people running to achieve a good marathon time

6 Tips To Improve Your Marathon Time

Whether you’re crossing the line for the very first time or going for a PB, follow these tips to optimise your marathon time.

Running a marathon may seem like a nearly impossible task, but it’s entirely doable for most runners with the proper training. 

When it comes to cutting down your marathon time, it’s actually easier to knock off minutes than most races – thanks to the long distance!

In this post, find out how long it takes to run a marathon for the average runner, see what factors can affect your marathon time, and see six tips that will help you improve your marathon time. 

How long does it take to run a marathon? 

The first thing to remember is that however long it takes you to run a marathon, you’ve still run a marathon! 

Many people can run a marathon in anywhere from four to five hours with proper training. Some aim to run a marathon in under four hours, some expect seven or more. Plan your training around your ability and goals.

What’s a good marathon time?

Ultimately, there’s no such thing as a good marathon time – only different times depending on your goals. 

Elite runners run just above a 2 hour marathon – but Eluid Kipchoge has previously run a sub 2 hour marathon with a time of 1:59:40 – the world record marathon pace. 

But for most of us, aiming for a time under four and a half hours is challenging enough. 

More experienced runners often look for a marathon time around the four hour mark. A common goal time to aim for is under four hours for men and under four and a half hours for women. 

5 factors that affect your marathon time 

No two marathons are the same. But equally, it’s all about marathon preparation. 

The following factors will directly impact your marathon time: 

  1. Training: the more time you dedicate to training, the better your marathon performance will be.
  1. Nutrition and hydration: focus on proper nutrition and hydration leading up to your race (and during) for optimum performance.
  1. Weather: you can’t control it, but you do need to be aware of it. If it’s hot or humid, expect to run slower than expected.
  1. Course conditions: is the course flat, hilly, will there be a headwind? Research the course and race day conditions to best prepare. 
  1. Pace: a marathon is a race, but you don’t need to sprint off from the beginning. Pace yourself properly to finish the race around your predicted time. 

6 tips to improve your marathon time 

Whether it’s your first marathon and you’re looking to beat your friends, or you’re just looking to run a little quicker than last year, there’s various things you can do to increase your marathon pace:

  1. Include interval training in your running program
  2. Practice your race pace
  3. Nail down your nutrition and hydration
  4. Include strength training in your program
  5. Respect your rest days
  6. Follow a training plan

Include interval training in your running program

Interval training is when you mix fast and hard efforts with slow jog recoveries. 

Running short intense efforts will increase your lactate threshold, teaching your body to run faster with less effort.

Practice your race pace

Your marathon race pace is likely to be slower than some of your training. Besides, you’ve got 26.2 miles to cover – it’s a little further than your standard sixty-minute loop around your local area.

Practice running your race pace to get a feel for the sustained effort. 

A great way to do this is by running your easy days at your target marathon race pace.

Nail down your nutrition and hydration 

26.2 miles is a long way, but don’t let that put you off!

It just means you get to eat more snacks on the way, right?!

Practice your marathon nutrition and hydration strategy during your weekly long runs and see what works best for you – this could be gels, sports drinks, or water bottles containing sugars and electrolytes. 

Include strength training in your program

Training in the gym is intimidating for many runners. But as little as one or two gym sessions a week will help reduce your risk of injury and will make you a faster runner.

Include exercises such as squats, walking lunges, core exercises, and wall sits to become a better runner.

Find strength exercises for runners and strength training plans.

Respect your rest days 

If you’re preparing for your first marathon, it can be tempting to run excessively to squeeze in more training.

While we’re glad you’re feeling motivated and excited, you need to respect your rest days.

Include at least one, but maybe two or more rest days a week – this is when your body recovers, ultimately making you a better runner.

Follow a training plan 

Finally, follow a training plan.

While unstructured training may work for a while, if you’re not following a training plan with structured workouts (interval training, long runs, easy runs, and tempo efforts), then it’s easy to lose motivation.

You might also fall out of routine, not running as quickly as you’d like come marathon day. 

If you’re more experienced, you can create your own training plan. But we’d recommend following one prescribed by a coach or found online. 

To summarise 

Achieving your best marathon time all comes down to training and preparation. 

If you stick to a routine and follow the advice listed in this article, then you can absolutely achieve your fastest marathon time yet.

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Matthew graduated with a degree in Sport and Exercise from the University of Durham. He now lives in the Lake District and spends his time cycling tough climbs and writing for active brands, helping others achieve their endurance goals.

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