Sub 2 Hour Half Marathon Training To Break The Barrier



Sub 2 hour half marathon training

Sub 2 hour half marathon training involves one key fundamental that far too many runners miss. It doesn’t matter if you are a 5K specialist, marathoner or debut runner.

The secret to running better race performances, as they pertain to specific time goals, is training at the specific goal pace you are wanting to hold.

We all train differently. There is no one on the planet like you but the beauty of training is  that it doesn’t matter what nationality you are, how old you are, where you are from, the body will super compensate and adapt to the stresses you place on it.

Universal training

The same adaptations occur to everyone.

We all have genetic abilities, time constraints, outside pressures etc but with a little patience and the willingness to endure over weeks and months will bring about drastic improvements on your way to a sub 2 hour half marathon time.

So how does someone break the sub 2 hour half marathon? You have to have a training plan that will guide you into the direction of that specific goal pace.

9.09 per mile. That is the pace you need to run 1.59.59 for the 13.1 mile distance.naysayer

Where do many runners go wrong?

It surely isn’t for a lack of ability or confidence. They can get out on the track and do repeat miles but not at an intense enough effort.

Focused athletes

Runners all over the globe have the motivation to go out and run 20 mile long runs, endure horrific weather conditions and give up time to achieve goals.

A sub 2 hour half marathon training plan is one that produces not only the ability to run for long periods of time at lactate threshold, but one that prepares the runner to clear lactic acid faster then it is produced.

Lactate threshold is the point in which lactic acid begins to build within the blood stream causing muscle functioning to diminish and thus, you slow down.

This is key.

Increase your patience

The misconception runners face when they miss their time is that they simply do not have what it takes.

They are not as genetically gifted as the next runner. They lose confidence in themselves. This negative self talk only makes us depressed, unconfident and increases our willingness to quit.

The positives are we are in control of how we handle those disappointments and like you, I have had many of them. I have endured a few DNFs at the marathon distance.

It humbled me to say the least. I have also experienced how it feels to outrun elite Kenyan marathoners who had times far better then mine.

It took me years to understand why I wasn’t improving my half-marathon and marathon times. I was trying to race at a specific time but I wasn’t training long enough at the proper pace.

The sooner you realize this, the faster you will be on your way to getting under the sub 2 hour half marathon.


 at home businessCommon mistakes

1. Not running long enough at 9.09 mile pace. You will not gain the ability to run at that pace in control unless you practice running at paces equal to or faster then 9.09 pace

2. Running too many miles at slower then goal race pace. If your goal is to run 9.09 per mile pace to break the sub 2 hour half marathon time, then how will running 90% of your miles at 11 minute mile pace get you there?

Your heart and soul is there, otherwise you would not be out on the roads putting in the miles. What is missing is the time you are spending at speeds at or exceeding that specific pace.

3. Intervals are too slow with too much rest. Remember, there are no rest breaks in a half marathon but you also have to have the patience to wait for physiological adaptations to occur within the body.

Decrease rest periods

If your goal is to run at 9.09 per mile pace, intervals should not only be aggressive in pace but rest periods should gradually lesson as you gain fitness.

For example, if you are doing 6x1mile repeats on the track at 8.55 pace with 10 minute breaks. How will this aid you in running 13 miles, with no breaks at a pace just a few seconds faster then the mile repeats?

Will you gain fitness from workouts like this? Absolutely, but the stress load you are placing on the body is not sufficient enough to produce the result you want.

It takes times to get fit.  We had a saying at Malone University ‘hurt adapt’.

The physiological adaptations i.e. creation of additional mitochondria, increase in capillary beds and the body’s increased oxygen carrying ability, to name a few, occur not from the workout, but in the rest.


The workout is painful. If you are aiming for a big goal such as a sub 2 hour half marathon, then it is to be expected that it is going to hurt, but after that comes the adaptation to that stress you placed on yourself.

The body supercompensates, meaning it weakens from the workout, then grows exponentially stronger from the stress you placed on it.

This is where the magic occurs in preparing to hit that 9.09 per mile pace.

You decide to give this whole specific pace training a go. You go out for a planned 3-mile run at 9.09 per mile pace. It is hard at first.

This is only week 3 of a 12-week plan.

You try again in week 5, 9.09 pace for three miles feels like a moderate run. You feel in control so you go 5 miles instead.

What happened?

For one, your heart doesn’t have to work as hard as it once had to. It, too, is a muscle and will adapt to the stress you place on it.

You have built up a lactate tolerance that was not present during week 3.

Lactate tolerance is why you see so many kenyan runners and other top mid to long distance runners look as if they are jogging, totally in control.

They have trained extensively with high levels of lactic acid in their muscles for long periods of time.

If you do the same, similar results will occur. These adaptations do not occur via easy running but only through high end anaerobic (without oxygen) efforts.

The trick to breaking the sub 2 hour half marathon is to gradually, over time, extend the amount of time you are spending at 9.09 per mile pace. I do mean gradually because it normally takes 21 days for the body to adapt to any stress you place on it.

Break training into segments

Jack Hazen, my collegiate coach while at Malone University and the Head Olympic Mens and Women’s Distance coach for the 2012 London Olympics, during our cross country season, would have us do mile repeats starting at 85% of our best mile time.

My best high school mile was 4.20 so I started at 5.05 per mile rep.

We would spend 3 weeks doing 6x1mile on the grass with 3 minutes rest. Then and only then would we move to 88%, spend three weeks there and move to the next intensity.

The same reasoning holds true to training at specific paces. You have to be a believer in delayed gratification. You do not jump into doing 8-milers at 9.09 pace in your first week of a half marathon training block.

This is a quick way to disappointment so you have to be patient and allow your body time to adapt to the stress you place on it.

Have I done 6 miles at the pace I need to run at for 13.1 miles? 8 miles? 10 miles?

how to avoid hitting the wallVarying options

1. Lay a strong mileage foundation. I see it all the time in the military. Soldiers wonder why they can’t break 16 minutes for two miles.

There are a few reasons for this. 1) They are not running often enough 2) They are not training long enough at 8 minute pace or faster 3) They have not built the foundation first.

It isn’t that they are not good runners. I hear ‘I am not a runner’, ‘I was never good at running’, etc. I think we all can create the results we want, regardless of the subject area, if we find more joy, rather then pain, in what we are doing.

Before you begin thinking of how to run 13.1 miles at 9.09 per mile pace without slowing and with no breaks, first place your thoughts on taking each day as it comes and getting out the door for a few miles.

Build onto the mileage foundation first.

These daily runs will build your fitness and confidence up with every run you do. Dr. Joe Vigil said it best,

training is a journey

2. Incorporate strides into your weekly routine. What do I mean? Strides are no more then short high-end efforts, sprints, if you will.

They can be anywhere from 50 to 100 meters in length. The idea is to gradually increase your sprint speed, especially in the last 30 meters of the stride.

How will this help me run 9.09 per mile pace for 13.1 miles? Well think of it like this, if you do 6×100 meter strides at the end of your runs, Mon-Wed-Fri at sprinting speeds (this could be at under 6 minute pace) over a period of weeks and months. How much easier will 9.09 per mile pace feel?

Think of how much running at speeds FAR FASTER then goal race pace you will have done on top of your sub 2 hour half marathon training plan.

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You are talking about several miles at sprint speed, possibly 4 to 5 minutes faster then you want to run and this isn’t including the other work you have put in leading into the half-marathon event you are looking to run.

Faster long runs

3. Place emphasis on doing your long runs at a higher anaerobic effort.

If your goal is to run 13.1 miles at a 9.09 mile pace. You must see the importance (after your foundation has been layed) in doing long runs, not easy, but that are challenging.

4. Increment sections of your long runs for specific paces.

What do I mean? If you have a 20-mile run planned and you are training for a half-marathon. Break it up into sections.

Do the first 5 miles relaxed at a heart rate of around 110-120 beats per minute, the next 5 miles at 130BPM, followed by 5 miles at 150BPM, with the last 5 miles at goal race pace.

Follow that 20 miler with an easy 20 miler the next week. Then do the mixed pace 20-miler the next to train for a marathon

What happens is your are teaching your body to run with high levels of lactic acid accumulation. There is simply no way to do this by running easy miles.

Recovery is just as important

Easy miles are important and vital but they should be for recovery days.

A 20-mile run at 11 minute pace will build endurance but will it produce the ability to sustain 13 miles at 9.09 pace?

More often then not, it will not, so you have to be smart in how you balance running hard and the attention you give to your easy recovery days.

Far too often runners will follow their hard sessions with runs that are too fast when their bodies have not recovered from the previous days effort.

They find it hard to finish the next hard session. You have to take your easy days just as serious as your hard days.

5. Do longer intervals.

This could be 3x3miles at 9.09 per mile pace or 2x4miles at sub 2 hour half marathon training effort. In addition, over time, you want to focus on lessening the amount of time you are resting between these sets.

You could start off by running 3×3 miles at 9.09 pace with full recovery between each (generally aiming to be at 120 BPM before you start the next set), three weeks later you could try the same workout, only this time your body has adapted and your heart rate gets back to 120BPM in 4 minutes rather then 10 minutes.

The trick isn’t necessarily running faster paces during the intervals, the strength comes in running the same paces with less rest. It is even better when you feel as though you can run faster with the same amount of rest.

It is then you will know you are on the brink of running not only a personal best but having the ability to break the sub 2 hour half marathon barrier.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post. Please feel free to leave a comment.

I hope this was helpful. Please send me your feedback as to what areas of training you are would like written about. Any area I can assist you with.

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9 thoughts on “Sub 2 Hour Half Marathon Training To Break The Barrier

  1. This is really an awesome way to look at prepping for a sub 2 half. I appreciate all you’ve given me to think about; you’ve changed my perspective. My last half I hit 2:06:52, so I didn’t think I had that much work to do, but I was going about it all in kind of a mindless way. Clearly I need to re-think that perspective. Thanks!

  2. Brian, glad to hear some of the things written had impact on your running. I am working on a product that will go as in-depth as I possibly can make it in regards to breaking that specific goal. I am unsure if you are on the mailing list but you can sign up on the blog page of the site. I will be notifying everyone on the list first but breaking 2 hours for the half-marathon is a goal I want to see more runners accomplish. I am certain you have the capability to run WELL BELOW sub-2 hours. Keep it up!

  3. Hi, I really enjoy reading this and I really like this simple and no bs approach. I just want ask the part where you said you increase it 88% after 3 weeks. What is it, pace or distance? And should I use that approach in my half marathon training plan?

  4. Hi Emily. Pace. You can certainly use it in your half marathon training. We were using that method for 8K racing but you can utilize some of it in half marathon training as well, intervals are slightly longer that is all. Best wishes and keep me posted on how you are doing.

  5. Thanks Milly. The intensity was what increased. We started the mile repeats at 85% effort which for me at the time was 6x1mile reps at 5.05, than went to 4.55, 4.45…but we spent 3 weeks at each % level. Yes, you can use the same approach in half marathon training as well.

  6. Such a great post Nathan (and great site)! Thanks for sharing. One quick question – how do you include cross-training in your race prep? Is it better to swim for instance on a ‘rest’ day, or on an easy/short run day? Thanks!

  7. Thanks anne for the kind comments. I honestly don’t utilize enough cross training in my own half and full marathon prep. I certainly don’t think it is a bad thing at all..for example, today I’ll be doing 90 minutes on the elliptical but that is mainly because I rolled my ankle pretty good two days ago and have had to take two days away from running to allow it to heal. In regards to your last question..I would go for a VERY easy short run on a ‘rest’ day but that is me, everyone is different and has different preferences. Swimming is excellent as well and of course, no impact on the joints as does running.

  8. either is great Anne. I would much prefer an easy run over swimming but have never been much of a swimmer. That being said, I am sure if I focused on it as much as I have running I would be equally as strong at it as running. Both are great for recovery if done aerobically low enough.

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