Breaking 3 hour marathon

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When it comes to participate in the Mecca of marathon also known as Boston Marathon, running 3 hour is a bare minimum.

If you are younger than 35 years, you need to run any other marathon in less than 3 hours. To make sure that you have an accepted entry into Boston, 2:55 or even 2:50 is a safe bet.

This is undoubtedly a daunting task and require focus and consistent hard work. But, let me tell you this. This is doable. If I can do it, you can certainly do it too.

I ran my first marathon back in 2013 with a time of 3 hours and 47 minutes. I was pretty satisfied with my marathon time until I heard the strict criteria of Boston marathon.

Me, ready for a tempo run

I told me my friend that I want to run Boston marathon and he laughed at me saying that ” You can not just show up there”. You need to qualify!

I was  like-do I really need to qualify to run in Boston? The answer was a big yes and the qualification criteria was to run any other (Boston Qualifier) marathon in less than 3 hours and 10 minutes.

That was a big task in front of me. In the same year Boston Athletic Association (BAA) made the qualification criteria stricter by cutting it to 3:05 for my age group (18-35 at that time). So it became obvious that I need to work really hard to make it.

Nevertheless, I started training in quest of Boston and went to lakefront marathon in Milwaukee with the hope that I will run 3:05 or faster. I needed to maintain a pace of 7 minutes per mile in order to achieve that time.

As a beginner runner, I committed the same mistake that many other marathoners do. I started the race really fast with the pace of 6:42 per mile and thought that I will have 3-4 minutes in the bank for the later half of the race.

I did not know that the time in bank does not work in any marathon. At least, it does not absolutely work when you are shooting for your marathon or ultra marathon PR.

11 miles into th race and my wheels came off. The pace that was supposed to be 7 mins mile (ideally) came down to 7:05 and and around 7:45 by mile 20. I felt horrible in that race and learned a much needed lesson.

I finished that race in 3 hours and 19 minutes, whereas I was hoping for sub 3:05. I saw my wife namrta and my buddy Ashish at the finish line and they can see disappointment in my eyes.

Time in the bank in the first half does not work in a marathon. It is a bad strategy. Do not even try that.

All the great times had been achieved by running a negative split. Which means that running first half little slower than planned , may work for many.

I started training again in 2015 for my quest to run Boston marathon and few ups and down could not do that before September 2015. I needed to qualify before registration date of 2016. I could not and was really disappointed.

But my desire to run in Boston was very strong. I became very serious in the winters of 2015-2016 and started putting more than 60 miles per week. I started showing up for group runs organized by Berkeley Running Company in Madison along with their rocket runs each sunday.

Rockets run was really fast for me. They used to run 11 mile loop at around 6:30-6:45 pace but I decided to show up and thought I will try to keep up with them as long as I can and then turn back.

I started to hold that pace for couple of miles first and eventually did full rocket runs each Sunday after 20 mile long runs on Saturday. 

Running faster temp of 11 miles with tired legs had certainly helped me get faster in marathon distance.

I started year 2016 by running my first Boston Marathon qualifier in April. The Eisenbahn Marathon was on a old rail road trail which was almost flat.

I went to the race with my friend Varun and Hari who kindly agreed to provide me energy drinks during the marathon.

I sipped Gatorade in that race and felt pretty amazing during whole race. Eventually, I ended up running 3:04:21 marathon. It was great to break 3:05 marathon. However, looking at the history of boston cutoff, my time was not good enough for a guaranteed entry into Boston.

I started looking other marathons around Madison area and signed up for Green Bay marathon. My friend David Vande Walle kindly invited me to stay at his parents place a night before the marathon. Thanks to his family they took care of my nutrition and we had a good night sleep.

David has put some amazing signs on the door of bedroom that say that … shhhhh runners sleeping. I found it pretty amazing.

Thanks again Van de Walles for great hospitality.

It was a great day to start marathon but got a little warm at the end. My goal was to run the marathon in 3 hours and 2 minutes. That race went well and I was able to run 3:02:51.

I was not still sure with this time. Since it was a hot year, not many athletes qualified for Boston and so the prediction for cutoff was by less than a minute. I used to folllow many websites where they have developed some mathematical model to predict the Boston cutoff.

You read it right. People have developed mathematical models to predict the cutoff time and there were couple of them on the internet.

But I did not want to take any chance by believing the models generated by other Boston enthusiasts. Therefore, I decided to run one more marathon before mid September. This is usually the time when Boston marathon registration opens for couple weeks. So, I signed up for a race that has a very funny name and it is called “Last Chance BQ”. As name suggests, this is their last chance to qualify because race is in the second week of September.

During Striders half marathon in Milwaukee

Fast forward, I signed up for that race and ran that in 2:58:21. This time I was sure that I am going to run in Boston in 2017.

Now what did I learn during this journey and what have helped me to break 3 hour marathon mark? I will say these 4 things have helped me to make that happen.

High Mileage

I was not able to run a fast marathon when I was running 45-55 miles week. I have also included a weekly tempo run. I tried this mileage and approach for 2 years and best time I ran was 3 hours 18 minutes.

Increasing mileage to 70 plus miles per week had helped me a lot to become faster and eventually break 3 hour mark.

Tempo Run

As I have discussed earlier. Rockets runs have been instrumental in my running success (Qualification for Boston Marathon in Fact). This was 11 miles tempo run each Sunday after a 18-22 mile long run on Saturday. Running faster with tired legs has been real helpful.

Find someone who is faster than you and stick him/her for couple of miles and keep repeating this until you can hold your marathon pace for 8-12 miles. This is what I did during rocket runs. All my runner friends were faster than me but I always showed up and ran with them as much as I can.

You can get an idea of my madness with the fact that I didn’t even tie my shoe lashes properly when they were going all over. During a rocket run, my friend Jason Garvens once told me, “hey Vikas, you shoes lashes are untied”. I said, “I know. I didn’t stop because you would leave me and I wanted to run at-least 6 miles of tempo with you guys”. Everybody laughed at me.

Track workout

To me track workout, speed workout and interval training is the same thing. Doing shorter intervals of 400m, 800m, 1200m and 1600m preferably on a flat track are very helpful.

The benefit of tempo and track workout is almost similar. However I found that track workout or speed workout can help you build breathing consistency. If breathing is one of the issue for you during a tempo run, try doing some interval training on track. You will be amazed how quickly lungs get better.

In a tempo run or marathon where you were breathing hard, it won’t be that bad anymore. Your breathing efficiency as well as leg speed will improve by track workout.

Fast Finish Long Run

As far as I know Coach Greg McMillan has invented this term. It is basically to run a 18-20 mile long run with first 10 miles approximately 1 minute slower than your goal marathon pace. Then run the last 10 miles at your goal race pace. You should even try running last couple of miles faster than your marathon pace.

This workout is really hard and yield some great benefits. I did this types of workout prior to my Boston qualifiers and I feel doing 2-3 of them are more than enough.

Fast finish long runs are absolute must if you wish to break sub 3.

To conclude. I have stated some of the important factors that have helped me to run a sub 3 hour marathon. Do you want to add something else to this? Or have any question or comment? Please feel free to write in the comment section below.

Day by day I am learning more about racing, nutrition and training and will be sharing my experience with you in near future.

High mileage means no
Matter how the weather is, you need to run consistently.

Thanks a ton for taking time to read my post.

8 comments on “Breaking 3 hour marathon

  1. Pankaj Sharma

    Dear Vikas, just read your article and it is really informative. I have never run a full marathon but will try to go for it. Very good fundamentals you mention everytime .Keep writing.

  2. Hi vikash, I just can’t believe what I just read!! Unbelieveble!! I manage to run max 12km and in the end I am dead, but your running career is rocking. Nice to know that you have such a supportive family and friends. Keep running!!!! All the best, vishwa

  3. 🙏🙂

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