Real-Life Successes: How I Finally Broke 4 Hours

How a schedule finally helped RW member Acer smash the four-hour marathon barrier


Posted: 17 February 2006
by Marguerite Lazell

Profile

NAME: Stuart Tebbutt
AGE: 33
SUCCESS: ran a sub-4 marathon – 3:44 – at the third attempt
HOW HE ACHIEVED IT: Sticking to a programme

Stuart Tebbutt (RW member Acer) didn't just crack the four-hour barrier at the 2005 Flora London Marathon – he smashed through it, bringing down the 3:45 mark in the process. He says the reason for his success is simple: he had a schedule, and he stuck to it.

Like many people, Stuart had seen the marathon on television and had vaguely thought, ‘I should do that one day'. When his father died, raising money for the hospital where he had been cared for was the incentive Stuart needed to apply for the 2000 event. He completed the race in 4:12, off the back of a training regime that he describes as "just going out and running and then stopping when I'd had enough."

This somewhat haphazard approach also brought him a 4:04 finish in 2003. "Everyone in my office was saying ‘well done,' but I was really annoyed," he recalls. When he started training for the 2005 event, he went about it methodically, starting long before the 14-week schedule kicked off. He made sure he was running a couple of times a week, keeping his basic fitness ticking over before beginning training proper.

As he had done on his previous attempt, he drank his last beer on New Year's Eve, vowing not to touch another until the afternoon of April 17. "That was probably harder than the training itself!" he jokes. "I did the sub-3:30 schedule, on the basis that if I could do the training I would be able to do sub-four in the race," he says. "I did a lot more quality – hills, speedwork – rather than just going out and running. I put in lot more effort."

He invested in a GPS so that he could record his training accurately, and logged every run on a spreadsheet on his computer. Totting up the miles, and seeing how he was progressing, was an added incentive for him through the cold, dark January mornings when he had to force himself to get out and train. For the first month, training went well. A chest infection forced Stuart to have a two-week break from training, but he was pleasantly surprised to find that he quickly made up lost ground, and felt fit enough to run in two half marathons – Reading and Silverstone – in March. He took 10 minutes off of his previous PB, bringing it down to 1-38, and went into the final block of training for the marathon with renewed confidence.

So as to allow 10 minutes' leeway, Stuart set off at 3-50 pace, using his speed and distance monitor to keep him on track. He felt so fresh at halfway that he decided to pick up the pace slightly, and got to 20 miles quicker than expected, and even had enough oxygen to spare some for his brain to calculate that he need only maintain 10-minute/mile pace to bring him home inside 3:45. But at mile 20 of a marathon, there is no such thing as ‘only' 10-minute-mile pace.

He began to slow, reaching Big Ben with only eight minutes to go if he was to hit his target. He was going to have to do the impossible – sprint the last mile of a marathon. With one final push he accelerated past all the people who had been running a steady 8:30 per mile, and threw himself across the line with 10 seconds to spare.

"Where it came from and how I did it I don't know," he says. "I was elated." Now the prospect of going inside 3:30 is looming, but for Stuart, the four-hour mark was the most important one. He says for anyone else wanting to do what he has done, the answer is simple: "the thing that really got me through was sticking to the plan," he says. If you do that, it's sure to come together.

Expert View

Following a schedule is a surefire way to stay on target, says RW Editor Steven Seaton. Stuart was training strongly enough that even a two-week break with illness didn't throw him off his target. A well-written schedule contains the right mix of hard runs, recoveries and long runs, increases in intensity at just the right pace. It will have plenty of variety to keep you interested, and enough consistency for you to be able to see your progress.

It will almost definitely prescribe the kind of practice races that gave Stuart so much confidence. Stuart's other great move was to keep a training log; it encourages you to keep training, and shows you just how far you've come.

Acer's story is one of an occasional series of real-life success stories that we are publishing on the website. If you have a story to share that could inspire others, why not read our guidelines for submission, and get in touch?


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