Run Sub 3 Hour Marathon
Summary: In this article you get to know why anyone should (try) and what you can learn from running a marathon under 3 hours in Barcelona.

What does it take to run a sub-3 hour Marathon?

Author: Nanning Jacobs
Reading Time: 5 minutes

In September 2016 I decided to enroll myself for the Marathon of Barcelona on the 12th of March 2017. Why?  Because I ran 5 marathons before but never one sub 3 hours.  Why Barcelona? As I got previously deselected for Berlin and Boston. E.g. for the Boston marathon I got 10 seconds short based on the results of my previous Paris marathon, with a hard cut on 3 hour, 2 minutes and 50 seconds. I finally was able to enroll for the Barcelona marathon which has an equally great number of contestants (ca. 17.000), great course through the city and running conditions.

In addition, sub 3 hours is for the semi amateur – professional the holy grail of an endurance running achievement. Only 2 percent of marathon runners are able to achieve this and it’s a declining trend. Even though there are over 15 times more marathon runners compared to the 80’s, the amount of man than ran under 3 hours declined to under 400 per year.

Training is everything in running any marathon, especially when focused on running sub 3 hours. And as with any goal that seems out of reach a clear step by step and customized plan should be put in place. As elaborated upon in the previous blog on “Achieving Goals”, priviously published, we showed what a personal training scheme looks like and can be put together as part of your personal goals and current training and conditions.

Amount of Dutch man that run a sub 3 hour marathon (Source; NRC)


In short; it has taken 3 months of full focused training (before that I ran half marathons, that formed my basis endurance condition) in which I reserved 5 days a week to either run (interval, long distance, recovery ), swim or functional fitness.  Next to the actual training, 70 % of the results; building up strength and condition flows from the right nutrition and enough rest (sleeping 8,5 hours a night on average). I put myself on an extremely nutritious diet in which I consumed on average 3300 kilocalories in order to remain on my weight of 72 kilo’s with 6 % fat. Nutrition’s used on a daily basis; protein rich cottage cheese, avocado, almonds, nuts, raisins, eggs etc. You can also have a look at the article “Breakfast like a King” on how to start the day properly or find other recipe’s in our sub blog topic “nutrition’s

The last 5 days before the marathon I took a concentrated beet cure, called beet power, that has not yet been scientifically been proven but claims to boost oxygen absorption by your red blood cells of up to 10 %. It may be a placebo (not in my experience) but all bits can help in this challenge, even mentally misleading beet concentrates!  In case you are going to try this product; make sure you keep your nose closed while drinking the shot.. 😉 And consume it at minimum one hour before your sport exercise.


The actual conditions / run;

At the start, the group of man aiming for under 3 hours all looked a bit tense. Understandable; as it’s a run that challenges you both mentally as physically (the main reason why the 42 km marathon became an Olympic game). At the start it was 12 degrees Celsius and at the finish 19.  So after 6 km’s, at Camp Nou we were already soaked by our own transpiration. Which meant; at each water point around every 2,5 km hydrate sufficiently. In short; dehydration makes your body les capable of leading a way the acids that flow from your muscles that burn energy. The more dehydrated the more you will feel sourced which eventually turns into muscle pain. Which; you know that will come anyway but you need to postpone this to the max in order to have some reserves in the last 10 km of the race I followed a fox  (that determines the pace) that enables you to follow his pace and assured that you don’t overrun yourself and makes you evenly smooth out your energy over 42 km’s and finish around 3 hours. However, as the peloton of man groups together, it required me to fight for a place, especially in the corners. Next, in the middle of a peloton fresh air won’t cool you anymore. The opposite; it seems that the air stands still… which is not beneficial as temperature is rising and you don’t want to lose energy and resources to cool your body. I have therefore decided to run in front of the fox and peloton. However, at 25 km I could not keep up my own pace and felt back to the respective peloton. Luckily half the man already felt behind of the peloton so there was more space to divide.



Mental Notes;

Some personal mental notes to further strengthen the motivation and determination to get going in the last kilometers and continue to pace of 4 minutes 14 per kilometers and run the marathon under 3 hours.

  • Finishing under 3 hours is unique, you have trained for it; you better get your holy grail today!
  • After not drinking alcohol for 3 months, at the finish there is a bottle of Champaign (Alain gots it). You don’t have to be too much disciplined any more.
  • Pain is temporary, running sub 3 is an achievement that will last for ever
  • Running sub 3 hours makes will put you in the top 400 list of Dutch Runners in 2017
  • You will get your life back once finished.. 😉


Keep going! No stopping!

The last KM’s were terrible and that’s where you can show and further build your “character”; you completed 35 km’s and now the actual battle starts. Every 2 minutes there is someone leaving the peloton because he can’t hold the pace (4 min 14 seconds per km). Its “survival of the fittest” of the 21st century. There are no reserves anymore, you are burning your muscles, the temperature rises to 19 degrees, the last 10 km’s define your character, and the question “What made me decide to do this” is (metaphorically) running through your head all the time.

Several times I just screamed as I did a final dead lift in the gym. Just continuously  forcing yourself to make it till the end. Don’t question yourself! Live in the moment and know you can do this.. Everything, literally, step by step..

Achieve your goal and take it as a man or lower your pace and regret yourself for an even longer time… 😉 I choose the former and truly felt pain that can’t be described!! And then, you turn left on Placa Espana. After a long straight run, and you can actually see the official timing in the distance, that says; 2 hours 58 minutes and 2 seconds…. Say what?? And there is less than 200 meters left??? Haha, now we’re are talking, now we are save and ready to enjoy the run!

Sun on your face, best friend Alain at the finish, pain in your entire body and at the same time naturally high of all the endorphins and adrenaline.. 50 more meters! Music, cheering crowd that guide you through the last steps where each legs feels as a final 100 kilo leg press. Impressive, goose bumps, emotionally broken and physically exhausted a sudden stop after the actual finish.


Its survival of the fittest of the 21st century

What did I do? I can’t believe I ran 42 km’s and 195 meters in 2 hours, 58 minutes and 32 seconds! Living in the moment 2.0. Experiencing great fulfillment at the end of a successfully completed master plan. I can definitely recommend everyone to do this at least once n your life! I am writing this a week after the marathon. I am perhaps addicted to the natural drug at that very moment! A moment to never forget! A moment that I cannot fully describe. You must feel it to understand it!