Going from Sub 4 Hour to Sub 3 Hour Marathon

With my first Marathon in the bag I’ve had a few weeks to reflect and decide on where I want to take my running journey.

Back in spring last year, before deciding on running the Manchester Marathon, I entered the public ballot for the Virgin London Marathon. As a new runner this was my main exposure to marathon running. I’d watched the live coverage on the television since I was a kid and seen it in person a few times too, so this was naturally my number one choice if I was going to try and do the unfathomable and run one myself!

As spring turned to summer, turned to autumn, myself and around 250,000 others waited excitedly to find out if we’d been allocated that most elusive of beasts, a bib number in the London Marathon. In previous years the ballot system would be open for a short period of time, possibly less than 24 hours, before closing to new entries, but for 2015 it was open for a full 5 days, allowing a much higher number of entrants.

Even with the old system the odds of bagging a spot weren’t great and you’d often hear stories of runners applying year after year without luck, so the chances that I’d be offered a place on my first entry were not good. After 5 months, and then two days of excitement after hearing that others had started to receive the news, I received an email informing me… I’d not been successful.

My London 2016 dreams were crushed. But I wasn’t disheartened and I decided to enter the Greater Manchester Marathon instead. I’d heard lot’s of good things from the previous year, and best of all there was no ballot, just pay your money and the place is yours.

What about the London dream?

When the sponsor changed from Flora to Virgin in 2010 they removed the 5 refusal system, where you’d finally be offered a place after 5 rejections. Along with the increased number of entrants, this leaves a system where you could be lucky enough to get a place year after year, or spend a decade trying – I know of one person who has been trying to get a place for the last nine years.

Not being the sort of person who likes leaving things to chance, what can I do about this? Short of becoming a minor celebratory, who seem to be offered as many places as they want, or running for a charity, who require you to raise thousands of pounds for them in return, I’ve got one option – Good for Age (GFA).

The Good for Age system allows anyone who can prove they have completed a qualifying race in a set time to gain automatic entry. Fantastic! So let’s have a look at the GFA times required for the Virgin London Marathon 2017.

Men Time (in hours) Women Time (in hours)
Age 18-40 sub 3:05 Age 18-40 sub 3:45
Age 41-49 sub 3:15 Age 41-49 sub 3:50
Age 50-59 sub 3:20 Age 50-59 sub 4:00
Age 60-64 sub 3:45 Age 60-64 sub 4:30
Age 65-69 sub 4:00 Age 65-69 sub 5:00
Age 70-75 sub 5:00 Age 70-75 sub 6:00
76+ sub 5:30 76+ sub 6.30

OK, not so fantastic. Being lucky enough to currently fall into the 18-40 category, I need a marathon time of sub 3:05 to qualify. Any officially recognised marathon will do, but it’s the time that’ll be hard bit.

The Sub 3 Hour Marathon

Most runners I know have targets. That might be a sub 30 minute 5k or a sub 20 minute 5k, a sub 35 minute 10k or a sub 2 hour half marathon. Targets are a great motivational tool and it’s always good to have something to aim for, but why a sub 3 hour marathon? It’s hard enough to aim for the good for age time so why not aim for that? I don’t have an answer, and to be completely honest I’d be very happy with either, but the sub 3 hour mark is where I’m going to aim my sights and we’ll see how close I can get.

With my current marathon time sitting in the high 3 hour range it’s a huge chunk of time to knock off, but this is a long term plan. Let’s see what can be achieved in the next twelve months before the next spring marathon season and then go from there.

So who’s with me? What progress are you hoping to make over the next twelve months?

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