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Three Key Long Run Workouts to Break a 3:30 Marathon

Updated: Jan 31

For passionate runners aiming to break the elusive 3-hour and 30-minute barrier, the pursuit requires more than just clocking miles. It calls for a meticulous training approach, mental fortitude, and a commitment to pushing personal boundaries. 


Coach Cory running the NYC marathon

In this article, we delve into the crucial long run workouts that can propel your performance, guiding you toward achieving a sub-3:30 marathon. Whether you're a seasoned veteran or a determined first-timer, these workouts serve as a roadmap to not only cross the finish line but to do so with a profound sense of accomplishment. So, lace up those shoes, embrace the journey, and let's uncover the training regimen that holds the potential to turn your sub-3:30 marathon aspirations into reality.


It’s first important to understand marathon paces are not fast. Odds are you can run marathon pace, or 8 minutes per mile for 10 miles, very easily today. Lack of speed has very little to do with breaking a 3:30 marathon. It's your ability to hold that pace for 26.2 miles that's the limiting factor to a faster marathon time. 


Ripping a handful of 400s or a few mile repeats around the track with the goal of running them faster each week will do very little to help your marathon times. This is the number one mistake I see when new clients get started. Instead of going faster, focus on extending your time at a certain pace. 


Whether it's 5k pace or marathon pace, before you try running them faster, try adding more reps. So if you’re workout calls for six 800 meters and you crushed it last week, try running eight or even ten 800s at that same pace. By adding more reps week after week, you build your capacity to sustain a particular pace for a longer period of time.


Importance of Practicing Marathon Pace 


Practicing goal marathon pace in long runs is a fundamental component of effective marathon training, offering a multitude of benefits for runners gearing up for the 26.2-mile challenge. These long runs provide an invaluable opportunity for runners to become intimately acquainted with the specific pace they aim to maintain throughout the race, fostering a sense of rhythm and ensuring that the chosen pace is both realistic and sustainable over the marathon distance. 


Beyond the mental familiarity, running at goal marathon pace during long training runs facilitates physiological adaptation, conditioning the cardiovascular system, muscles, and energy systems to operate efficiently at the intended pace. The mental preparation gained from maintaining focus during extended efforts is crucial, especially as fatigue sets in during the later stages of the marathon. 


Long runs with sections at goal marathon pace serve as a powerful race simulation, allowing runners to experience the pacing, terrain variations, and mental challenges they will encounter on race day.


Additionally, these runs offer an ideal platform to fine-tune fueling and hydration strategies specific to the chosen pace, ensuring a well-rounded preparation for the demands of marathon day.


Overall, incorporating goal marathon pace into long runs is a confidence-building strategy that not only builds endurance but also enhances the runner's belief in their ability to achieve their goal time when it matters most.


Long Runs 


The long run is a crucial component to breaking a 3:30 marathon and should be considered the most important run of the week. As a general guideline, the longest run in your training plan should gradually increase, with the peak long run typically reaching around 20 to 22 miles three weeks out from your race. 


It’s extremely important to include long-run workouts where you’ll practice running goal marathon pace and progress them throughout training.


Here are three of my favorite long run workouts, as well as how to progress them throughout your training.


Alternating Long Run 

  • 4 miles easy + 8 miles alternating between 7:55 and 8:25 (12 miles total)

  • 6 miles easy + 8 miles alternating between 7:55 and 8:25 (14 miles total)

  • 8 miles easy + 8 miles alternating between 7:55 and 8:25 (16 miles total)

  • 6 miles easy + 10 miles alternating between 7:55 and 8:25 (16 miles total)

  • 8 miles easy + 10 miles alternating between 7:55 and 8:25 (18 miles total)

  • 6 miles easy + 12 miles alternating between 7:55 and 8:25 (18 miles total)

  • 8 miles easy + 12 miles alternating between 7:55 and 8:25 (20 miles total)


Marathon Pace Long Run (Descending Interval Length) 

  • 2 miles easy +  5k, 4k, 3k, 2k, 1k at 7:55 w/ 1k b/w each at 8:25 - 8:40 (14 miles total)

  • 2 miles easy + 6k, 5k, 4k, 3k, 2k, 1k at 7:55 w/ 1k b/w each at 8:25 - 8:40 (17.5 miles total)

  • 3 miles easy + 4, 3, 2, 1 mile at 7:55 w/ 1 mile b/w each at 8:25 - 8:40 (16 miles total)

  • 2 miles easy + 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 mile at 7:55 w/ 1 mile b/w each at 8:25 - 8:40 (20 miles total)


Marathon Pace Long Run 

  • 4 miles easy + 3 x 3 miles at 7:55 w/ 3-5 min easy between each (14 miles total)

  • 4 miles easy + 2 x 5 miles at 7:55 w/ 3-5 min easy between each (14.5 miles total)

  • 3 miles easy + 4 x 3 miles at 7:55 w/ 3-5 min easy between each (16.5 miles total)

  • 3 miles easy + 3 x 4 miles at 7:55 w/ 3-5 min easy between each (16.5 miles total)

  • 2 miles easy + 3 x 5 miles at 7:55 w/ 3-5 min easy between each (18 miles total)


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