Training for a sub 3 marathon

1 November, 2018 | News, Training

running man on mountain going sub 3

This is a write up of my 12 week training plan for the 2017 Stirling Marathon which resulted in 2:58:23 finish.

The London ballot has been and gone giving some a happy outcome and leaving many, many others with a sense of disappointment and frustration at not getting in for the umpteenth time. There’s no need to fret though, there are plenty of other spring/summer marathons to think about. Stirling, Edinburgh, Manchester, Brighton, and if you fancy some hills or trails and staying local, there’s Fort William, Strathearn, Glentress and later in the year there’s Inverness.

Whether you’re aiming for sub 3, sub 4, sub 5 or more, I hope to give you an idea of how you can shape your own plan. I will share with you:

  • My base
  • Finding and creating a plan
  • My plan
  • My result

My first and only marathon to date was the inaugural Great Stirling Run which took place in May 2017. Yes, the one with ‘the loops’. Thankfully the organisers listened to feedback and changed the route for 2018. The date was also changed so it now takes place in April.

My base

I started running in 2015 and slowly increased my target of running 6 miles a week to 10, to 20, to joining a club and running in races. In the 12 weeks prior to starting my marathon plan I was averaging just over 30 miles per week, had PBs of 5k (parkrun) – 18:25, 10k (maybe a bit short) – 36:58 and HM (short) – 1:23:51, and my longest run was probably about 16 miles. The chart below shows the number of runs per week, weekly mileage and longest run distance.

Finding and creating a plan

There are loads of training plans on the web. Here are some of the ones I looked at:

You have to balance work and life commitments, so as good as these plans are, they’re not tailored for the individual. I really enjoyed creating my own plan.

Typically, I would manage around four runs a week based on:

  • Monday – rest day
  • Tuesday – club run (tempo)
  • Wednesday – easy run home from work
  • Thursday/Friday – speedwork
  • Saturday/Sunday – long run and occasional parkrun

I based my training plan on an intermediate plan downloaded from Runners World. I used it mainly to set my long run distance, taper weeks and followed the usual advice of alternating easy and hard days and scaling back the mileage every 4 weeks. I included core work which was planned using more examples from Runners World.

My plan

Here is my marathon plan set out on excel including a record of what I actually did. Click on the plan to enlarge it. A download link for the excel version is further down the page.

Notice I didn’t follow it to the letter and core work was pretty much ignored. I swapped days about, did less speedwork than I had hoped but did manage to complete five runs over 20 miles. My biggest weekly mileage was 48 miles.

I found doing the occasional parkrun was a good test to see how I was progressing and managed to improve my PB as my training progressed.

Part of the challenge of marathon training is finding the time to fit all the training in. I did this by running longer routes home from work, running to and from my club runs and getting up early at the weekends to cram the long ones in.

Another challenge is knowing what paces to do your training runs at. I generally ran my long runs too fast which wouldn’t have helped my recovery. This pace calculator on Runners World will give you an idea of your own training paces. I also skipped most of my planned core work, so combining this and my poor pace management I was feeling a few niggles in the latter stages of the plan.

I was tired by the time the taper period came and along with a busy time at home, you can see the hit my mileage took in this period in the chart below.

My result

My goals changed all the way through training but on race day I settled for:

  1. Everything goes totally amazing and beyond expectations, finish around 2:50:00
  2. It goes well and I manage to hold on for the finish, anything 2:59:59 and below
  3. It’s my first marathon and I’m happy to have done it 3:00:00 – 3:15:00

I aimed for 6:45 min/mile at the start, thinking I could push on later. I gradually made my way up through different running packs, going steady on the hills and making the most of downhills, which resulted in a few miles faster than 6:30 min/mile pace. I passed the half marathon marker in 1:25:02, so all as well but my pace was slowing a few miles later.

At mile 20, my pace had slowed to 7min/miles and I was starting to struggle a bit. After mile 24 I thought I might be due to cramp up. I took a couple of short walking breaks during the final two miles, knowing I had a bit of leeway to still get sub 3, and to give myself a little recovery so that I was able to dig in for the finish. I managed to finish strongly and was delighted with 2:58:23. I was a bit of wreck after that. I took SIS gels for fuel – one caffeine gel at the start then 3 during the race about every 7 miles. In hindsight, I don’t think this was enough.

Next time I will try and:

  • Log more training miles
  • Take more gels/fuel during the race
  • Complete more specific marathon speedwork
  • Have a better taper.

It was a great experience and now I can’t wait to get started training for my first ultra, the Highland Fling. For now, I’ll be building up my miles and getting the spreadsheet back out to plan my new challenge.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article and it gives you some ideas about setting up your own plan. Good luck in whatever you do and let us know how you get on.