Gaining Confidence to Break 4 Hour Marathon

In 2002,  I completed the Vancouver Marathon which was also my first in 4:08:59 to prove to myself that my knees at healed from years of patella femoral syndrome pain. During that time I could cross country ski, but not run. Achieving the secondary goal of a sub four hour marathon eluded me because I was stubborn and didn't want to do run-walk intervals! 

The journey back started at the end of February 2014. After a fitness hiatus because my energy and attention was on reestablishing my business in new a location.  I wasn't going to let any business changes interrupt my fitness plans this time round. Nothing was going to prevent me from regaining and surpassing the fitness I had in my mid-twenties. Another goal that continues to be elusive is finishing Seek the Peak in under two hours. With a combination of strength training and gradual increases in running I was able to go from being able to run less than ten minutes to completing Seek the Peak (STP), a 16 km uphill race in 2:01:22.  Perhaps 2015 will be the year I break the two hour threshold?

While I'm happy with the progress there is still more to be achieved. ​ This weekend is the Vancouver Sun which I haven't participated in since 2001 or 2002(?).

A week after STP a friend challenged me to compete in the Scotia Bank Half-Marathon.  All I wanted to do was finish feeling like I was still alive and that I was still able to walk!  Up to that point I had not run more than 16 km; the extra 5 km was almost as grueling as the post run walk back to the car.

BMO Vancouver 2015 Intraining

Finishing in my second best time for a half marathon motivated me to train for the May 2015 BMO Vancouver Marathon to see if I could break fours.  Intermediary races such as the Rock'n'Roll Vancouver Half Marathon in October and the MEC Grand Banana Marathon in November, both in 2014 and both where I set new personal records helped me gain more conviction that my goal was possible; they also helped me gauge my training. 

TrainingPeaks and a Garmin ForeRunner 620 are training and analysis tools that have been key to monitoring and adjusting my training results. Since there are just under four weeks left I thought it was time to take more in depth look at April 2014 and the month before my second marathon.

Countdown to Vancouver Marathon


Best Pace (min/mi) by Distance Comparison - Training Runs Only

Duration (Hr)

Distance (mi)



1 km


5 km

10 km

April '15









April '14









Nov '14









Oct '14









TSS - Training stress score (a measure of volume effort). In the table this is the total for that month

Success leaves breadcrumbs. The body responds to specific demands; to boost fitness the demands need to be greater than its current capacities. This can be in TSS or miles.  During last year's training I completed long runs of 14 mi, 16 mi and 18 mi runs (48 mi) leading up to the Grand Banana.  So far I've increased that to one 15 mile and two 18 mile runs (51 mi) all at slightly faster paces than in 2014. 

The next good sign is that paces for each distance (see table) are faster this week than they were in November 2014.  Included in this was training was a new personal record for the 10 km by 1:30 min.

To drop under the four hour marathon time my fitness needs to increase by 3.7%. Has it?​

  • 10 km April '15 8.07 mph vs Nov '14 7.64 mph = [(8.07/7.64)-1]*100 = 1.0569 = 5.69%.
  • Half Marathon (within 18 mi) - 4% improvement over Sept 2014
  • 18 mi 2% improvement over  Sept 2014
  • Garmin predicted VO2 Max - 54 ml/min/kg to 57 ml/min/kg - 5.5% improvement
  • 21:15 5 Km time trial April 10, 2014
  • 6:36 mi PR April 10 - 10s improvement - 1.8%
  • 17s / min faster April '15 than Oct '14 over 10 km. Van Sun Run will be trial run.

​This are all signs of progress towards an improvement of 3.7%. Will it be enough on race day? The last four weeks of training will determine this. This is the critical time of preparations. Fitness has been gained through the last year of training. Now is the time to fine tune with more speed work combined with careful judgement so that I recover properly so that I'm fresh for May 3rd.   

Saturday was a good test of my mental toughness and conviction. Within three miles of the long run I wanted to quit.  Instead I told myself:

If I don't do the work I won't reap the reward of crossing the finish line in under 3:59 while exhausted but feeling exhilarated.  I've done this distance before. This is an opportunity to develop mental toughness; make that the focus of this training run.

​Eventually my legs and breathing found a rhythm.  During the last three miles positive self-talk:

The clock is at 3:55. I need to speed up to finish under four hours. I'm capable of going faster. There is energy in the tank.  ​

Instead of slowing down further these motivation words enabled a few speed bursts that maxed out at 6:39 min/mile. A detailed look at the last long run stats showed average strides per minute was 170 strides per minute (spm) and stride length was 1.01 meters. Crunching the numbers it works out to a predicted time 4:04 hours. Increasing cadence to 180 spm would drop my finish time 3:50. Keep in mind this run was not completed fresh because the previous day I had finished an 11.5 mile run with an average pace of 8:11 min/mile and 1.13 meter stride. 

 This analysis has helped me gain more confidence to predict that based on the training and my visualizations that I will run a personal record and most likely cross the finish line of the Vancouver Marathon somewhere between 3:50 hr and 4:04 hr. How do you gain the confidence to reach your goals?

Stay Inspired by the Red Dragon

Receive each post as it is published

Alfred Ball

Alfred is a Practicing Kinesiologist who started his own business, Lifemoves Health and Rehabilitation in 2007. He has been writing since a very young age. He enjoys writing about the challenges of entrepreneurship and growing a business while maintaining an active lifestyle.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 0 comments

Leave a Reply: