Running A Sub Four Marathon – Running, Racing and Training


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I’ve had a few, but too few to mention.  If there was a pop song about my quest for the sub-four-hour marathon that would be a key line in the ballad.  In the world of marathon running a sub-four-marathon to some is a routine benchmark.  To others it’s a goal still on the horizon.  To me it has always been a waterline of marathon success.

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I ran my first marathon in April of 2005.  When I began my marathon journey I believed it would be a fair bet to say one marathon would be enough.  17 years later with 23 finishes I’ve run four, sub-four-hour marathons.  I’ve read that less than 1% of the population have completed a full marathon.  That got me to wonder what percentage have run a sub-four?  It took me eight years to reach this milestone, running 3:56:57 in 2013 at the Niagara Falls International Marathon.  My last sub-four was at the Outer Banks Marathon, Nov 2017, with an unexpected 3:59:22 on a day when I simply wanted to finish the race.  I’ve also failed on three occasions when I was trying to run a sub-four finish but things did not turn out as expected.

What I’ve learned running four sub-four-hour marathons.

Niagara Falls Marathon – 3:56:57

City of Oaks Marathon – 3:56:06

Myrtle Beach Marathon – 3:53:47

Outer Banks Marathon – 3:59:22

  1. Pace is key.  When I look back at my successful sub-four-hour times my pace was very steady and predictable.  In reviewing the data from the race what I saw was a steady pace with no high patches and no low patches.  This proved to me that a steady pace wins the race and runs a successful sub-four-hour marathon.
  2. Make effective use of the aide stations.  During a 26.2-mile race you need to take advantage of the aide stations but what you can’t do is waste a lot of time in the process.
  3. Have something left in the tank to fight for the finish I wanted.  Somewhere around mile 18, I normally can tell if I have fight left in me.  I believe this is different than hitting the wall.  To me, hitting the wall means that a finish may be in question.  Comparing my four sub-four finishes with when I came up short, finishing was never an issue, fighting to the finish was.  A successful sub-four meant I had fight left in me at the end.
  4. Never give up on the dream.

Want to run your best race, check out Brian’s book – 26.2 Tips to Run Your Best Marathon (or any race for that matter.)

What I’ve learned coming, but did not get to open the sub-four-hour champagne.

Windermere Marathon (2014) – 4:04:05

Air Force Marathon (2014) – 4:07:08

Cleveland Marathon (2017) – 4:04:06

  1. I tried to run too fast.  In some cases, I did not watch my pace, I went out to fast or I fell in love with a faster finishing time.
  2. I failed to run my race, and my plan.  At some point in the race I got caught up in the number of people passing me.  I began to believe I should be able to run with this person or that person and I ended up running their race and not mine.
  3. I could not stop the bleeding.  Once I got off target, I could not get the ship righted.  Once I started giving back time to the clock, I simply could not stop the bleeding, things either got worse or the got no better.

A sub-four-hour marathon is not a judgement of your marathon ability.  We each bring our own value to the race.  Some run to BQ, some run to finish and some run to get what “they” value as a benchmark time.