Guide to a Sub-5 Hour Marathon Finish

You had your marathon training but still feel uneasy about reaching that five-hour cutoff?  Here’s my guide that may be able to help you achieve that sub-five hour marathon finish.

First and foremost, the total distance and average pace.  A marathon is 42.195K long but due to a lot of variables actual distances may vary, but for simplicity’s sake let’s keep it at that.  Given that distance, for you to finish in four hours and 50 minutes you should have an average pace of six minutes and 52 seconds per kilometer.

Unfortunately, it is easier to compute your average pace than actually doing it, especially given additional factors like terrain and elevation, temperature and humidity, physical stamina, and the like.  Keeping track of your current progress is also difficult especially when fatigue steps in.  To keep myself on target I employ an Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) list—a list splitting the course into 5K intervals which proved to be successful during QCIM where I first used it.  Here is my ETA list for a 4:50:00 finish:

1 0:06:52
5 0:34:20
10 1:08:40
15 1:43:00
20 2:17:20
21 2:25:00
25 2:51:40
30 3:26:00
35 4:00:20
40 4:34:40
42 4:50:00

The list above assumes that you’ll be employing even pacing all throughout the race.  For many runners this could be a problem, so by slightly tinkering with the pace while keeping in mind the ETA, here are other options:

Option 1: 6:30 pace with 8:20 pace walk breaks every 5K

K Pace ETA
1-4 6:30 0:26:00
5 8:20 0:34:20
6-9 6:30 1:00:20
10 8:20 1:08:40

Option 2: 6:31 pace with 10:00 pace walk breaks every 10K

K Pace ETA
1-9 6:31 0:58:40
10 10:00 1:08:40
11-19 6:31 2:07:20
20 10:00 2:17:20

As you can see despite inserting walk breaks the arrival time on key points of the route were maintained.  Also by reducing the number of walk breaks you may enjoy slower and longer walk breaks.  Note though that to reach our goal of 4:50:00 the absolute minimum pace to maintain is the average pace, which is 6:52.

Create your own

I only defined 5K and 10K key points in my options for convenience only but you may set any distance that is suited to you (2.5K, 15K, etc.) provided that at your ETA end of that key point is less than or equal to the average pace (6:52).  To define your walk break (set at 1K for my examples for convenience) simply deduct the total time of your walk break with the ETA at the end for that point.  The pace for the run phase would be the time remaining divided by the distance.  Note that the more often and the slower your walk breaks are, the faster your run pace would be.  Should you prioritize longer breaks or slower run is entirely up to you.

Why 4:50:00?

I chose 4:50:00 for a sub-five hour marathon finish because it yields a relatively relaxed pace for beginners while at the same time having a 10-minute fail-safe time buffer.  At the same time it may also allow faster than estimated finish time should you opt to skip some walk breaks or complete certain walk breaks faster than the time allotted.  Again these are just some personal preferences.

I plan to use the options above for my next “pace” and to those who’d like to try this out with me during PIM this weekend send me a feedback on which option you like better (or should we make a new one).

Should you have more questions in making your own ETA list feel free to ask by posting it via comments.

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9 Comments Add yours

  1. ziggy says:

    very nice denz! very helpful. not too many foreign numbers there too confuse me. hehehe! easy to understand. will take this into consideration in my next FM. thank you!


    1. dhenztm says:

      You’re welcome Zig! I too need something “easy” because I can’t compute complex calculations during actual races 😀 This would be more like a cheat guide.


  2. wilson says:

    It’s really nice of you to share this. As a consistent sub-5 marathoner, you are a credible source for a howto like these. I remember talking to you during the pre-QCIM long run and I think you could be a coach someday, or a creator or “marathon game plans” since you have a pretty good idea of how the body reacts during long distances(how difficult it is to maintain a constant pace all race long for instance). I do hope this helps sub-5 aspirants out there, there are many of them.


    1. dhenztm says:

      Thank you very much Wilson! Since PIM is not my “A” race might as well help those that aspires to finish their first sub-5 hour marathon–while getting training as well! 😀


  3. Jan says:

    Very nice guide Dhenz! I’ll save this post as I try to run my first full marathon next year.


  4. Marvin Rae says:

    very useful guide indeed. thanks! i’ll be needing this for my first FM on Condura 2010. 🙂


  5. Coach Dens…. I like it! 😛


  6. natz says:

    Nice post Dennis! I was going to recommend this to Beth, but I think this could still be a tough challenge for her. She finished her KOTR 21K in 2:23. Do you think she could train for the sub-5 hour marathon?


    1. dhenztm says:

      It IS tough especially for beginners that don’t normally run “fast.” In the case of Beth it really all boils down on her physical capability (at the time of her marathon debut, with proper training of course) and how much she really wants it. A 4:59:59 time is still sub-5 hours which I think is feasible (with you as her coach :D). I “tried” applying this last PIM and I’ll be posting the story of how it went real soon. 😀


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