Q+A: Can I run a sub-3 marathon? I’ve done 3:30

Q I’m not running the Flora London Marathon this year, opting for a summer marathon instead. I have run under 3:30, am pretty sure that I can manage a sub-3:10, but would really love a crack at sub-3:00. How do I know what to aim for, and am I being over-confident?

A There’s certainly a larger difference than you appear to acknowledge between 3:00, 3:10 and 3:30 marathon times, and if you’re in any doubt about your capabilities, a compromise target of 3:15 might not be a bad idea.

It would be helpful for you to do much of your training with a heart rate monitor in order to familiarise yourself with the pace and heart-rate zones for the five different levels of effort we’ve used in our London Marathon training schedules (easy, slow, steady, brisk/THR and fast).

If you really can run a sub-3:10, then I’d guess that your paces at these various effort levels would be about 8:00, 7:30, 7:00, 6:30, and 6:00 per mile, respectively. By incorporating a balanced mixture of work at these speeds in your training, and keeping a check on your heart-rate information, you’ll become more familiar with the level of effort needed. You’ll also be able to observe your improvement, in the brisk/THR zone and, most importantly, at your steady pace – the pace you’ll run your marathon.

Your previous marathon experience will, of course, be a big factor in your judgement, as can performance in a half-marathon on at least equally demanding terrain some five to six weeks before your big day (especially if you have a previous one to compare). If you can record a time of about 80 minutes, it would certainly be worth aiming for three hours in the marathon.

Setting a target time in a marathon is highly recommended but is, of course, always something of a gamble. But the gamble on a sub-3:00 becomes greater the more you are outside 80 minutes for your half.

George Gandy, Director of Athletics at Loughborough University