BREAKING 4 HOURS IN THE MARATHON

Now that I’ve broken 4 hours in the marathon I’m ready to fully chase that unicorn (Qualify for Boston) this week was the first week back of full force training. I’ve been reading up on people’s experiences going from slow marathon runners to Boston qualifiers and have been so inspired. It did make me think tho that before breaking 4 I looked up stories about breaking 4 hours. I went from running a 4:56 marathon in 2012 to finally breaking 4 this year.

HOW I BROKE 4 HOURS IN THE MARATHON

For my first marathon in 2012 I ran a few times a week and my longest distance was one 12 miler. At the start I honestly didn’t think I would even finish. I drank only water the entire race and didn’t fuel at all. I ran the whole thing at a super slow pace and was just happy to finish. Also my parents surprised me and saw me finish my first marathon ❤️

The next 4 marathons I ran at roughly the same exact pace, all finishing around 4:30. My training for each got a little better, but I wouldn’t run over 15 miles a week for an entire year, except for 12 weeks before the marathon. For all those marathons I roughly ran 15-25 miles per week, with one grueling run around 20 miles. I NEVER was able to run the longest run without stopping. I always made it to about 13 and from then on it was just a slow death until I got to 20. Most of the times I didn’t even make it 20 and called it quits at 19 miles.

For all the marathons I did I ran intervals and did tempo runs, as many training plans tell you to, but I still wasn’t getting any faster. For the marathon in 2020 I got my mileage up to about 25 miles per week with a peak of 30. I ran a 4:12 that year. I was excited to PR, but upset I still didn’t break 4.

Normally after a marathon I would not take running very seriously until the next marathon came along, so I never had a base when going into marathon training. After the Big Beach Marathon in 2020 I took about a month off and then got back into it. I started building a solid base. This was harder than I thought it would be. To make sure to not get injured, I ran all my runs at low heart rate (150 or less) from March until august or so. I had a hard time running over 30 miles per week. My knees started hurting bad, then my hips, then my piriformis. I started doing specific exercises to target these muscles and religiously stretched and foam rolled 3-4 times a week (still can improve a lot on this) slowly I worked up to 45 miles per week by September. Every 3rd week of building mileage I dropped my mileage a week to recover.

On October 4th I had a half marathon planned. I hadn’t done any speed work and just a handful of tempo runs at this point. My half marathon PR was 1:51 from back in 2018, I wasn’t expecting much. I started out way too fast at 8:40 pace and decided to just hold it. I ended up going faster each mile, running the last couple miles in the 7’s!!! I ran a new shiny PR of 1:46 that day!!

That’s when marathon training for the Big Beach Marathon in January 2021 really started. I had bought the book “advanced marathoning.” Which has become my running bible. I followed the 55 mile per week plan and felt amazing the entire time. Having built a good base I was easily able to run the 16-20 mile long runs during the weekend without issues. The years before I dreaded anything over 13, cause I could never run it without stopping at least once. This time, I never stopped. I ran the long runs slow and ended them a little faster, working on negative splits.

I ended up doing three 20 milers this training block!! And all felt great!! I was even able to just have a normal Sunday. The years before I would be down all day with an ice pack on my back after any long run.

In the plan was a 3 week taper, which was a welcomed break from the high mileage. I was surprised how easy a 37 mile week felt now, when just a few months before I had a hard time running 30 a week.

I feel like the true breakthrough for me was the higher mileage. Just make sure to take your time building it so you don’t get injured!! It took me from March until September to comfortably go from 20 miles per week to 45, through the summer months (I live in Alabama, the summers are HOT) I learned there’s no way to rush building your aerobic fitness. It’s all about consistency.

Base building

I’ve been reading more and more on how to qualify for Boston. I’ve been nervous about going at it too hard and overtraining. Everywhere it talks about having a good “base” before starting your 12-18 week marathon training cycle, but I had a hard time narrowing down how to actually build a base.

In the past I’ve started every marathon training cycle with running about 15 miles per week, being able to run about 8 miles easily. Yes.. my idea of base building was so off… Most books, websites and podcasts say to have a mileage of at least 35-40 mpw before even starting training. I never even got up to this kind of mileage during my training for any of my marathons.

There has been a lot of conflicting information about building base, some people still incorporate speed and tempo workouts, but from the research I’ve done it mostly says to run in an aerobic zone for 12 weeks or so. This means to not get your heart rate up too high, because this will put you in the anaerobic zone, which you won’t need to train until the marathon training actually starts.

I won’t bore you with more details, long story short for the next few months I’m having to run slow and a lot! I’m gonna try to work up to about 40-50 miles per week.

I read that with the MAF (maximum aerobic function) test you can test your aerobic progress in this cycle. Below is the formula and test explained from the Phill maffetone website.

Basically you run 5 miles at 150 heart rate and with building my aerobic system I should be able to run faster at the same heart rate by the end of this base building phase. This is my first test and I will post the next one in a month to see my progress.

  • Mile 1: 8:12
  • Mile 2: 8:31
  • Mile 3: 8:46
  • Mile 4: 8:47
  • Mile 5: 9:08

The 180 Formula
To find the maximum aerobic heart rate:

  1. Subtract your age from 180 (180 – age).
  2. Modify this number by selecting a category below that best matches your health profile:
    a. If you have, or are recovering from, a major illness (heart disease, high blood pressure, any operation or hospital stay, etc.) or you are taking medication, subtract an additional 10.
    b. If you have not exercised before or have been training inconsistently or injured, have not recently progressed in training or competition, or if you get more than two colds or bouts of flu per year, or have allergies, subtract an additional 5.
    c. If you’ve been exercising regularly (at least four times weekly) for up to two years without any of the problems listed in a or b, keep the number (180 – age) the same.
    d. If you have been competing for more than two years duration without any of the problems listed above, and have improved in competition without injury, add 5.
    For example, if you are 30 years old and fit into category b: 180 – 30 = 150, then 150 – 5 = 145.
    During training, create a range of 10 beats below the maximum aerobic heart rate; in the example above, train between 135 and 145 staying as close to 145 as possible. To develop the aerobic system most effectively, all training should be at or below this level during base building. As the aerobic system develops, you will be able to run faster at the same maximum aerobic heart rate.
    Once a great aerobic base is developed, an athlete can develop anaerobic function, if desired. In some cases this may not be necessary or the time and energy is not available for such endeavors. (Successful anaerobic training can be accomplished in a relatively short period of time, a topic discussed in my book, Training for Endurance.)
    One other significant benefit of applying the 180 Formula is the biochemical response: production of free radicals is minimal at this training level compared to training at higher heart rates. Free radicals contribute to degenerative problems, inflammation, heart disease, cancer and rapid aging.
    As important as finding the correct aerobic training heart rate is the process of self-assessment.
    Self-Assessment: The MAF Test
    A significant benefit of aerobic base building is the ability to run faster at the same effort, that is, at the same heart rate. A heart monitor can help objectively measure these improvements using a test I developed in the mid 1980s called the maximum aerobic function (MAF) test.
    Perform the MAF Test on a track, running at the maximum aerobic heart rate. A one- to five-mile test, with each one-mile interval recorded, provides good data. The test should be done following an easy 12–15 minute warm up, and be performed about every month throughout the year. Below is a 5-mile MAF Test of a runner training at a heart rate of 150:
    ©2007PhilipMaffetone http://www.philmaffetone.com