How to run a half marathon in under 2 hours
How to run a half marathon in 2 hours involves a 9.09 per mile pace and a great deal of persistence on the part of the athlete.
The majority of the world are still trying to better that time.
There are many runners that are very close and even more still who dream of making it a reality who are within an hour of the time.
I hope this article will help runners around the globe in breaking this barrier.
I know what it feels like to get a personal best, to see all of your hard work and dedication pay off and it isn’t easy when you miss the objective.
It is a far more gratifying feeling to get emails from my readers telling me the tactics I have wrote about on RDA has helped them in their quest to become better runners.
What does it take to run a half marathon in 2 hours?
A half marathon in 2 hours involves running 9.09 per mile pace with no breaks for 13.1 miles.
The problem I see a lot of athletes make is they know how to run well for slower paces for long periods of time but have a hard time running half this distance at goal pace.
You have to ask yourself the tough question.
Am I running enough time per week at my goal half marathon pace and how much of my time is spent running faster then what I want to run in the race?
If your answer is not enough then you might want to read on.
The biggest reason for lack of stamina in maintaining this effort for 13.1 miles is not enough time spent at goal pace, plain and simple.
Athletes that run into problems with trying to run a half marathon in 2 hours are not lacking in the potential department.
What happens is when results don’t come we begin to doubt ourselves and question if what we are doing is worth the effort.
Results don’t come quick enough we get frustrated and start to question what are we doing and is all this work really work our time.
It was the late and great Czech Olympic gold medalist, Emil Zatopek, who said it best,
“Why should I practice running slow? I already know how to run slow. I want to learn to run fast”
According to Running USA, the half-marathon is the fastest growing road race distance in the United States and for the past seven consecutive years this has been the case.
In addition, the 2013 National Running Survey states that the half marathon distance is the favorite among men (38%) and women (43%) among those surveyed in the United States.
You can check out further data here.
What do YOU have to do to break the 2 hour barrier?
I say that because so many of us want our goals to be reached on our watch when it doesn’t always happen that way.
It took me from 2002 to 2007 to break the 2.20.00 marathon barrier.
It is now 2014 and I am still trying to better what I did in December of 2007. There were many failures along the way but just take failures you may have had and use them as fuel to get you where you want to go.
We often perform our best, create our best work when our backs are to the wall and we have no other choice but to succeed.
We all have our own specific goals we want to reach and my goal of breaking 2.18.00 for the marathon is no less difficult then you wanting to run 2 hours for the half-marathon.
Our society is backwards sometimes in that we glorify those at the very top and forget about those no one pays attention to who aren’t in the limelight.
I created rundreamachieve for this very reason.
I want runners to feel as though what they are doing matters and is just as important as what any top distance runner is doing.
We’ve built a huge community here which continues to grow.
moderate and fast segments
Lisa Rainsberger, the last American female to win the Boston Marathon (1985 – 2.34.04), coached me from 2007-2010.
This woman totally changed my reality about what is possible in the sport.
We are friends to this day and I continue to rely on her for advice.
Please, if you don’t get anything else I am writing in this post, get this.
You must train at uncomfortable speeds for longer periods of time to master specific time goals, specific training yields specific results.
If your goal is to finish the distance and don’t have any time goals in mind I will provide some tips below to help you as well.
I went from a personal best of 2.40.02 to 2.19.35.
What caused that? How do you drop 21 minutes in any long distance event over 10K?
One, I had to have a whole lot of #1.
I failed numerous times from 2002 to 2007 before I broke 2.20.00 so I cannot emphasize enough just how patient you have to be at the longer distances such as the half-marathon.
Faster Long Runs
My long runs went from doing 16-24 mile long runs at 7.00-30 mile pace to doing the same distance at a heart rate of 160 beats per minute and at much faster paces (5.35-40 pace).
This was a massive change in tactics for me and I want for you to get your head wrapped around so that you can mimic some of the techniques I used to your advantage.
Long runs of this length and at higher anaerobic efforts can be intimidating but you will gain massive confidence in breaking the 2 hour barrier by changing up how you conduct your long runs.
For example, let’s say in the past you have done your long runs at 11.00 mile pace just focusing on time on your feet.
The distance ranges anywhere from 10-18 miles in length.
What do you think runs at this speed actually do?
They will make you very efficient at running slow and burning fat.
Your heart will not have to work as hard, you will gain endurance, build capillary beds providing your working muscles with even greater oxygen carrying capacity among many other positive physiological changes.
Hydrogen ions are the cause of our not being able to maintain the pace.
Runners don’t always know that. They confuse lactic acid as the main reason, only partly true.
What running at slower paces will not do is teach you how to handle lactic acid clearance.
It is one thing to run easy, everyone can do that well. It is art and skill to run fast and to teach yourself to run long periods of time out of your comfort zone.
There is a component of lactic acid called the hydrogen ion that is the reason we slow down in races.
They make muscles acidic and lowers the pH in the blood.
For every lactic molecule that is created in the body there is a hydrogen ion right there that is created as well.
This acidity irritates nerve endings and is the reason we feel the burning in our legs that we sometimes mistakenly think is lactic acid.
We can run easily for long periods of times without much effort because our body is able to convert lactic acid back into energy.
Furthermore, the hydrogen ions are also carried away easily.
What happens with lactic acid?
This conversion of lactic acid back into energy is why we can run for long periods of time without having to slow down.
Long runs at closer to anaerobic threshold efforts is going to teach our bodies to clear lactic acid faster then it is building up in the blood stream.
We sustain pace longer, not experience the dreaded ‘wall’ we hear about so often, conserve carbohydrates and burn fat at speeds relative to 9.09 mile pace.
The faster we run the more lactic acid is created.
If you are missing the 2 hour marathon barrier you have to consider breaking your long runs up into faster segments and spend more time focusing on your overall goal pace.
The Kenyans make it look easy because they spend such a high percentage of their weekly training volume at over 85% of their maximum effort.
Great examples of long run workouts that will help assist you to in run a half marathon in 2 hours are as follows:
16 mile long run
first 3 miles easy (could be anywhere from 10-11.30 mile pace), 4 miles at 20 seconds slower then goal half marathon race pace (9.09+20sec=9.29 pace), 6 miles at goal half marathon pace (9.09) followed by a 3 mile cool-down
18 mile long run
4 miles easy warm-up, 3 miles at goal pace (9.09), 1 mile at aerobic capacity (this is very fast) at heart rates ranging from 170-80 beats per minute, 3 miles easy, 4 miles at 30 seconds slower then goal half marathon pace (9.39 pace), 1 mile hard (170-80BPM), 2 mile jog cool-down
20 mile long run
5 miles easy, 5 miles at goal half marathon pace (9.09), 5 miles easy, 2 miles at 10 second faster then goal half marathon pace (8.59 pace), 3 miles easy
The idea behind workouts like this is to get your mind and your body physiologically prepared to make 2 hour half marathon pace a reality and feel in control.
Always follow one week of conducting your long runs at faster speeds with a long run at relaxed effort the next week.
Recovery is just as important as doing faster long runs.
Don’t get caught up into believing that you have to run fast everyday to run a 2 hour half marathon.
We, as runners, want results and sometimes feel as though we aren’t doing enough or running fast enough.
Sometimes this is true but often times we shoot ourselves in the foot by not backing off mileage when it is needed.
Runners don’t always like to take time off but recovery still plays a vital role for runners seeking to run a 2 hour half marathon.
Watch your volume
More miles run doesn’t always equate to faster times.
I wanted to break the 2.22.00 marathon barrier while still a 2.40.02 marathoner. I constantly visualized that goal and saw it in my mind years before it became a reality.
You have to do the same. Believe you can achieve your goal, take the necessary steps and keep fighting until you do.
I got up to as high as 142 miles a week and it did not bring me the desired result.
I dropped to 90 miles a week and ran my personal best of 2.19.35.
Remember quality of over quantity.
If your cutting out the amount of junk miles your running your weekly mileage you are going to start creating new personal bests in your racing.
The 2 hour half marathon only looks challenging to runners who haven’t broken the barrier.
It will be no more but an afterthought after you make it a reality.
Incorporate longer intervals into your routine
Remember, you want 9.09 mile pace to feel comfortably hard.
We want to go into the race fully confident that 13.1 miles at that pace is not only doable, but we have prepared in training to react to whatever is thrown at us in the race.
What are some intervals that can help runners seeking to run the 2 hour half marathon?
Athletes seeking to run a half marathon in 2 hours also have to keep in mind that running at speeds that far exceed 9.09 mile pace will make goal pace feel like a normal workout.
This is what we want.
I don’t want for you to feel intimidated by the goal anymore.
It is a tough, respectable goal that many runners have but it can also be overwhelming sometimes when you are close to a goal, can envision it in your mind but it still seems so far away.
Hang on, be patient because your time is coming. You may be at 2.00.10 or 2.55.10.
Regardless, where you are, keep the faith and follow the instructions in this post and you will be well on your way to breaking 2 hours in 2014.
Here are a few workouts to help you in your 2 hour half marathon quest.
- 10×1 minute hard followed by one minute easy. Hard being at heart rates between 165-75 followed by an easy one minute easy at 130-40 beats per minute
- 4×2 miles on the road. Focus on running 10 seconds per mile faster then goal pace for each 2 mile segment with a 8-10 minute jog recovery between sets. As you gain fitness you can add in a rep or two but maintain the same pace and drop your recovery time to 4-7 minutes between sets
- 5x1K hard followed by 1K easy on the road (or track if you prefer). 8.49 pace (20 seconds faster then goal half marathon pace) per 1K hard followed by 1K easy. We want, over time, for you to maintain the same pace but dropping your recovery paces between sets.
For example, if you start your season running at 8.49 pace for your harder 1K reps and 10.30 pace for your 1K easy segment, a few weeks down the road aim to run 8.49 pace for your hard 1K set and 9.45 pace for your easy segment.
I promise you, these forms of workouts will help you demolish 2 hours in the half marathon distance.
You will gain fitness and will be able to handle the same (or faster paces) and your recovery pace will increase as well.
9.09 pace will no longer be as intimidating as it once was.
I feel the same way currently. I hold a 2.19.35 marathon best and have a long-term goal of 2.15.00 for the distance. I am 37 now, not 31 when I ran my sub 2.20 PR.
I like a good challenge and I still know it can be done.
This is going from holding 5.19 per mile to 5.09 per mile so, like you, I too have to overcome not only the mental but also the physical limitations for me to accomplish my own goal.
What is beautiful about it all is that my goal is less difficult and challenging as yours is and we are in this together.
I have to train at 5.09 pace and will be doing similar workouts I have provided here to achieve that objective
Write down your goal
Writing down goals will help you visually see your 2 hour half marathon goal and remind you of what you have to do and get you out the door when no one is there to care if you do or not.
Forbes magazine did a great article called 10 Things You Should Know About Goals that pertains a great deal to a goal as lofty as running a 2 hour half marathon time.
Our brains, according to neuroscience research, release more dopamine as we draw closer to our goal.
Have you ever run a race and were only a few seconds away from achieving your objective?
How did you feel leading into the following week?
More energized and focused to commit to your workouts?
In comparison, how do we feel when we fail or drastically miss our goals?
Less motivated, more irritable, much more willing to keep trying and this is why so many runners don’t break the 2 hour half marathon barrier.
They focus too often on the event and forget the process involved in getting there.
The article also states sharing your goals with your friends can help you achieve them quicker. We all want to feel a sense of community which is what I have tried to on our family page.
Always visualize your goal, see running a 2 hour half marathon as reality in your mind as this will cause your subconscious to work in your favor.
I am a firm believer that we focus on attracts to us so don’t forget the mental training that also goes into running a 2 hour marathon.
My collegiate coach while attending Malone University, Jack Hazen, would have us lie down in our wrestling room after workouts with the lights off and visualize for 15 minutes accomplishing our athletic goals.
This is a powerful tactic the best runners utilize.
It isn’t all just about physical training. We all know running is a mental sport and yet we never focus enough on that aspect of our training.
A 2 hour half marathon is a very respectable time and seeing yourself accomplishing this goal on a daily basis in your mind will help compliment your physical training.
I will close with two powerful quotes, one from Bill Mills, who is the last American to have won an Olympic gold medal in the 10,000 meter event on the track, the other, Jesus Christ.
I have reminded myself of these quotes for the past 23 years in the sport.
I hope it will bring positive energy to you as they have to me.
The subconscious mind, cannot tell the difference, between reality or imagination – Billy Mills
We tell ourselves what is possible and what is impossible and others in our lives will gladly do the same.
It is up to us to attack those impossibilities we create and achieve the goals we are so adamantly focused on.
“What do you mean if I can?, all things are possible if a person believes” – Mark 9:23
If this article has helped you in anyway and have the 2 hour half marathon in mind I have written a book on this topic called the sub 2 hour half marathon manifesto.
You can grab a copy which also contains a 12 week training plan at the conclusion to help you run 2 hours or below for the distance.