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How to run a half marathon in 2 hours or less

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A race strategy that tells you how to run a half marathon in 2 hours or less looks at everything from your pace to your running form. 

Running a sub-2 hour half marathon is a huge achievement. If you’re training for your next half marathon, you may even want to achieve your next PB.

I remember when I first started training for my first half marathon, a race time of 2 hours or less seemed like a distant, unachievable goal.

However, if I’ve learned anything as a runner, is that if you put your mind to it, you really can achieve whatever you set your sights on.

According to a 2019 study on pacing during a half marathon, the half marathon is the most popular endurance running race event in terms of number of races and runners competing annually.

If you’re looking to improve on your race times, here are my top tips on how to run a half marathon in 2 hours or less.

In this guide we’ll explore:

  • The importance of a well-rounded training plan
  • Reviewing your current race times
  • Pacing
  • Why it’s important to fuel your race properly
  • The importance of core strength
  • The importance of speedwork and strength training

Ready?

Let’s go!

run a half marathon in 2 hours or less

The importance of a well-rounded training plan

A large part of your sub-2 hour half marathon strategy is your training plan. Many races are made or broken even before the race has begun.

You need to condition yourself to feel comfortable running for 2 hours without stopping, and not feel broken afterwards, and even during the race.

When training for a half marathon it’s important you use a well-rounded training plan to get your body conditioned for the race, especially if you are aiming to run a half marathon in 2 hours or less.

A well-rounded training plan incorporates easy runs and long runs as well as activities such as speedwork and strength training. It also includes the ever-important rest and recovery days.

Speedwork and strength training go a long way to improve your speed, stamina and endurance. Here are some examples of speedwork that you’d likely find in a half marathon training plan:

Related: Run a half marathon in 12 weeks: The ultimate beginner half marathon training plan

Review your current race times

In order to run a half marathon in 2 hours or less, you need to be running at a pace of roughly 9.09 minutes per mile or 5.40 minutes per kilometre.

Ask yourself – could you sustain a 9.09 minute mile/5.40 minutes per kilometre pace throughout the whole race?

It would be a shame to miss out on your sub-2 hour goal by a few seconds or minutes, so it’s important you practice running at a 9.09 mile pace during your training.

In light of this, a big part of your sub-2 hour half marathon strategy should be to break down your current run times. 

In order to run a half marathon in 2 hours or less, you need to have hit the following running milestones:

  • Weekly mileage – 15-16 miles
  • 5k time – 25-26 minutes
  • 10k time – 54 minutes or less
  • Half marathons completed – one or more
  • Half marathon PB (good conditions) – 2:04-2:06
  • Half marathon PB (hills, heat or wind) – 2:08-2:12

If you’re a beginner runner, then my advice would be to start with a shorter distance like a 5k or 10k before attempting a half marathon.

Once you’ve mastered the 5k and 10k distance and have achieved race times closer to those listed above, then it’s time to start working towards the half marathon distance.

Related: How to run a 5k in 25 minutes or less

run a half marathon in 2 hours or less

How to run a half marathon in 2 hours or less

Practice your race pace during training

If you’re used to running 5k and 10k races, you’re used to sustaining your 5k or 10k race pace for 3 to 6 miles.

A half marathon is 13.1 miles so maintaining your 5k or 10k pace during a half marathon will take its toll after a while, so you need to approach half marathon pacing differently.

As discussed earlier, in order to run a half marathon in 2 hours or less, you need to be running at a pace of roughly 9.09 minutes per mile or 5.40 minutes per kilometre.

When you step up from a 5k or 10k race to a half marathon, adaptations in your body need to take place. 

In other words, your body needs to get used to the intensity of running a 9 minute mile for two hours straight.

This is why it’s important to practice your race pace during training. For the first few weeks during your training plan, you may not quite be ready to run at your race pace and this is completely fine.

The aim is to gradually build up to your race pace during training, with the view of running at this pace in the last 4-6 weeks of training.

Activities like speedwork will go a long way to help you run at this pace. Tempo running, for example, is designed to build up your body’s ability to run faster for long periods of time.

Related: How to pace your run

run a half marathon in 2 hours or less

Fuel your race properly

Food and nutrition is incredibly important for a successful sub-2 hour half marathon strategy.

Think of your body as a machine, it won’t function properly if you put the wrong type of fuel in it. Likewise, it won’t function properly if you don’t give it enough fuel. 

Fuel before, during and after your race so you don’t succumb to fatigue and tiredness.

Here are some good examples if your run is in the morning:

  • Porridge with berries or mixed nuts
  • Healthy granola
  • Wholegrain bread topped with scrambled or poached eggs
  • Greek yogurt with berries or fruit salad
  • A bagel with cottage cheese
  • Fruit juice or a fruit smoothie

Try and have something at least two hours before you plan to run so your body has time to fully digest the food.

If you struggle to eat very early in the morning, make sure you have a carb-rich meal like pasta the night before the race.

Related: What to eat before a run

Strengthen your core

Your core is extremely important when it comes to running. A strong core helps you hold a strong and stable position for longer.

Include core workouts in your weekly training routine. These are all good examples of core stability exercises for runners:

  • Plank
  • Side plank
  • Bicycle crunches
  • Superman pull
  • Ling windscreen wipers

A lot of core workouts are easy to do at home as no equipment is needed. 

Related: 7 of the best core exercises for runners

Strength train

Strength training is key for any runner looking to run faster for longer.

It is important for runners is important because it helps you build stronger muscles, tendons, ligaments and connective tissues.

It also improves your speed and power and lowers your risk of injury.

Strength training also contributes to better running form. In other words, it helps you run more efficiently!

Aim to include at least two strength training sessions in your training plan.

Related: 30 day strength training plan for runners

run a half marathon in 2 hours or less

Perfect your form

Proper running form is all about running in the most efficient way possible. Inefficient running form can shave valuable seconds off your running time.

But what is proper running form? Here are some simple tips:

  • Try not to look at the ground when running – keep your gaze upright and forward.
  • Lift your chin and retract your shoulders back slightly.
  • Keep your arms by your sides (try not to let them cross your body) and keep them relaxed to avoid stiffness.
  • Don’t overstride – your foot should land under your hips or slightly in front of you.
  • Keep your knees soft and bent and let your heels float up behind you.

Related: The ultimate guide to head to toe running form and technique

Do hill repeats

Hill repeats are a great way to improve your power and strength as a runner. 

My suggestion is to include at least one hill training session in your training plan and you will reap the rewards on the race track.

Here’s how to run uphill:

  • Try and land on your forefoot (near your toes) when running uphill.
  • Use your arms to really propel you forward. 
  • Allow yourself to relax and stay forward on your toes rather than sinking back into your heels on the downhill run.
  • You will gain speed instead of hitting the breaks. 

If you struggle to get out onto hills during your training, there are plenty of treadmill workouts that you could try.

By using the incline function on the treadmill, you mimic outdoor runs. 

An incline of 2 to 3 is great for long, uphill run training, which is a great strength builder. Whilst an incline of 4 to 7 is good for quick hills varying in length. 

Related: 3 hill workouts that increase power and speed

run a half marathon in 2 hours or less

Do speedwork

As discussed earlier, speedwork is a game changer for a lot of runners who are working towards a PB, or just generally want to run faster.

Speedwork includes workouts like interval training, tempo runs, Fartlek training and strides.

Try and include at least one speedwork session in your training plan each week. 

The aim is to gradually increase the intensity of the speedwork session from the start of your training plan and subsequently over the following weeks.

The below shows example progression for interval training by increasing the number of intervals each week. You can also increase the amount of work and decrease the amount of rest in between each interval:

  • 4 x 400m intervals
  • 5 x 400m intervals
  • 6 x 400m intervals
  • 7 x 400m intervals
  • 8 x 400m intervals

Related: How to run faster: 6 training secrets every runner needs to know

More half marathon training tips:

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