26th Feb 2017, Himeji Castle Marathon, was my virgin sub3 experience. Clocking 2:59:45, I finally came to taste the exhilaration of breaking 3 in my running life.
Bitter sweet experience.
After that, it took another year of laboring through trials and errors in my quest to consolidate and substantiate a workable methodology for a better and consistent sub3 performance.
In the process, I discovered a lot of gems and pitfalls of training which I have shared extensively in my posts and social media. In sum, it was down to 80/20 method with emphasis on a solid aerobic base and high mileage of more than 100km per week. Of course there are also the roles of LT training and speed work, but the part that significantly made a huge difference in my results was the aerobic base build-up. End result? Subsequent events culminated in a PB of 2:51:14 in Gold Coast (July 2019).
With the advent of newer apps & gadgets, faster shoes, and better training structure/programs; not to mention the role of social media in ushering in the heighten quest for sub3, aspirers are increasingly “awakened” to the idea that sub3, is a real possibility. Well, I am here to say that it definitely is.
But here are some things to consider…
I think it is first of all a pre-requisite that the aspiring sub3-er needs to be injury free. This is a no brainer because as you build up on the mileage, any existing injuries may be exacerbated and worsen to the point of halting your training altogether. So, its prudent to sort out any lingering injuries first before embarking on this. Even during the build-up, any arising injuries must be given due attention. Training through injuries, no matter how motivated one is, isn’t at all wise.
Even if you are able to commit to a plan, know too that there are other priorities in life that you should never neglect. This is commonsense. Unresolved issues will come back to haunt you. And they are usually an impediment to your progress. Sub3 Training is no joke. It has a huge psychological element that will test your limits. It will inadvertently put a strain too on other aspects of your life. You have to find the balance. Seek a higher goal. But be prepared to be ruffled.
Getting to a program is the easy part. Keeping consistent with it is usually the hard part. Knowing how it works motivated me, but putting it all down to actual sole-to-tarmac mileage is quite the challenge. Take things in piecemeal mode. Don’t rush into high mileage all at once but do a gradual build-up to allow the body to adapt. Then do take the odd week of recovery (lower mileage) to allow the body to rest. Recovery is after all an essential part of the training.
I think it is safe to expect a certain level of ability when it comes to sub3-er potential. I personally think that he or she should at least be able to do a sub 3:15. Well, unless the person is very talented, he may surprise everyone but they perhaps should realistically have some idea of their ability by now. The talented ones are not the issue. I am talking about people like me who have perhaps struggled for a while at sub 3:05-3:10 just to find it difficult to break through. This, I think makes up the vast majority of aspiring sub3-ers.
Ok, realistically, if you don’t have a strong aerobic base, the build up will take time. I recommend 6 months of that solid block. I initially thought that I had a strong base, having done many marathons before this. Well, obviously it was enough for 3:10 or 3:05. But not for sub3. So, let’s be clear about this, if you are still struggling with sub3, then you have an aerobic base deficiency. Period. So, allow the build up to run its course. I am afraid there is no shortcut for this.
I realized too at some point of build up, you need to inject some life to the program. This comes in the form of tempo, intervals and trial runs. This is a way of reminding the body that you are still capable of going fast. But don’t get carried away with it. A session per week is enough. There is a prescribed time and place for speed work. But this is not at the expense of the aerobic base build-up.
You need a few of the trial runs to test yourself 2-3 weeks before the race. This may be a 30km or 21km time trial at sub 3 pace. Alternately you can do blocks of sub3 MP at 5km blocks x3 or x4 at various point of build up, particularly nearing a latter part of the training stages. This is a part that can be a bit more creative.
High mileage is a must. I think it not only allows the physical adaptation process to kick in, it is also a vital part of developing mental fortitude. Face it, if you can’t stand the long hours, perhaps marathon isn’t the sport for you. I usually do double sessions per day, it offers more flexibility in terms of time management but also allows quicker recovery. But that’s just my personal preference.
If you have groups of like-minded aspirers training for the same thing, then I am glad for you. But again, unless you are all at the same level of ability, it is best to keep to your own training plan. We are motivated bunch. And we often get carried away when we come together. Running faster than we ought to, just to satiate the ego. Have the maturity and patience to take your time. Stick to plan. This too, is a required trait that sets you apart from the ones who make it, or those who don’t.
I would now come to the sad part. Many will tell you how they admire your tenacity and dedication. But the road to sub3 is a lonely and gruelling journey. And I am not even talking about the actual race. The training part and if you ever achieve it, the after effects too, will be a lonely one. You see, there are perhaps 1-2% of marathoners who are ever capable of doing it. Hence the expression, it’s a lonely existence up there. You have to be prepared to lose some friends. The accolades will come, then the silence. The bright side is, you will see who your real friends are too. This is a distillation process. But it will humble you.
Other aspects like body weight and diet etc isn’t the most important issue. The rationale behind it is, at the kind of mileage you are churning out, it won’t make much sense that weight is an issue. Not any more. And as for diet, in order to sustain that kind of mileage, you would have worked out how to eat to sustain that kind of output. All these will be worked out as you go along, don’t get too hung up about it.
When, and not if you achieve your sub3, you will be even more motivated to do more. My advice is, be careful. Stay humble and be ready to take a step back and reassess your need to move forward. All these things come at a high cost. Start the process over again. But don’t rush into another “PB”. If it is ego-driven, which is usually the case, keep it tame and in check. Ego has a very short leash.
End of the day, I like what someone once told me: if you have what it takes, when you are ready, it will come. Just don’t get too caught up in trying to prove yourself. If it’s yours, it’s yours.