A sub 2 hour half marathon requires an average 9:09 mile. The goal of these tips is to provide you with a framework of the pieces you need for consistent training to create a body and mind that are strong enough to hit your goal.
The quest for a sub 2 hour half marathon started for me, after my very first race in 2002. As I crossed that 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.
As a running coach for over a decade, I’ve seen many runners set the Sub two half marathon as their big goal. It’s such a great goal and one that many are going to be able to hit!
From helping thousands of runners, these are the tips that will help you figure out what needs to change for you to make this goal a reality.
Why You’re Struggling to Break 2 Hours?
Running a sub-two hour half marathon 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! This was in the years before I really started to learn everything I could about running and became a running coach.
- I was running too fast on easy days.
- I wasn’t strength training.
- I was still thinking more about weight loss than fueling for success.
After a few years of learning a lot of lessons the hard way, reading a boat load of running books and talking to trainers, now a sub-two is just a great practice race and that still blows my mind.
It’s totally possible for you too.
14 Keys to Run a Sub 2 Hour Half Marathon
I know you’re smarter than me and don’t need to learn things the hard way! So get ready to take notes and save this post to continue referencing things throughout training.
If this is your first half marathon, it’s super exciting that you’re setting your sights on sub 2-hour half marathon, but I want to be clear that just FINISHING is the win for your first. You’ll be learning so many things as you increase weekly mileage and simply follow a training plan for 12-16 weeks.
#1 Pace for Sub 2 Hour Half Marathon
To run a sub 2 hour marathon, or 1:59:59, you need to average 9:09 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 target race pace is 9:08 per mile
- Ideally you’re looking to hit this roughly for each mile
- You are not trying to negative split
- You are not bolting out of the gate and clocking 8 minute miles to start
- An even pace start to finish is the best way to PR based on numerous studies
After pacing my friend Amy in the 13.1 Chicago and hearing from so many more of you that a 2 hour half marathon 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.
#2 Run More Hills
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’ll help to build strength in your legs before you transition to faster running.
- Hill sprints have been shown to increase running speed
- Using hills allows you to build leg strength
- Your race will probably have a few hills, so be prepared for them
The other key is to work on relaxing during the downhill so that you can make up time.
This doesn’t mean overstriding, 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 >>
👉Learn how to run downhill and save your knees >>
#3 Work On Your Running Form
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 more on how to improve your running form >>
#4 Improve Your Running Cadence
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 nearly 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.
A sub two hour half marathon pace requires the same turn over as your one hour 30 minute half marathon, it’s all about the power in that stride.Do you know what it really takes to break the 2 hour half marathon mark? Find out! #Runchat Click To Tweet
👉Try adding strides to end of runs to practice the pick up >>
👉Checkout these tips to improve your cadence >>
For those who just prefer watching video, I’ve also summarized the tips here!
#5 Always do a Dynamic Warm Up
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.
👉Get started with a 5 minute dynamic warm up>>
#6 Consider a Running Coach
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. In fact, you often get more as a beginner or intermediate runner because they can answer so many questions.
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 one-on-one half marathon coaching>>
#7 Include Strength Training
We’re all time strapped and we love our runs, so the first thing to drop from the training plan is often strength. However, this is actually going to have the opposite effect by making you slower.
Powerful glutes mean more power in your stride.
A strong core and upper body means better posture throughout your run. That means running faster and with more efficiency. Truly the benefits are too numerous for this one article! START DOING IT.
👉Ideas for how to add strength training for runners (included programs to follow)>>
#8 Get Your Mindset Right
Get in the mindset of an athlete.
You are IN TRAINING, not following a program. If you’re 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.
Many studies have shown that the most successful people are those who love the process. So what can you do to really love the process and focus on the key areas, rather than just putting in the miles.
#9 Remember Speed is Only Part of the Plan
Instead of starting out too fast with intensity and then feeling overwhelmed with every session or getting injured, introduce speed work gradually.
One of the easiest ways to do this is by throwing 3-5 running strides on to the end of an easy workout each week.
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.
Easy runs should make up 80% of your runs. And if you’re running those too hard or too fast, then you’re compromising all of your training. Slow down. You should be able to chat with a friend during those runs.
Before attempting speed workouts like tempo runs, make sure you’ve been running consistently for a few months and have done some hill workouts. Then ease in to the volume and intensity of interval runs.
👉See these speed workouts for beginners >>
#10 Practice Half-Marathon Goal Pace
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 9:08.
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’re feeling.
How to Pace Your Race?
Mile 1 hold yourself back. Don’t let yourself get excited and bust out an 8 minute mile. You might feel amazing then, but that over running will catch you at mile 10 or 11 and you’ll slow down dramatically from goal pace.
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.
👉Tips for learning to pace yourself outside>>
#11 Stop Over Racing
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.
#12 Complete Longer Long Runs
If you’ve 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’re willing to push just a bit harder.
Additionally these EASY 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.
👉Tips for Doing Long Runs Right >>14 keys to finally achieving your half marathon PR #runchat Click To Tweet
#13 Focus on Pre-Hab
This is an idea that feels new to many runners, but it’s really been around for ages. Pre-hab means doing the movements that will help you run injury free.
Injury free running means consistent running and that is where success happens.
And bonus points because Pre-Hab is actually strength work that makes you a better runner! WIN, WIN, WIN.
- Include the movements in your dynamic warm up
- Start with something simple like 10 minutes per day in the 30 Day Core Challenge
- Get even more help with our full Primed to Run Pain Free Course with core work, PT and form guides
If you snag either course, shoot me an email and I will provide you the Sub Two Hour Half Marathon Training Plan free.
🚨Stop Running Through Injuries
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 runner’s pain and discomfort>>
#14 Learn How to Fuel Your Running
While this is the final point, it’s certainly not the least important.
If you feel like you keep hitting a wall, are struggling through long runs, or aren’t recovering well from speed workouts? Then it’s time to get honest with how you’re fueling your body.
- Eating enough calories is step one to help your body recover
- Athletes have a higher protein need to help maintain muscle and speed up recovery
- Not taking fuel during your runs that are over 90 minutes is slowing recovery and your body is running out of fuel so you feel worse and it begins damaging your hormones (this is why people gain weight while running more miles)
- Don’t short change your progress by limiting food or fasted running
Bonus Tip: Learn How to Recover Correctly
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.
I hope this helps you hit that PB and enjoy training for this awesome goal! I know it’s a ton of information, so don’t get overwhelmed just keep taking one Monday at a time!
👉Read more about recovering like a Pro>>
Still looking for more half marathon training tips?
- Half Marathon Pace Chart
- Half Marathon Checklist – be ready for race day
- Half Marathon Fueling Strategy
- How Long Between Half Marathons?
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I am a 55 year old male and have been using walking and jogging along with portion control to lose 95 pounds. At 247 pounds, it took a week to recover from my first brisk 2 mile walk (15:30 minute/mile pace. Over 2 years later at 200 pounds, I log about 30 miles a week in walking and jogging. Including my long walk/jog morning of 13.1 miles. My PR for the half is 2:21. I plan to let the 2hr half come to me through weight loss rather than trying to push harder. I think a 50 pound loss would save me 21 minutes.
Not sure how long ago this was posted, but just wanted to say you do need to average 9:10 per mile to finish in 2 hours, not 9:14 for 1:59:59. To finish sub-2 you have to do faster than 9:10. Just a heads up! If it’s already been corrected I apologize!
If you use a Metronome app what pace do you want to set it at for the 180 strides? Still a newbie and I’m sure I’m not even close to that number. I think the app will help me.
You’ll set it to 180, so you get the rhythm.