Breaking the 2-hour half marathon is something that many runners dream about, and it’s a goal I’ve been chasing for quite a while. Since I’ve come so close (2:02), I decided to put some extra work into this goal and tap an expert for some tips.
Before I jump into those tips, take a look at the training plan I created, which has some basic nutrition tips at the bottom.
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How to use the sub 2-hour training plan
Training plans are meant to be a guideline. If you can’t follow it exactly, that’s okay! Instead, consider these points and adjust it to fit your schedule.
- What day do you have enough time for a long run? Make that Day 7 and then go from there–it’s fine if it’s not a weekend.
- Do you prefer another method of cross-training? If so, swap it into day 3.
- If you need to miss a day, don’t freak out. However, stick to your long run and strength training every week. These will help build endurance and prevent injury.
- Tempo runs are set at the race pace, while “easy” runs are whatever pace you want.
- Fartleks” is a Swedish word for “speed play”. During this exercise, you do fast bursts, followed by easy running. For example, after warming up, run at your normal pace for 1-minute and then speed it up for 1-minute and repeat. Or run faster between signs or trees to keep things fun.
- 400 meters is about .25 miles. These should be an all-out sprint, followed by a walk.
Don’t forget about nutrition–the bottom of the training plan includes some nutrition tips for half marathon training! For more info on nutrition for running and specific examples of fueling for different distances, be sure to check out The No-Brainer Nutrition Guide For Every Runner.
8 Tips for a 2-hour Half Marathon
The sub 2 hour half marathon requires hard work, proper planning and mental tenacity. Runners seeking to run a half marathon in 1:59:59 or faster must sustain 9:09 per mile or 5:41 per kilometer. This post provides 8 practical training tips to help you run a half marathon in less than 2 hours.
Guest Post by: Nathan Pennington
How can you minimize slowing down and finish faster than you started? Why do some runners make it look so easy? Are they more talented than you and I? Perhaps. That being said, some good, old-fashioned smart and hard work can help!
My goal in writing this post is to help you leverage your training to master the 13.1 mile distance. These 8 tips will teach you how to use the training methodologies that the best runners are following and work smarter, not harder.
Tip 1: Practice running at and below 9:09 per mile or 5:41 per kilometer
If you want to run a race at a 9:09 pace, you need to train at that pace. If you are patient and persistent in your preparation, you will exceed what you currently think you are capable of.
Try incorporating speed work and strength training to boost your speed. More tips to follow.
Tip 2: Focus on quality versus quantity
A common misconception is that running more mileage will equate to faster half marathon times. Is hard work required to break a 2 hour half marathon?
Of course. That being said, there are habits that will set you up for success. To train for a sub 2-hour half marathon, it is more productive to do a 9-mile long run at 9:35 mile pace than it is to do a 12-mile long run at 11:30 minute mile pace.
Why? Running at faster speeds for longer periods of time trains your body to improve its lactate acid tolerance and capacity.
Remember, there are no breaks in the half marathon. If you choose to stop in the race you will dramatically lower your chances of breaking 2 hours.
Focus on faster running more often to make the 2-hour half marathon race pace feel less stressful. Should you ever run long and slow? Absolutely…which brings us to recovery.
Tip 3: Don’t skimp on recovery
Have the same discipline and focus on your recovery days as you have during your hard days. What does this have to do with breaking the 2 hour half marathon?
Some of the world’s top distance running coaches have told me that the benefits of all of our hard work comes from rest. It is absolutely critical to run slow and have the focus to back off on recovery days.
The body needs to recover from the hard, anaerobic workouts. There are far too many runners who run too fast on their recovery days. It is very easy to do a track workout on a Monday and a group run on a Tuesday. But what if the group didn’t do that track workout the day before?
They may be running faster than you should– be disciplined enough to know you need to slow down and listen to that intuition.
Take it easy on those recovery days. The body takes approximately 21 days or 3 weeks to adapt to any stress load we place upon it. Be patient. The benefits from the workouts you do today won’t be seen until a few weeks from now.
Tip 4: Consider Heart Rate Training
The elite distance coaches that I have been mentored by gave me these guidelines for heart rate training.
Easy running – 130 to 150 beats per minute
Moderate – 151-160 beats per minute
Hard – 161 to 166 beats per minute
Anaerobic Threshold – 167 to 174 beats per minute
Aerobic Capacity – 175+ beats per minute
The last two heart rate zones create the greatest anaerobic results. You want to teach the body to clear lactic acid faster than it is building up in the blood stream in order to become a faster runner.
The top runners from Kenya and other parts of the world make it look easy for a reason. It isn’t just because of talent. They spend a higher percentage of their weekly mileage at very high heart rates and intensities.
I was introduced to heart rate monitor training in 1996 by Jack Hazen. Jack was my collegiate coach at Malone University in Canton, Ohio. In addition, he was the 2002 USA Olympic track and field assistant coach.
I’ve been using heart rate monitor training ever since. I credit it to ensuring I do not run too fast on easy days and that I reach my goals on harder, tempo and long run workouts.
Tip 5: Run faster during your long runs
I was able to lower my half marathon personal best from 1:10:32 to 1:07:06 due to this change in my own training. The goal of a long run workout is to build stamina and endurance.
That being said, to master the half marathon distance, you have to train for longer periods of time at a higher heart rate. First, expect not being able to sustain faster efforts for long periods of time. You have to allow time for your body to adapt to the stress.
If you run long and slow every weekend, you may just get long and slow race results. What needs to be changed? Pace and the amount of time you hold that pace.
At first, this might be difficult and you may only be able to run faster for 3 miles during a 10 mile long run. Keep in mind, as you get fitter your heart doesn’t have to work as hard. More importantly, your body is able to clear lactic acid faster than it is building up in the bloodstream.
Tip 6: Change up your long run routine
The idea isn’t just to run faster during your long runs, but change how you’re doing your long runs week to week. Alternate one faster long run followed by an easier, relaxed long run the following week.
Remember, faster mileage doesn’t always equal better results. Faster mileage coupled with proper recovery will.
Here are a few examples of how I would conduct my long runs if I were aiming for a sub 2-hour half marathon.
Week 1: 8 mile long run – 2 miles easy, 3 miles@9:35 mile pace, 2 miles@9:55 mile pace, 1 mile cool-down
Week 2: 10 mile long run – 2 mile jog warm-up, 6 miles@160 beats per minute (85 to 88% of your max heart rate), 2 mile cool-down
Remember, the idea is to improve your lactate tolerance and alternate paces. These types of long runs are extremely demanding. That being said, this is why running easy and relaxed on your recovery days is so important.
Tip 7: Improve your hydration habits
One of the biggest reasons runners miss the sub 2-hour half marathon is failing to intake enough fluid. Practice your hydration techniques during your training. Take a few gulps of water every 15-30 minutes during your long runs. [Read more about hydration in The No-Brainer Nutrition Guide For Every Runner.]
In addition, many runners fail to ingest enough calories during the race. One of the best things you can do is place a gel or two in your shorts during your race. Why is this important? Glycogen stores are used up after 60 minutes of exercise, and you will be ingesting approximately 300 additional calories in two gel packets.
Tip 8: Train mentally
Visualize yourself crossing the finish line in 1:59:59 or faster
We all have become very good at training our bodies but how often do we focus on mental training? Below is a great video of what the 1964 Olympic Gold medalist, Billy Mills, thinks about mental preparation.
One of the most important parts of training for a sub 2 hour half marathon is mental tenacity. You have to see yourself doing this in your mind first before it can ever become a reality.
So, take note of what Billy talks about in the above video. It is absolutely critical to spend 10 to 20 minutes per day in a quiet place visualizing yourself succeeding.
“The subconscious mind cannot tell the difference between imagination or reality” – Billy Mills, olympic gold medal winner, 10,000m
The Bottom Line
I hope this post has provided some insight on how top runners prepare.
A sub 2 hour half marathon can be achieved. The goal is to gradually extend the amount of time you’re training at, near or far below your goal pace.
Be patient and get comfortable being uncomfortable. This takes time and a belief in delayed gratification. I know you can do this. These tips are philosophies I have followed for the past 27 years and have helped me drop significant time.