Run a Sub-3:00 Marathon in Just 10 Short Miles a Day!

Gearing up for sub-3 marathon number 2!

I raced the Columbus Marathon last week. Unlike last year, I didn’t get stressed out about the race. I was very, very ready (or at least I thought I was) when I showed up on the starting line. I knew it was just a matter of getting there with the right gear, a solid race plan and some good fall marathoning weather. I went after a 2:50 race, but landed on a 2:54, over four minutes faster than last year. You can read all the gory details in my race report.

So, how did I end up crossing the line with a 2:54:06 in October, after DNF’ing in May? I know a lot of you out there love reading our training logs.  I truly believe that one of the best ways to find training methods that work for you is to stalk other people’s training logs. I’ll save you the stalking part: I’m going to show you what a sub-3:00 marathon training cycle looks like, from the workouts to the weekly mileage and more!

I know, I know. Many of you think sub-3 hours is just an impossibility, that women who run that fast are genetically gifted. I’m telling you right now, there isn’t anything all that special about them. They worked really hard to get there, had a good training approach and didn’t get injured. In fact, I would tell you that they did three things you probably aren’t doing: 1) they started running every single day; 2) increased their mileage to average somewhere over 10 miles per day; and 3) they train with complete consistency no matter what — at least during their race specific training seasons.

And this is what I did after I DNF’d in Pittsburgh. I took three weeks off and made some changes back closer to the way things were when my training went better (plus the lessons I learned, of course). I resumed running with a holding pattern of low stress 50-ish mile weeks. There were a few weeks of high mileage build-up in the 70 to 80 range, and finally this training cycle began in August.

The elements of a sub-3 training plan.

I think my training is pretty exemplary of other women with similar times, although with some variation for particular preferences. Here are the elements of my training:

  • 10-ish Week Race Specific Phase. I kept my marathon-specific training period to about ten weeks. Anything longer than this just seems too long, and for the fall, anything longer also starts to encroach on crazy-early summer sunrises. This is the part of training where I’m focusing on racing 26.2 miles at goal pace, rather than generally working on speed, endurance, etc.
  • Long Runs. For marathon-specific racing, a long run is anything 16 miles or longer. I really hate long runs, so I keep mine under 20 miles. Usually 18 miles, but sometimes as short as 16 miles.
  • Cruise Intervals. I like cruise intervals, while other runners prefer tempo runs. Cruise intervals are typically longer intervals with very short rest run run at LT pace. This is somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 mile race pace, while a tempo may be a sustained run closer to half marathon pace.
  • Marathon Pace Work. I like practicing, so long continuous marathon-paced runs are essential to me.The goal is 10 miles each session, about 100 miles total leading up to the race. I also practice water bottles, clothing and pacing during these runs.
  • Doubles. I’m not that into doubles. I didn’t run any doubles in last year’s Columbus race specific phase, but this time a weekly double added some easy miles.
  • No days off. I believe if you want to race your best marathon you need to run every day of your marathon-specific phase.

We all do something different.

So that is what I do. But what works for me, won’t necessarily work for you. If you are stumped, spy on training logs on Strava or our training logs to see what everyone else is doing. The best training approach is the one you actually do. The point is that somewhere between looking at what everyone else is doing, finding a training plan that you like and making sure you reinforce good habits, you can probably figure out a training plan that works for you.

The training log.

This log is copied directly out of my training log on Strava. I wish you could see it there, but this view can’t be shared. If you are looking at this mileage going [@?!?!?!$], what you should notice is that this sport has a lot of mobility. You don’t start at running seven days a week. You work up to it. To make it to this level, you have to make it to being able to run every single day. That helps fulfill the necessity of mileage.

After you work up to being able to handle training seven days a week, then you can work on the big marathon-specific workouts on top of the mileage.  No matter where you are on your journey to marathon greatness, you have to run workouts with clear purpose and know that you are doing them right. This is particularly true when you’re running every day. They don’t have to be complex workouts. 3 x 2mi at 10 mile-ish race pace is really easy to understand, and it is easy to determine when you are doing them correctly. All you need is a watch and a track.

So visually, what does a season of subelite training look like?

Let me show you. At the end of this post is a visual representation of my training between my DNF in Pittsburgh and Columbus. Notice the 10 week marathon-specific training started the first week of August. After you check it out, let me know what you think.

Do you aspire to break-3 someday? Have you already? How does your training differ from mine?  

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I'm a subelite marathon runner, but I didn't come from a collegiate running background. Instead I'm trying to break into competitive running in my thirties. I write about chasing the dream of running with the elite girls and tell stories of adventures along the way. Watch me chase the next big thing.

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      1. I ran 3:09 in 2006 with 3 weeks at 90 and several in the 70-80+ range.

        I ran my first sub 3 in 2011: 2:58 in Chicago and then 2:51 in Indianapolis. I truly believe I was in low-mid 2:40s shape at the time, however.

        In the meantime I ran several marathons in the 3:teens range, then Boston in 3:23 in 2009 as a fun run before I decided I wasn’t having fun running marathons.

        So I focused on the 5k and 10k and went from 18:mids and 39:10 to 17:00 and 35:45 before returning to the marathon.

        1. My logs from ~2010 on are on (username = Paige…). I recently found out the website I used prior to then has disappeared. 🙁

  1. This is similar to what I did when I trained to approach/break 3 hours. One season I did a lot of my MP work in long runs and then did tempo workouts around HMP. Then when I marathon-trained with Glenn we did more HMP sustained tempos and hard track work, but then back-to-back long runs, one 10-12 slightly slower than MP and then one 16-20 about 30-45 seconds slower than MP. Looking back, the first way I trained made me more marathon-ready. The second way made me FIT, but wasn’t marathon-specific enough, for me anyway.

  2. I love this post!! Congrats on that sweet PR. I’m always so curious to see how others get to the sub-3 milestone. I think running every day would wear me down mentally (and because I’m such a brain-case runner, that means I need my rest days.) I’m shooting for my first sub-3 at Houston in January. I only need to shave off 2 minutes to do it…my last marathon was a 3:02 on 4-5 days of running a week and an average of 35-45mpw. I wasn’t shooting specifically for sub-3…actually, it didn’t even cross my mind to chase 3:00 until about 2 weeks before the race, when I realized my fitness was better than expected. I had a couple 50-mile weeks the month before the race, and I maxed out once at 58mi. This time around, I’d like to hit 60mi. once or twice and maybe try a couple more 6-day weeks, but I still need my no-running days, even when sub-3 is the goal. Like you, I LOVE cruise intervals and find them really helpful. Same with long runs and marathon pace workouts — we’re pretty similar there. I think the difference is dedication and willingness to devote time to training. I’m just not there yet. If I don’t hit sub-3 this next time around, I MAY consider higher volume/consistency for next season. If lower volume works again and I continue to improve, however…I’ll have a hard time giving up those rest days 🙂

  3. I loved reading this because I can see some of the parallels to my own sub-3 training as well as differences (we are ALL different). While I didn’t have the mileage you do, I do agree that average mileage for your runs should be increasing and close or at double digits. Adding more double digit runs in a week really helped me build my endurance which played a huge role in my sub-3. I also agree about an 8-10 week marathon specific training phase. congrats again on 2:54, I can only hope to do that someday too!

  4. Thanks for posting– makes me so much more in awe of you sub-3 women! Also the 10 week thing makes it seem more achievable, though I’m going to need a nanny to attempt that may miles, or at least have both kids in school!

  5. Nowhere near sub-3 (shooting for 3:35 right now) but this is helpful even for us slower pokes. I did 3:43 last year averaging in the 40s pushing up to 50, and this year I decided to kick it up a notch and aim to average in the 50s pushing up to 60. Right now I’m struggling with the 6 vs. 7 days per week thing – to be honest, it is mentally taxing for me to try to fit in all the miles in 6 days, and have every run be so long. It is nice to have a few easy/shorter days mixed in even if it means no true day off.

  6. When it comes to miles at marathon pace or faster, are you a believer in Matt Fitzgerald’s 80/20 rule? That about 20 percent of your miles (or is it minutes?) should be high to medium intensity and 80 percent should be easy? If you look at the summer-fall training plan leading up to your 2:54 marathon does the math add up to an 80/20 split? Or did you do something more like 70/30?

    I sort of wonder if those who are able to hit sub 3 (or close to 3 hours) on fewer miles are cutting back in the easy miles but still doing lots of tempo, cruise and pace runs.

    1. I don’t know. Look at my Strava. I did slow way the hell down on easy runs. Technically, long runs are easy. Actually even marathon pace is within our easy range even though none of us would think that. I guess the answer is always “It depends” in this case on what exactly you call easy.

      But in general, out of a 90 mile week, 6 miles at LT pace. 10 miles at M pace. Sounds like 20%.

  7. I realize after this article went to press that we missed a bunch of steps. Most importantly: where to start. We’ll get to those very soon. They will be my opinions. Get some other people’s opinions too. Opinions are like ass holes……

      1. Possibly. A vegetarian diet removes a lot of disgusting shit from my diet. But it doesn’t alone solve the eating crap problem. Chocolate chip cookies are also vegetarian.

        Also the real disgusting shit like trans fat, palm oil and coconut oil are vegetarian. This stuff is hard to identify out of your own home. To get sidetracked for a moment… I can’t imagine how much transfat we all ate as kids before the FDA required it to be poorly marked on nutrition labels (the FDA permits 0.4g to be marked as 0g per serving, for example) Worry no more. It less than three years trans fat will disappear from american food. (and unfortunately be replaced with other disgusting substitutes like palm oil)

    1. When you are training at 70-90 miles per week and eating a healthy balanced diet then you shouldn’t have to worry about weight. Restricting calories and high mileage training is not a wise move and over the long term will greatly diminish your performance whether due to injury or overtraining (malnutrition is a stress just like training). Plus, if your body can handle this kind of volume you probably are pretty close to a good “racing” weight any way. That’s my opinion. Definitely worth more discussion in a post soon!

  8. Weight is strongly correlated to VO2 Max. (of course it is. VO2 Max is defined as maximum oxygen uptake in ml per kilogram of body mass — that is to say it is defined per-pound. So if you loose weight and keep the same amount of muscle, your VO2 Max increases.) This is only a mathematical technicality. If you are already in very good athletic shape, there quite possibly isn’t much weight (or any weight )for you to loose without becoming less fit. More importantly, the weight management thing should basically happen on its own.
    We’ll have to write some more about weight.

    To answer the question. Yes. I like chocolate chip cookies. a lot. I raced about five pounds heavier than last year. (it must be all muscle :)). As much as it seems that I freak out about weight. I do just let it happen on its own. The only thing that caught me off guard was coming back from Belgium having gain weight while schlepping around and running 80 mile training weeks.

  9. This is an incredibly helpful post. As you added mileage and we’re getting faster did you ever revise the paces for your LT and MP runs and if so how did you know when it was time to do that?

    1. I use the Daniels VDOT table for pacing. After a few training seasons, I kinda know what M and T paces should feel like. Don’t confuse this with the concept of training at your fantasy race pace. Ten weeks out I start at the edge of what you can make it through. I want to confirm that cruise intervals at T pace and an hour or more at M pace converge on a particular line on the VDOT table, and go from there.

      1. So, you went after a 2:50 marathon. Was that because you ran a 5K and the VDOT tables showed that this was equivalent to a 2:50 marathon? If not, how did you determine your race goal?

        1. I based it upon what felt like marathon pace and what felt like LT pace. In theory, your current fitness level on the VDOT tables is based upon a recent race. But I don’t race often, so I have to go by what set of paces on the VDOT charts feels correct. The gauge is that if I can’t hold a training week with 10 miles of marathon pace and 6 miles of cruise intervals, I’m setting the bar too high. If it is too easy, the bar is set too low. I set a really bad example like this, but it works for me.

  10. Amazing!! Congrats! And thanks for posting. I have no sub-3 plans at the moment, but I would love to try to qualify for Boston next year. I’ll definitely be re-visiting this advice in the future!

  11. Thanks for sharing this. It is much more clear than reading training logs. I doubt I will ever get close to a 3:00 marathon, but the concepts are very helpful. I love that you say you hate long runs. Me too! Congrats on your PR!

  12. This is super helpful! I’m still looking into ways that can get me under 4:00 (I know, I know, I need to run more faster), so I appreciate the variety and honesty in your plan.

  13. Jasmine, this post is super helpful — thank you! I just ran a 3:18 in my second marathon and have been thinking about long-term goals and how far I might be able to take things. It’s helpful to see what goes into training for a sub-3:00 and a nice reminder that you don’t necessarily have to be superhuman to get there (although maybe you are — I don’t know you! 🙂 Just curious — do you ever do shorter track work (800s, mile repeats, ladders, etc.), or are the cruise intervals the extent of your speed work?

  14. Thank you for the post. It was very inspiring. I would love to run a 3:30 marathon but my last two marathons were 4:40 and 4:49. Is this even possible for me to consider? What training plan do you like the best?

  15. Thank you for this! This article was very helpful and I liked the weekly mileage breakdown. People also assume I am “naturally” fast….but I am very far from it. (4:10 first marathon here!) I am eventually trying to run a sub 3 as well. I really believe that fast marathons take a lot of miles. I think people can fake a 5k with natural ability, but a marathon is another story. :Last season I ran the most miles of my life to get from a 3:14 to a 3:04…Right now I’m in the 50’s and 60’s per week training for my next one, but would like to build to 70-90 mpw someday. Your hard work has paid off-congrats on your great race times!

  16. Sub-3 is definitely my goal in the next cycle or two … Started working with a coach in January who basically believes the exact same three points you made: run every day, average 10+, be consistent. Not knocking the 90 door yet but I suspect it’s in my future. I got that high before and ended up with double stress fractures, so we’re easing it up. Spring max was 68, this fall I’ve already hit 76 — but same kind of thing where we built up starting in mid-May and I hit a lot of 50-55 weeks for a couple of months. This is great to see! Thanks for sharing!

  17. I am 32 years old now with 2 kids- 7 months old and a 3 year old and I really want to get back to racing. My last marathon was Boston marathon of 2013 and i ran it in 2:51. I ran that by running pretty much everyday- maybe 1 day off every 2 weeks, I consistently did one long run a week of 18-22 miles with some at goal marathon pace and did at least one tempo run a week. I raced a 10 k and half marathon in the training period to gauge fitness. I PRd in the 10k with a 37:37 and half marathon was a 1:23. Anyways Afternhaving my first baby, i started running 3 days per week 6ish miles at a slow pace for me and then got pregnant with my second kid and then started running again and am running 3 days a week of about 6ish miles. I really want to start training for another marathon but have no idea where to begin. Any ideas or training plans? I’d love to be fast again

    1. Hi Charlotte! Thanks for this great question, which is so great that we’re planning to make it into a post of its own on getting back to sub-3 shape after baby.

      But since posts take a while to write and you may want some inspiration now, check out our writers Hops, Poppy, and Parsley. While they haven’t directly answered your question (yet) with their posts, you’ll see each has two or more kids and has gotten back to sub-3 shape postpartum. In fact, Parsley is considering going for a fourth-straight Olympic Marathon Trials! In addition, Hops is a coach and you’ll find her info at the bottom of her posts, I know she’s happy for people to reach out.

      Hope that helps get you started. Stay tuned for full post with training tips!