How do I break 2:30 in a marathon?

By Sasha Pachev

Breaking 2:30 in a marathon is a feat that a number of people have accomplished. However, it requires a rare combination of talent, commitment, and circumstance so that relatively few runners manage to do it. A sub-2:30 performance for a man usually wins a marathon with the prize money $1000 or less for the first place and no additional incentives. A woman breaking 2:30 usually wins over $20,000.

I wish I could say: "Do this and you will break 2:30 or your money back". It is not that easy. You need to possess a measure of talent and health. If you lack the exceptional talent, but do have some, you will need to have the right circumstances for training and adequate rest. You must have the discipline to follow a routine that most of your friends and relatives will not understand or appreciate. And you must be mentally ready to endure the tedium of the long runs and the accute pain that comes from pushing your limits .

Since every runner is different, there is no one training method that will work. I will tell you what I did. However, my workouts may not work well for you. I suggest you learn from my experience and develop a plan that you feel good about. Try it, race, then make the corrections as needed.

What I did before breaking 2:30.

  • Started training at the age of 11 in 1984 and for 19 years had not missed more than 3 consequtive days of training.
  • Ran 16:38 in a 5 K at the age of 16.
  • Ran my first marathon at the age of 17 in 3:05:51. Improved it to 2:48:32 next year.
  • Never smoked or drank alcohol.
  • After joining the LDS Church at the age of 19, stopped drinking coffee, and caffeinated tea (black or green) in compliance with the Word of Wisdom.
  • Stopped eating sweats and fast food, and drinking soda pop at the age of 21.
  • Started running no less that 60 miles a week consistently at the age of 24.
  • Experimented with 90-100 mile weeks from time to time without much success.
  • Improved my 5 K to 15:55 at the age of 28.
  • Ran 2:33:20 in the Top of Utah Marathon at the age of 28.

What I did different prior to breaking 2:30.

  • Stopped eating white flour and red meat products, and started eating more fresh fruit, vegetables, grains, and nuts.
  • Introduced the "always on the run" routine. Sedentary activity teaches the body to sit, not to run. To break the pattern, I would get out once every 3 hours and jog a mile during the day in addition to my regular training.
  • 20x400 down a 1% grade with 200 meter jog recovery averaging 70 seconds or faster.

Key Elements of My Marathon Routine

  • Eat a diet free of processed foods and full of natural ones. Fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts. Fish once a week. Eat raw what tastes good raw, cook what does not the minimum needed to make it taste good.
  • Sleep at least 7 hours a day. Take a nap on top of it when possible.
  • Go to bed as early as possible, get up by 6 AM.
  • Train 6 days a week, full rest on Sunday (unless late for church).
  • At least 10 miles total in every workout.
  • Stay above 80 miles a week, but do not exceed 100 for more than 1 week.
  • Hard 12 mile tempo run starting at the marathon race pace, and finishing at a half-marathon or faster race pace, or a half-marathon race once a week. Then jog on the cooldown to make the total 20 miles.
  • 20x400 with 200 recovery down 1% grade once a week.
  • 2x3 miles at half-marathon race pace with 400 meter jog in between. First one up a hill, second down.
  • "Always on the run" - jog a mile every 3 hours in addition to regular training.
  • On easy days, and during warm-up and cool down, jog at whatever pace the slower training partner wants to go. Find slower training partners for easy days to avoid overtraining.

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