How I Ran My 1st Marathon in 3 Hours with 6 Weeks Training

A few years ago I thought about running a marathon. Well not actually running one, but envisioning what my goal would be if I did. I smugly thought my goal would be three hours. As a regular runner, people often asked me if I had ever run a marathon. I usually had an answer along the lines of it would take too much time to train; I don’t really run races, I just run for fun and to stay in shape. The truth probably was that I had high expectations for myself and I knew it would take a whole lot of work to achieve my goal, if I even could.

A year ago, around the time of the Marine Corps Marathon I ran into a lot of people that were running. It made me feel a little jealous and a little guilty. I looked into running it a few weeks before, but it was well past the sign-up or transfer date. I decided to run it the following year and started training immediately. A few days later I felt pretty good about my progress. A week later I forgot why I was running.

Eleven months later it was mid-September. It had been 90+ and humid for a couple months in Northern VA, so my after-work runs usually consisted of four miles at whatever pace I could stay alive at. Then one Sunday the humidity dropped and my four mile run turned into a solid feeling seven. I knew the Marine Corps Marathon was coming up, so I looked up the transfer date for bibs. It was a couple days away. I hopped on Craigslist and an hour later I had a bib with six weeks to train.

I still had the three hour goal in the back of my mind. But after doing the math I realized that was a sub-7 minute mile pace. While I had done plenty of 10+ mile runs, I had never run a race over 5k in my life. Not to be dissuaded, however, I kept to my goal, and created a plan to achieve it. I applied the same strategy I previously wrote about on how to train for a 5k in 3 weeks. Start off running a short distance at your goal pace and incrementally increase that distance, while running shorter distances at a faster pace in between. I increased my weekly long runs from 9 to 13 to 14 to 16 to 18 to 20, running all of those at or below my goal pace. In between the long runs I ran faster paced 4-6 mile runs, mixed with some easier 8-10 mile runs.

As the race approached, I was pretty confident I could achieve my goal. Like anything in life, preparation is key. By pushing myself in training runs, I had put myself in a position where the actual race would just be a redo of what I had been doing for weeks. I was a little worried about how my body would react during the last 6 miles, but I kept to my plan during the race to pace myself. Like anyone, I was in pain towards but I wasn’t in doubt and it was actually a very enjoyable experience.

The point of this post isn’t to tell how I ran a three hour marathon. Rather, it’s a lesson I learned about expectations, goals, and fear of failure. I probably didn’t run a marathon sooner because of the high expectations I had for myself. A fear of the work it would take to achieve it and how I would feel if I didn’t meet my goal. As it turned out, my goal was well within my reach. When I decided to run, I knew there was a possibility I wouldn’t meet that goal, but I put that fear aside. Whether your goal is a three hour marathon, completing a marathon, or something else, it’s within your reach. Don’t let a fear of hard work or failure stop you from trying. You’ll surprise yourself.

Here are all of my training runs leading up to the marathon: