the last two weeks of training, continuing to run the same number of days in a week while decreasing the volume of mileage will help be sure you are physically and mentally ready to toe the line in peak shape. Your final hard run or workout should be approximately ten days out from race day.

Photo Credit:

Some athletes choose to hone in on diet during this time also, cutting out extra calories, alcohol and junk food during this time. The logic behind this is two fold.

First, as you cut mileage it would be easy for the scale to creep up a little and focusing on diet helps alleviate this. Also, treating your body like a well oiled machine can help put you into the best condition to reach your goals.

Consider Joining a Race Day Pace Group

training to break a 4 hour marathon
Pace Group – Wineglass

Joining a pace group is one tool runners often use to help them reach their goals. Most pacers are capable of running the distance between thirty and sixty minutes faster than the speed they are leading. This ensures that the pacer won’t drop the ball by a slightly off day.

Many veteran runners recommend joining a slightly faster pace group, and others recommend sticking with the exact number you are hoping to reach, but trying to pull ahead of the group in the second half of the race.

Even if you have decided to join a pace group, certainly keep a close eye on the time for yourself. The last thing you want is to miss your goal of breaking the 4 hour marathon pace because of another person’s miscalculation.

Sarah Wiliarty: From a 5:27 First Marathon to Boston Qualifier!

Sarah Wiliarty marathoner
Sarah Wiliarty

This is Sarah Wiliarty. Sarah is not a professional athlete; rather, she is a wife. She’s a mom. She’s a college professor who discovered running at age 40. In 2013 she ran her first marathon in 5:27. She was self-coached and trained. She was one additional thing: determined.

Sarah’s next two marathons: 4:33 then 4:31. She started working with a coach and dropped her time to 4:09. Still, the four hour mark eluded her. She hired a new coach, buckled down, added mileage and trained harder.

Her seventh marathon: Erie, in September of 2018 she broke the four hour mark with a 3:54 (pictured above, clock does not match her time due to corral placement).

If you ask Sarah: Was it hard to break four hours in a marathon? She will tell you it was. She will also tell you it was worth it and not to give up. She will tell you if you want to break four hours, just work hard and believe. 

Breaking Four Hours

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