How to Run a Sub-Four Hour Marathon (Fat Adapted Version)

Awkward photo alert:  Trev at the Myrtle Beach Marathon photo credit:

Awkward photo alert: Trev at the Myrtle Beach Marathon
photo credit:

Last year I wrote a post called “How I Ran a Sub-Four Hour Marathon”.

You can see it here. Amazingly, this little post has continued to generate high numbers of visitors every month.

Well ladies and gentleman, I have broken the 4:00 barrier again! (spontaneous cheering ignites all over the world wide web).

I ran 3:56:35 in Myrtle Beach.

I’m not setting any speed records to be sure. I’m just a middle of the pack runner. At my age I would need to clock a 3:05 to qualify for Boston! Ha, ha, ha . . .

Nevertheless, breaking 4 hours for the second time feels really good. Especially after running a miserable 4:53:23 at the Rocket City Marathon in December. (Let’s not talk about that race).

The cool part about running sub-four this time is that I did not carry a boat load of fuel. What did I carry? Nothing but my fat baby! (sort of).

Here are my tips for breaking 4 hours in the marathon fat adapted style:

Use Your Fat as Fuel

“Fat adapted” simply means burning your fat as fuel. Your body learns to power your running on less calories per hour. In fact, some people find that they can get by on half the calories once they become fat adapted.

In the past I would take about 180 calories an hour using gels and other fueling products. But since I started cutting sugars and grains from my diet, I have trended away from sugar based fueling products. For the record, I’m not stating that you shouldn’t use these products. I did well on them when I was eating a diet higher in carbohydrates.

My goal in changing my fueling strategy was to be consistent with the overall dietary changes I have made by adopting a low carbohydrate lifestyle.

So let’s get down to the nuts and bolts. Here’s how I fueled for the Myrtle Beach Marathon:

  1. I took 1 ½ servings of Generation Ucan super starch before the race. The Ucan company makes a slow release carb that gives you energy without an insulin spike. It’s like a carb that doesn’t act like a carb.
  2. I drank 2 cups of coffee before the race. This is not a fueling strategy, I just love coffee.
  3. I drank water at the aid stations. No energy drinks, just water -drinking to thirst not guzzling.
  4. I brought a gluten-free, sugar-free energy bar. I carried this as a backup but only ate half of it at the 16 mile mark; mainly because I wanted to reward myself.
  5. Electrolyte tabs. I took about 4 every hour to prevent cramping.

That’s it folks. As you can see, most of my fueling took place before the marathon started. I was very pleased with my energy levels throughout the race. I ran a negative split with a nice little kick during the last 3 miles.

The magic is in the can!  (Ucan)

The magic is in the can! (Ucan)

Angie prefers to take one serving of Ucan before the race and then carry one serving in a small hydration bottle and sip it as she goes. I tried to do this at the Rocket City Marathon but my stomach rebelled. What works best for me is to take about 2 servings before the marathon starts.

My final advice about becoming a fat adapted runner is to give it time. After you cut out sugars and grains you will probably have very little energy while running for the first 4-5 weeks. When it comes to fueling remember to test everything before race day. Use your long runs to see how your system handles Ucan.

If you want to run a sub-four hour marathon as a high carb runner then refer to this post.

Get a Solid Marathon Training Plan

I have the good fortune of being married to a running coach. Angie made me a training plan for Myrtle Beach based on 4 running days a week with cross-training in between. For cross-training I did yoga and upper body stuff.

The plan also prescribed a speedwork session once a week; tempo runs, mile repeats, and Yasso 800s. I promptly neglected all speedwork sessions. (I’m a lazy runner).

If you need a good training plan you can either (1) marry a running coach (2) or buy one of Angie’s Smart Training Plans.

Whatever plan you get, resolve to stick to it no matter what. Tape it to your forehead if necessary.

Do Some Killer Hill Training

MTA_TSHIRT_BACK_MANThough the Myrtle Beach Marathon course is very flat, I put in a fair amount of hill training leading up to the race. (Maybe I’m not that lazy).

Running hills is a great way to condition your body and really learn how to push yourself when you want to quit. Go find a lung busting hill and see if you can make it to the top without walking. If anyone wonders what you’re doing just tell them I sent you.

Pace Yourself Wisely

Like I said, I was able to run a negative split at the Myrtle Beach Marathon. I crossed the 13.1 marker at 2:03:11. To run a negative split you have to be very patient in the beginning. I found myself continually easing back my speed.

After I crossed the half way point I turned up the tempo. My legs felt pretty fresh. In fact, I’ve never felt so good at the end of a marathon. My feet were tired but I was having fun.

You should make it a goal to have strong legs in the second half of your marathon. You also need to keep a strong mind. Dr. Tim Noakes says that fatigue is only in your brain (the central governor) not a real physical state in the body.

So when you feel tired, just remember the brain is trying to trick you into slowing down. Dismiss those thoughts immediately.

Listen to our interview with Dr. Noakes to see how this works.

Run with Music

Music helped me run faster and keep my mind filled with positive thoughts. The two times I’ve run a sub-four hour marathon I’ve had music to keep me company. My running playlist might be my secret weapon. Seriously.

Check out this song by TobyMac, I played it during the last mile.

We wanna rise,
We wanna touch the other side
(It starts tonight!)
We wanna soar
We wanna reach right out for more!

I hope you have ultimate success in reaching for a sub-four marathon. You have what it takes! Have a question? Leave it in the comment section below and I’ll reply to it.

14 Responses to How to Run a Sub-Four Hour Marathon (Fat Adapted Version)

  1. Rachael March 8, 2014 at 10:34 am #

    Hi Trevor,
    Thank you very much for thus information. I have listened to your brilliant podcast for a few years now and found it really helpful. Well done with this latest achievement. I would like to know if the product you take is available in the UK. Also, I have been following a low carb low no grain diet for about a month. I have listened to the recent podcasts about this as well. I am eating very healthily but find I have less energy for running. Should I persist do you think?
    Thank you to you and Angie for all your support and inspiration. You make me smile : )

    • Trevor Spencer March 8, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

      Hi Rachael, thanks for the feedback! I know there is a distributor of Ucan in the Uk but I’m not sure where. I just sent a quick email to my friend Varun to see how they work this. I’ll update you when I hear something.

      As to your other question, yes I would persist a little while longer. Your body is probably not fat adapted yet. It took Angie and I about 5 weeks to get our energy back. (Results may vary). Stick it out and see what happens.

  2. Jay Mijares March 10, 2014 at 10:15 am #

    Great article! I ran a marathon last year and the gels that worked in training didn’t work during the race. It might have been the unexpected heat wave. But this year I’ve resolved to change things up and just rely on bananas and a few date-based energy bars. Though I’ll have to look up the Generation Ucan. I like the idea of the slow release energy. BTW, TMac is great to run to!

    • Trevor March 10, 2014 at 10:34 am #

      Thanks for the comment Jay! Slow release energy is pretty cool and not having to carry fuel along is bonus.

  3. Bill March 11, 2014 at 2:34 pm #

    Trevor – enjoyed the article. One question: “If you need a good training plan you can either (1) marry a running coach (2) or buy one of Angie’s Smart Training Plans.” – which would be most cost effective?

    • Trevor March 11, 2014 at 10:48 pm #

      Bill, seeing that the training plans are 14.99 and supporting a wife is astronomical, I think you should go with option (2).


  4. bethany May 25, 2015 at 7:20 am #

    Toby Mac is on my running playlist! Nothing like ending a long run to “Lose My Soul.”

  5. HH April 11, 2016 at 1:22 am #

    Hi Trevor… I run the Rotterdam marathon yesterday, appalling 4:38 when I was gunning for sub4. This is my 3rd race in 12 months, is that too much? PB is 4:11. I would love to hear what happened to you on the race where you had trouble! A bit bummed today 🙁

    • Trevor Spencer April 19, 2016 at 4:17 pm #

      Hey HH, anytime you can cross a marathon finish line is a cause for celebration. It’s an epic distance. I know it’s disappointing to not meet a goal time. There are a lot of factors that can go into a slow or fast time on race day. Things like weather, the course, what you at the day before, mental headspace, your fueling, etc. At the marathon that I had trouble I was fighting a stomach bug of some kind. I ended up puking at the finish line. But at least I made it.

  6. patti April 20, 2016 at 3:44 pm #

    Hey nice story!! I train fat adaptive too!! 4months now…I agree it works well burning your own fat as fuel!! its so amazing the turn your body takes. No more disgusting gels, stupid bars,, only water and UCAN and I go for 26miles in the mountains no problem no bonking no gut issues, and I have extra money to buy new shoes…I love how my body has adapted to this strategy, this is all how we should be…..congrats on your run!

    • Trevor Spencer April 21, 2016 at 8:58 am #

      Thanks for the comment Patti. I’m glad you enjoyed my post.

  7. Brad May 17, 2016 at 2:24 pm #

    Just found your podcast and love it. I’m also just starting on the low carb, high fat lifestyle. Perfect timing! How long before the marathon did you take the UCan?

    • Trevor Spencer May 19, 2016 at 9:10 am #

      Hi Brad, thanks for the nice comment. I started taking it about 30 minutes before the marathon.

  8. TG July 31, 2018 at 8:08 am #

    Just found your website and have read some great information. I am on day 9 of NSNG (no sugar, no grains) and am loving it! No cravings but my energy level for running is horrible! I have been looking to see how long fat adaption takes for running and have found it with your website, thanks. I am getting ready to start training for my 11th marathon and would love to do it fat adaptive. But, after reading it looks like I just need to hold off on that. Any tips on how to get fat adaptive while training for a marathon?

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