Can I do a 4-hour marathon run?

If my two previous runs are to be my guide (I recently did the Go Natural 21K in 2:17 and the Timex 16K in 1:33, both with still some gas under the hood), things are looking positive that should be able to complete a marathon in under 5 hours.

The next question will be: can I run a marathon in under 4 hours?

The sub-4 hour benchmark is an important one because, based on the 2011 Milo Marathon qualifying times, a person in my age bracket has to run under 4 hours to qualify for the finals. Not that I have any ambition of winning the Milo Marathon, but it would be nice bragging rights to say that I “qualified for the finals.”

Searching around the Internet, I stumbled upon this “Sub 4 hour Marathon Fitness Class“:

This marathon FitnessClass is designed for the intermediate runner looking to break the 4-hour barrier who is able to handle 30 to 40 miles per week. This FitnessClass is based around one basic principle: for success at the marathon distance, you need to training specifically for the physiological demands of the race. In the marathon, this means three things: (1) increasing your fitness so that you can decrease your marathon pace and make it more comfortable; (2) teaching your body how to burn fat as a fuel source as opposed to carbohydrates; and (3) simulating the fatigue you’ll experience the last 10k without getting hurt or becoming too tired in training. To accomplish these three goals, this FitnessClass will employ faster paced tempo runs that are often broken into shorter, but faster intervals. These shorter intervals allow you to run faster, thereby working on your speed and mechanics, while maintaining an effort that develops your aerobic system. The more efficient your body becomes at burning fuel while running fast, the longer you can run marathon pace on race day. To encourage your body to use fat as an energy source and to simulate the fatigue at the end of the race, this FitnessClass breaks up the long runs over the weekend into two moderately fast paced runs. Long and slow 22 milers will breakdown the muscles and will completely exhaust you, which will lead to a significant delay in recovery. In addition, running for longer than 3 hours and 30 minutes can significantly increase the chance of injury and doesn’t produce significant physiological adaptations. Instead, this FitnessClass places runs on both weekend days, which will allow you to carry the fatigue of Saturday’s run into Sunday, which will simulate the latter stages of the marathon without having to run 20 miles first. However, in this FitnessClass, you won’t be so fatigued from Saturday that you can’t run fast at the end of the long run on Sunday, which will teach you how to burn fat while running marathon pace.

More on this concept of “accumulated fatigue” can be found here.

Assuming the 2012 Milo Marathon is in the latter half of July, my strategy is:

  • Complete the Condura Skyway Marathon. This should give me an idea of what if feels to run a marathon.
  • After a rest period (maybe 2 weeks), begin to accumulate at least 60 kilometers a week in training. I’m thinking of a 20 kilometer long run on a weekend (I may have to signup for organized runs to keep me motivated), three 10Ks within the work week, and then at least one speed-work run. Sheesh, just thinking of this is making my head ache . . .
  • Run a 10K maybe in May. Since a 4-hour marathon should be run at a 5:41 pace, ideally I should target to finish a 10K in 55-56 minutes. That alone would be PR.
  • Run a 21K sometime in June. The 2nd leg of the Run United trilogy may be the best venue, assuming the schedule is finalized. Ideally I should break 2 hours. If I don’t, then a 4-hour marathon is highly unlikely.

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