Over the past few years, I have run 5 different official marathons. My first-ever attempt at a marathon was a 4:24. I started from basically scratch and trained (looking back pretty poorly) for 16 weeks for the race. Since that first race, I trained a little more and started taking on more races.
While my times improved, they didn’t jump massively. I finally crossed the Sub 4 mark in Belfast in 2021 and a few weeks later got a 3:54 in Barcelona. However, after taking a short break and training poorly I bonked during the Rome marathon and ran a 4:04.
As you can see throughout these marathons I improved slightly but never made any giant leaps in my running. That changed at the Paris Marathon this year. I surprised myself by running a 3:28 after an amazing 13-week training block. Before the training block, I hadn’t run in about 6 months and I was at my heaviest weight ever.
So, what was it about this training block that allowed me to improve so much? There are 5 3:30 Marathon tips I can pinpoint in my training this time around which have contributed to taking 26 minutes off my previous personal best.
3:30 Marathon Tips For Hitting Your Goal
Consistent Training & Following A Plan
During my other training blocks, I thought I was training hard but I really wasn’t. I would skip a lot of mid-week sessions. I would change what the plan said and just run easy miles. I would even sometimes skip the long run on the weekend.
That might be fine if you just want to cross the finish line. However, if you want to put in a sub 3:30 your probably going to have to train a little harder.
I stuck fairly religiously to a 3:45 training plan from runners world. When I initially started my training, my target time was 3:45. However, mid-way through training, things started going really well so I stuck to the plan but increased the speed during the speed sessions.
Throughout the 13 weeks of training I probably only missed 3-4 runs. I also made sure to get one speed/tempo run a week and one long run.
In previous training blocks, I didn’t really get in any speed work. This time around, I got it in every week and saw my speeds increase drastically within the first 6 weeks of training.
So if you’re committed to hitting a sub 3:30, stick to a plan diligently and miss as few sessions as you possibly can. Make sure to get your speed sessions in.
Running Without Music
For the past 3 years, I can count on one hand how many times I went for a run without music. I always thought I needed it to keep my mind off running. It was either music or a podcast.
However, this time around I got rid of the music during my speed and tempo workouts. I don’t know if there is any science behind this but everything was so much easier.
The first thing I noticed was my breathing. It was so much easier to get into a good breathing pattern. Rather than listening to music that seemed to mess with my breathing, I could simply focus on getting a good breathing pattern down.
Next was my heart rate. When I’m listening to high bpm music and bass drops it gets my heart rate up.
Lastly, I feel like my body tends to run to the beat. My cadence would fall into the rhythm of the music. None of this is good if you’re trying to hit certain paces on your run.
Trust me, it might seem hard at first, but it absolutely changed my running. I ran the whole 3:28 marathon with no music which I have never done before.
I still listen to podcasts and music on my long runs but on short fast ones, where breathing is important, I go without.
Training With A Friend At Your Level or Above
In previous blocks, I have trained with friends but both times I had convinced that person to do a marathon and was slightly ahead of them in training. This always meant that I was slowing back a little for them on my runs. While they were pushing hard in their sessions I probably wasn’t going hard enough.
This time around me and a friend did a lot of training together and we were essentially at the same level. Each session would have us pushing each other to get the most out of the session.
We also had a £100 bet on who would run the fastest time during the Paris marathon. This also helped us to push harder and stay competitive. Unfortunately, I lost that bet. He ran a 3:27. Similarly to training, we ran the first 40km of the race together keeping each other accountable along the way. This really helped to keep pushing when things got tough.
If you don’t have a friend who you can join for your runs, consider joining a running club. Here you will be able to take on sessions with other runners and meet some runners at the same level as you.
Shoe Rotation & Carbon Shoes
In previous training blocks and races, I never looked into running shoes too much. I would go to a local sports shop and pick up a £50 pair of shoes. Ultimately, these weren’t the best and probably didn’t fit my running style.
The first thing I did this time around was go to a local running shop and have them do a gait analysis. This allowed me to find out which type of shoe I needed. They told me I needed a neutral shoe and gave me some options to choose from. Most running shops will do this for free if you are purchasing a pair of shoes.
I picked up a pair of New Balance Fresh Foam 1080 V12s. This is by far my favourite everyday shoe. I have now put over 350 miles on them and just grabbed another pair of them as they are on sale.
Most of my easy runs and long runs were in these shoes.
The real game changer came when I picked up my first pair of Carbon Plater “Super Shoes”. The Nike Vaporfly Next% 2. I had heard all the hype but didn’t really believe a shoe could do much for my times, especially at my level of running.
However, these changed the game. There is a noticeable difference in speed and effort at a certain speed when wearing these shoes. I’m not 100% sure but I believe I probably gained 10 seconds per mile on my marathon pace by wearing them.
They are expensive shoes and are absolutely not necessary but if I wasn’t wearing them I have no doubt I would have came in over the 3:30 mark.
Both pairs of shoes on the right hand side are Vaporfly 2s. Nike have actually recently released the Vaporfly 3 which could be a better option or you’ll at least be able to get a good deal on Vaporfly 2s.
During speed sessions, I would use the Vaporflys as it helps with speed but it also helps your legs to take less impact, leading to a shorter recovery time.
So, if you can pick up at least one pair of decent running shoes and if you can afford a pair of Carbon Shoes I would highly recommend it if you are serious about getting your time down.
While I still have a lot of room for improvement in my diet, I did clean it up quite a bit this time around. Normally I would drink heavily on a Friday or Saturday night but during the first and last month of my training, I completely cut out alcohol. I still had a few big nights in the middle of training but a lot less drinking than I normally do on average. Unsurprisingly, drinking probably won’t help your running.
I was also cutting right through the training. This may not be advised for most people as you need good food to fuel your runs. However, if you have a lot of extra body fat, cutting it down will allow you to gain some speed.
I tracked my calories using MyFitnessPal and ate 300 calories under my maintenance calories. This put me at 2200 calories per day.
However, on days when I ran I ate back 90% of the calories my watch said I had burned. So most days I was eating between 2600 – 3000 calories and on long run days eating 4000 calories. The only day I would actually eat 2200 calories was rest days.
I stuck to this fairly well and let myself eat whatever I wanted on a Saturday. Over the course of the training block I lost about 20lbs. However, I had the 20lbs to lose as I had been bulking to my heaviest weight ever for 5 months before.
Personally, I think cutting out alcohol if you drink can give you massive gains in your training. Not only will you just perform better and get better rest, but you’re much less likely to skip a training session because you’re hungover. If you have a long run scheduled on a Sunday and have a big night on a Saturday, you’re asking to miss it.
On the days I did plan to go out on a Saturday night I would run my long run on Saturday instead of Sunday. This probably isn’t ideal for recovery but at least I was able to get the miles in.
So, there you have it. Those are the 5 tips I used to get me from a 4-hour marathon to a 3-hour 30 marathon in a single 13 weeks training block.
Hopefully, some of these will help you to get your targeted marathon time. If you have any other tips that helped you massively let me know down in the comments.
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