As I crossed the finish line, staring down to stop my watch, rather than up at the cameras I remember thinking “holy hell that was hard…I can do better.”
I’m not sure I would encourage most people to select a half marathon for their very first race, but it worked for me. I was able to push myself, without hitting the vomit threshold which I find more common in the 5K and the “oh it’s over” of the 10K.
Running a sub-two hour half didn’t happen right away and I started to think it just wasn’t realistic. Turns out I didn’t know what I was doing, surprise, surprise!
After a few years of learning a lot of running lessons the hard way, reading a boat load of books and talking to trainers, now a sub-two is just a great practice race and that still blows my mind.Since I know most of you don’t need to learn things the hard way, here are my top tips!
14 LESSONS TO RUN A SUB TWO HALF MARATHON
After pacing my friend Amy in the 13.1 Chicago and hearing from so many more of you that SUB 2 is your big half marathon goal, I thought through things I noticed while running with her and advice I’ve given to those that I coach.
Let’s start with the basics, to run a 1:59:59 you need to average 9:14 per mile.
I don’t know about you, but being over by a few seconds would break my heart, so let’s round down and say your goal is 9:10 per mile.
Hills come in handy in all sorts of ways, so you have to stop avoiding them! In fact, they should be part of at least one run each week early in your training where they will help to build strength in your legs before you transition to faster running.
The other key is to work on relaxing during the downhill so that you can make up time. This doesn’t mean overstride, but if you allow yourself to relax and stay forward on your toes rather than sinking back in to your heels you will gain speed instead of hitting the breaks.
Checkout these hill workouts for the treadmill >>
I can’t say enough about learning just a few basic pieces of good form, the rest can make you crazy but a few tips will get you moving forward faster and with less chance of injury.
While there are a lot of different theories out there about form, there are a few consistent pieces that can make a big difference like improving your arm swing and reducing heel strike.
Read the basics of good form >>
180 STRIDE RATE
Coaches often talk about faster foot turnover, what this refers to is how long your foot stays on the ground. The optimal foot turnover is 180 strides per minute and it’s a great goal to have!
Once you master it you’ll find that you can hit 180 strides at any pace. For most runners at first this tempo will feel too fast, so as with any drill just practice it a few times a week and then check in consistently throughout your runs to try and maintain it.
How to check your stride rate? For 10 seconds count how many times your right foot hits the ground. Double that number to get your total footfalls for 10 seconds and then times 6 for your per minute stride rate.
I love doing math while I run because it’s a great distraction!! Another fantastic way to stay on track with your stride is to download a metronome app. As it ticks you should find your feet hitting the ground in sync with the sound.Do you know what it really takes to break the 2 hour half marathon mark? Find out! #Runchat Click To Tweet
BE IN TRAINING
Get in the mindset of an athlete.
You are IN TRAINING, not following a program. If you are in training, then you take the time to stretch, to recover, to eat right because those are the things that will move you forward.
The gels and hydration and shoes are often the 10%, not the 90% that will make a difference.
It’s about doing the training.
Even Olympians like Meb take time to warm up before a training run or a race, so why shouldn’t you?! Your muscles need time to get loose and start sending blood and oxygen everywhere.
A warm up is going to increase the amount of time you can train and your potential for speed. It seems counter intuitive that time spent walking or jogging slowly will help you actually run farther, but study after study says it’s so.
5 minute dynamic warm up>>
I jumped right from that first race back in to training without so much as an afternoon nap. All right I slept in the car riding home and I was 20, but really I didn’t grasp the concept of giving my body time to adapt to the changes I was asking of it.
It’s not just about what you do post race, it’s about taking the time to refuel with the right foods, taking at least one day off a week and remembering that physical stress is compounded by life stress. Give yourself time to relax whenever possible and enjoy active recovery days of walking or yoga which will benefit your running without overtaxing the body.
Read more about recovering like a Pro>>
It’s true having a coach can do wonders. They hold you accountable, answer questions like “why am I so constipated during race week” and “oh no I forgot my gels what do I do?” Coaches come in nearly every price range, so don’t let this be a deterrent if you really want to reach this goal.
Coaches are valuable at every level and the key is really to find someone who fits your personality. Do you need a coach that will give you tough workouts and drill sergeant pushing? Do you need a coach you can meet in person or does online work?
A coach will help to ensure you do all of the tips listed here and more to get to race day feeling strong and most importantly confident in your sub-two goal.
Learn about my half marathon coaching>>
Instead of starting out too fast and then feeling overwhelmed with every session or getting injured, introduce speed work gradually.
You don’t need to be at race speed on day 1. It’s really tempting to see your goal pace and start pushing towards that pace all of the time, but a great program is designed to work you towards managing that goal pace effort for 13.1 miles, not hundreds of miles over the course of months.
Before attempting speed workouts, make sure you have been running consistently for a few months and have done some hill workouts. Then ease in to the volume and intensity.
See these speed workouts for beginners >>
Stop relying on a watch to dictate your training runs on easy days.
During the race, there are a lot of different ideas about how to pace yourself. The most consistent data I have seen is that those with the best results tend to run a very steady pace from start to finish. I agree with this because rarely do I see someone pushing for a PR who can start out slow and then make up that time when exhausted in the final miles.
Start out just a few seconds above or right at your goal race pace, not faster. Attempt to maintain that pace for every single mile until roughly 11 and then if you are still feeling pretty good, push yourself just a tad harder and get the biggest PR you can.
Read tips for learning to pace yourself outside>>
If races keep you motivated, then definitely sign up, but select only a couple races to be your “A race” where you will push the pace and try for a PR.
Why not race all the time? For many runners it distracts them from their ultimate goal by running too hard too often, which then prevents them from getting in other workouts during the week. It’s not about having a few good races, it’s about having months of training with decent mileage and solid workouts that lead up to your goal pace.
In my own athletes, I see this issue frequently. They sign up for a 5K and have a long run that same day, so they plan to do the race and then run. But we all know what happens post race, right? We meet up with friends to celebrate and that long run never happens.
It sounds silly to non-runners, but the reason we often end up injured is because we’re too stubborn to recognize when an injury is imminent.
We tend to believe we can “just push through it”.
And in all fairness, running is often uncomfortable so we are frequently pushing ourselves just a tad outside our comfort with every new long run or speed session. However, when you begin to feel pain in one area on every run or when you are not running, it’s time to press pause. A couple missed runs are better than months of missed runs.
Consistency is the fastest way to break the 2 hour mark and you can’t do that from the couch.
Learn the difference between discomfort and pain>>
RACE PACE PRACTICE
While you shouldn’t be trying to run your race pace all the time, you should practice it. In fact, one of the key components missing in many training runs is the inclusion of miles run specifically at your goal pace of 9:10.
If every workout is an easy pace of 10 minutes per mile or a speed workout at your 5K or 10K pace, your legs and brain aren’t sure what to expect from a 9:10. One way to begin including race pace miles is during your mid-week run or your weekend long run. You can try making 1-3 of the middle miles race pace.
As you get closer to the race, one of your peak week workouts might be a long run of 11 miles with 6 at goal race pace. This will depend on your training plan and how you are feeling.LONGER LONG RUNS
If you have been running for a few years and injury free, one tactic can help is to do long easy runs of 13-16 miles. This is not for everyone, but for those who need improved endurance or find a big confidence boost from knowing they can go beyond the race distance it can help tremendously.
It’s the reason many come back from a marathon to a new half PR. Mentally they now know they can complete 13.1 without issue, so they are willing to push just a bit harder. Additionally these long runs are another opportunity to teach your body to burn fat rather than carbs for fuel, which can help to prevent bonking on race day.
If I have learned one lesson that I will NEVER ever forget it is the value of pre-hab. Getting knee deep in to training or all the way to the week of the race and then finding yourself relegated to the couch is beyond depressing. Now it’s a key part of my entire routine.
Ideas for pre-hab to prevent IT Band and Knee Pain >>
Still looking for more tips? Checkout the entire Road to a PR series:
Choosing your race pace >>
Picking the right race for your goal >>
Creating your training plan >>
Why you need a base building phase>>
Safely adding speed work >>
Why you need a peak week >>
How to taper the right way >>
What’s your current half marathon goal?
What’s something that has helped you get faster?
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