For many runners, breaking 3 hours for the marathon is the ultimate challenge. It requires not only supreme fitness and a gruelling training regime but also a fair bit of luck. Many and varied factors can come into play: injury, weather, elevation of the route and diet can all singlehandedly derail a sub-three hour attempt. Just banging out the miles is not enough nor is being a naturally talented runner. To break three hours we must delve deeper and try to prepare for all manner of problems that the marathon can throw up.
Over the coming weeks I will set out a detailed guide on the various challenges which must be overcome to break the three hour mark. Follow it and, with a bit of luck, you will have a great chance of breaking 3 hours.
PART ONE: FAIL TO PREPARE, PREPARE TO FAIL Here we will cover the basics. Which marathon do you want to enter? Whether your choice is a spring or an autumn marathon will dictate the conditions in which you will have to train. Your choice will also have a bearing on the type of training you will need to do, for example, training for Boston will be very different to training for Berlin or Amsterdam. We will also cover equipment, from shoes and clothing to watches and other accessories. Lastly, we'll look at mindset and how to get mentally ready for a sub-three campaign.
PART TWO: NO ONE SAID IT WOULD BE EASY Following on from Part One, we will examine the building blocks of a great training programme. Long runs will be covered as well as tempo runs, hill sessions, track intervals and recovery runs. We will also look at the importance of stretching and strengthening the core.
PART THREE: PREPARATORY SCHEDULE You may already be in good shape. If not, this 8 week guide will help you get there. It will also give you an insight into what the main training schedule will be like.
PART FOUR: TEMPO RUNS Building on Part Two, we will detail how tempo runs will fit into your 20 week training schedule. Week by week, these will vary in difficulty to get you where you need to be come race day.
PART FIVE: RECOVERY RUNS These are vital if you are to break three hours. In general, every hard workout will be followed by a recovery run the next day. There's no point hammering out intense sessions every day. All that will happen is that the quality of running will go down as the likelihood of you getting injured goes up. Part Five details what recovery runs will best prepare your body for that next gut-wrenching interval session.
PART SIX: TRACK INTERVALS Speaking of which, Part Six will examine the art of track intervals. Also included will be tips on how to get this type of training into your legs even if you don't have handy access to a track.
PART SEVEN: HILL SESSIONS Many marathon courses have hilly stretches that should be prepared for. There's nothing worse than getting to mile 20 and coming unstuck by a comparatively modest incline. These sessions will help strengthen your legs and make sure you blast up those hills without a second thought.
PART EIGHT: THE LONG RUN The favourite of many marathon runners. Not only will you impress (or more likely horrify) your friends and family with stories of 20 mile plus runs, you will also be preparing your legs for the trauma of running quickly for three hours. Gradually building each week, these runs are designed to get you running long and will also incorporate sections at race pace to get you used to running quickly on tired legs.
PART NINE: NUTRITION To run well you need to eat well. Part Nine will cover the key ingredients of a sub-three diet. It will also cover fuelling requirements of the race itself as well as post run meals and other nutrition ideas.
PART TEN: THE TAPER Failing to taper adequately is a key reason many runners come unstuck. Part Ten will guide you through the taper and will help ease thoughts that you are not doing enough in these last few weeks.
PART ELEVEN: RACE DAY This will cover race stategies as well as thoughts on practicalities such as the marathon expo and travel to the start line. We will also cover overcoming race day nerves and what not to do when the gun finally goes off.
PART TWELVE: POST RACE So you've made it! Hopefully you will have reached your goal and enjoyed your race. Part Twelve deals with the aftermath, whether you romped home in 2:40 or had to pull out injured. Here we will help you think about future challenges and build on your experience so that one day you can smash the three hour mark (or go even lower)!