How to Train for a Sub-4-Hour Marathon

Hello! This is Monica from RunEatRepeat!

monica from runeatrepeat

You should check it out if you like running or eating.

monica after the race

OR watermelon-loving, red-headed Mexicans, which is a very specific market, so I’m hoping you are one of the three people on this earth who are into that sorta thing.

monica and tapatio


I started RunEatRepeat to document training for my first marathon and trying to lose weight way back in 2009. My goal was to just run ONE marathon, cross it off my bucket list and move on with my life. I ran that race in 4:15 and swore never to do it again.

Three days later I realized I might be able to do it a little faster the next time. So, I set my goal to run a marathon in under 4 hours as my ”˜grand finale’.

Long story short – I didn’t do it the next race. Or the next one.

I was obviously doing something wrong because I kept hitting the wall. Finally I learned three key things that helped me get to my goal, and I’m sharing them with you today.


How I (finally) Ran a Sub-4 Hour Marathon

1. Fueling. I finally figured out my fueling. I would hit the wall every race around mile 18. I used to get really bad quad cramps too. It took a lot of trial and error during training, but I finally learned my body’s signals and needs.

Now I take in chomps or GUs with extra sodium every five miles. This works for me because I’m a salt-y sweater. Make sure you listen to your body to figure out what works for you.

marathon fuel (800x450)

2. Pace. I am the last person to give you some cheesy schpill about how you’re only racing yourself but yep”¦ it’s true. I would always go out too fast getting caught up in the excitement of race day. Then, I would crash and burn.

“Go out like a rocket! End up like a rock.” That was me.

Finally I figured out how to pace myself for a full marathon. Check out “Pace Yourself Foo” for more.

marathon training how to pace yourself

3. Train your brain. There will come a point in every marathon that your brain is like, “Hey – is that your mom?! Maybe we should just duck out and get a ride home.” or “This SUCKS! WHY?? WHY DO YOU LIKE TO DO THIS?!?!”

I have run 14 marathons now, and I quit running as some point during all of them. You have to have some kind of prayer, positive mantra, distraction or pre-planned thought to get you through this. The key is to have it ready to go so you stay in the game during the race.

running motivation when in doubt run it out

Good luck! If you have any other questions or want more check out RunEatRepeat.

Thank you Tina for letting me guest post on CNC today! And no you don’t have to name your first born after me in exchange”¦

tina and monica before the 5k

Do you guys have any tips or tricks to share with the class on what helps you run?


  1. I started blogging for much the same reason, and now that I’ve run my 1st marathon I’m started to think another might be in my future. Sub-4 seems likes it’s totally unrealistic, but then again, two years ago I said evening finishing a marathon was a crazy idea 🙂

  2. As I was reading this, I was wondering one thing. Were you (Monica) not fueling with anything before? God, I would have hit the wall by 8 mile in without anything! Because my stomach is really sensitive to caffeine and stuff, I’ve had to fuel using these fruity things from PowerBar that seem to be working okay. We’ll see after I run in April!

  3. i think speedwork (some sort of track, hills, tempo, fartlek, etc) runs – one a week, or every other week at least – are essential if you’re trying to break 4 hours. also, love that a wine glass is in the background of your fueling photo 😉

  4. This was a great post! I really want to run a half-marathon this year but I’m basically going to have to train from square 1. I’ve been struggling with lung/breathing problems and they can’t find out what’s wrong, so I have hardly run at all over the last few months and just focused on other forms of fitness. I think what’s most important for me is running because I enjoy it, not to compete with others or try to win a race, but just to do it because I love it.

  5. Love this post! I have only run one marathon and finished it in 4:16. I am currently in the beginning stages of maybe training for another. I always do this thing where I say I’m going to do the full, then I stop training and do a half (I’ve done like 10 halfs lol). But I said if I did another marathon, I would do it faster than my first, so thanks for the pointers! I’d love to have a sub 4 hour marathon!

  6. I think one key thing people forget is having a strong running base before attempting sub 4. Sure some people are secret Kanyans and can run sub 4 with no training, but most people need to run more to be able to sustain 26.2 miles under 4 hours. The trick is finding a good balance between easy runs and race pace + 1 minute for long runs. If you’re run/walking all your long runs, you’ll most likely not be able run continuously in a sub 4 on race day.

    I think the reason you were finally able to go sub 4, besides figuring out the little details if that you finally had enough base mileage and endurance to be able to hold your pace for under 4 hours.


  7. Great guest post!! I am trying to be a runner (I use the term runner loosly), people could actually walk fast than I can run. LOL I follow your blog as well.

  8. That’s a great list, Monica! My tip is cross-train 2-3 days per week in addition to running. Incorporate weight training and other cardio such as elliptical, stair climber, cycle or swim. It’s important for training other muscle groups, prepare yourself for course climbs as well as to prevent injury.

  9. love #3– I definitely hit the mental block during most runs, and I just have to remind myself, that I started, and my legs are way stronger than my mind wants me to think! I am in charge and if I tell myself to just keep running, I can do it!

  10. Love your tips! I ran NYC this year as my first and also figured it would be a one and done to get it off the bucket list. Turns out, I’m hooked and am planning for another in the fall!
    I fully agree that it’s all about positive self talk and mantras to get through those super tough miles. One of my fave quotes (from A League of Their Own) ” If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great!” Right on! 🙂

  11. Great post, Monica, love your blog almost as much as CNC 🙂 Would love to marathon someday, two half marathons so far, but sidelined with an injury right now so spinning is my new thing!

  12. Great tips! I think it’s hard to pace yourself. I would also want to go full on out! I love your honesty about your running obstacles! Thank you, Monica!

  13. I’m a half-marathoner going for an under 2 hr finish, and you totally nailed all my issues in your tips. I’m also incorporating tempo and hill repeat workouts in my training, something I didn’t really do before. So far I’m on track to kill that sub 2 hr time at my next half in May. By the way, I’m totally partial to red-headed Mexicans. I’m an Irish momma who married a Mexican. One of my four “Latin Leprechauns” (as I like to call them) is a teen who gets a little of that same pretty copper red in his facial hair. Did I mention he also loves watermelon? : )

  14. confidence builds after completing so many long runs. When I trained for my first marathon I was scared and nervous and while I had reached 20 miles in training it was 7 miles with a 20 minute intermission before completing a half marathon so I kept telling myself it was cheating. I finished that marathon in 5:28… Now as I train for my 5th I don’t worry about all the details. I just get the mileage in to the best of my ability. I’ve got my time down to 4:57 on the same course that I ran the 5:28 and on 4:48 is my current PR on a flatter course. I’m hoping to hit 4:40 in April at my next marathon. Never underestimate the power of inner strength….confidence and mental toughness. =)

  15. Hi Monica,
    Does GU make extra sodium packets and chomps? I’ve never noticed them. Like you, I am a salty sweater and I find that I have to sip NUUN during an entire race any longer than a 10k b/c if not my stomach will be disastrous and I will be down and out for 2 days! I’m convinced I need to be taking in more salt!
    BTW I ready your blog daily and love it!

  16. I just started blogging recently because I am training for my first marathon so this is very helpful !!! I am only doing 13 miles in May but still find it extremely tough. I keep hitting a wall around 5-6 miles, I think I just need more practice..Thanks for the tips !!!

  17. This is crazy! My first marathon 10/10/10 !! goal was sub 4 and wall at 25 killed that dream ! 4 hours 5 min !! One and done became , have too have too break 4!!So waste no time and head to my favorite state , Florida and try again in feb 2011 >>>> so close 4 hours 27 seconds !! count it , come on count it !! nope after beating myself up i said 2014 im back !! repeat that florida run sub 4 here i come , hells no 100% humidity killed me , but finished race 4 hours 31 minutes ! pacer guy cramped up also and was about 1 hour off his normal finish!! Hospital post run for 4 liters of fluids! So i am stoked and motivated to get this done and im hopeful that just maybe the salty snack , may be the answer!! also i am down 20 pounds from that feb day !! plan 15k july , 1/2 marathon in august and florida november 30th space coast to get that monkey finally off my back !! thanks for your story! Inspired in ny !! sub 4 gonna happen !!!

  18. I just finished my first Marathon the Norvo Nordisk NJ marathon in 3:48:39
    I Had one long run of 22 miles and I hit the wall hard. I trained on an empty stomach with nothing but water along the way. For the Marathon I Carb loaded 2 days before and took gatorade and gel supplements whenever offered on the course. I was nervous about cramping but I did not really experience the Wall on the Marathon. My feeling at mile 24 was will this race ever end. I was able to increase the pace and finished strong. I really followed a pretty much Paleo diet till 3 weeks out from the race. Still eat pretty clean.

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