How to Run a Sub-2 Hour Half Marathon

Running a sub-2 hour half marathon is a worthy goal that many runners aim to add to their running resume. If you’re a veteran runner, you might be chasing this time after years of hard work. If you’re new to the 13.1-mile distance, you might have heard from other half-marathoners that two hours is the time to beat.

It’s easy to understand why the sub-2 hour half marathon is so alluring. It is an accessible yet challenging goal that serves as a rite of passage for runners looking to level up from novice to intermediate running. It’s slightly speedier than the average half marathon time, which in the United States in 2019 was 2 hours and 10 minutes. That should tell you that despite being achievable, it’s tough! It takes a lot of hard work to make it to the finish under the 2-hour mark. 

We asked RRCA-certified running coach Erica Coviello to tell us what it takes to run a sub-2 hour half. She said it comes down to four essentials: “Lots of easy miles to build up aerobic endurance, strategic speed work, learning  to nail your recovery, and racing fuel and hydration.” 

Here, we will go through these elements in detail to help get you to the start line ready. From the necessary pace to run for a sub-2 half marathon to the elements of a half marathon training plan, this primer will provide the best training tips.

Sub-2 Half Marathon: Your First Step

The first thing to do is take an objective look at your goal. Meaning, if your current PR is about three hours, this will be a long, likely years-long process as opposed to a runner who’s run a 2:10 half somewhat recently. 

That doesn’t mean you can’t do it – it will just require more patience. “Working with a good coach can help you determine what potential you could reach in a given time frame with your current fitness levels,” Coviello says. 

If this is your first half marathon, you can plug your fastest mile pace or recent race result into a race predictor chart or app to find your half marathon potential. If you’re close to two hours – either in the chart or in a previously run half marathon – then with proper training and focus, you will be able to run a personal best and join the sub-2 club within a training cycle. 

Sub-2 Half Marathon Pacing 

To cross the finish line of a half marathon with a time of 1:59:59, you have to run at a 9:09-minute per mile pace. No one wants to miss their goal by a second, so you should round down to make your sub-2 hour half marathon race pace 9:08 minutes per mile, which will get you to the end by 1:59:44. 

Coviello recommends trying to run at race pace, or 9:08, for a mile or two to see how it feels early in your training cycle. “If your goal race pace feels too hard in a short effort, maybe your training runs aren’t matching your ability,” says Coviello. “You’re not alone! Lots of athletes shoot for the moon without being fully equipped to do so. But no matter what the level of enthusiasm and motivation is to achieve that goal, we are limited by our current fitness.” This simply means it might take a bit longer to get in shape to achieve your goal. 

When it comes to race day, studies show – and coaches and pacers agree – that running the race at an even pace is best. “For most people, even splits are the best way to hit your goal,” says Coviello. It doesn’t have to be perfect and hills, wind, turns and other factors will cause inconsistencies in your mile times, but steadiness will be your friend. If nothing else, Coviello says to remember: “Resist the urge to go out too fast.”

Sub-2 Half Marathon Training Plan 

The length of your training plan will depend on how much you are currently running. “If you’ve  already been running 20 or more miles per week for at least four weeks, you can do this in 12 weeks,” says Coviello. “If you’re starting with less than that, choose a plan that is 16 to 20 weeks.”  

Most training plans will assign a warm-up and cool-down for each workout and incorporate easy paces for most days, a speed work day once a week, rest or cardio cross-training days, and long runs.

How to run a faster half marathon? You’ll have to incorporate each of these running types.

Different training methodologies will have you running these running types at different frequencies. For example, a training methodology called polarized training, will have you completing 80% of your time spent running in a Zone 2 easy run conversational pace with 20% at higher-intensity threshold pace.

Easy runs

Easy runs will make up a large portion of your weekly mileage and are essential for gaining endurance. Coviello emphasizes that these runs need to be truly easy. You need to be running at a pace that feels like you can talk and carry on a conversation with moderate ease. If you’re running too much with too high of a heart rate, you will put too much strain on your body. 

Speed Work

A good training plan will add in some spicy speed sessions to get your anaerobic system firing. You will exercise the fast twitch muscles and increase your Vo2 max through intervals and tempo runs. Basically, speed work is what makes you faster. 

Long Runs

A longer run will build your fitness and mental confidence. “Long runs should be easy and slow to focus only on endurance and boosting your aerobic system,” says Coviello. 

As the weeks progress, your long runs will get longer – most plans go up to at least 10 miles. 

“Once you’ve got more experience under your belt and you can manage a higher training volume, you might be ready to test how running race pace miles in your long run feels,” says Coviello. “I’ve taken to progressively adding a few faster miles every few weeks for a few of my runners looking to run a personal best, letting them learn what it feels like to run the pace on tired legs.”

Photo by VENUS MAJOR on Unsplash

Level Up Your Sub 2 Half Marathon Training 

Logging miles is just one piece of the training pie. Incorporate these additional parts to get to the finish line healthy and strong. 

Nutrition and Hydration

Too many runners ignore their fueling needs during long runs and the race. If you’ve heard of poor souls “hitting the wall” this is likely why. The wall is common in marathons, but it’s been known to happen during half marathons too because it’s all about how quickly your body is burning through the glucose and calories it needs to get you to the finish. 

While everybody is different, you should assume that any run longer than one hour will require fuel. If you’re new to on-the-run fueling, a good place to start is eating and drinking at the 45-minute mark of your long run and every 30 minutes after that. There are numerous fueling options to choose from – gels, honey packs, dried fruits, jelly beans – you can find a wall of goodies at your local running store. You will want to test out what feels right and what will settle in your stomach. Some runners will be able to handle a lot of fuel and take in calories every 15 to 30 minutes. Other runners will eat every 45 minutes. The important thing is to find what works for you and remember to eat, even if you don’t feel like it. 

While on-the-go fuel is necessary, taking in enough calories throughout the day and getting appropriate macro and micronutrients is just as important. Each runner’s needs are different, but in addition to eating a balanced diet, here are some simple rules to follow:

  • Eat a snack of carbs and protein 30 minutes before running
  • Eat a meal or snack of protein and carbs within the 30-minute window after running
  • Eat quality foods, drink plenty of water
  • If you start to feel too fatigued or experience unexplained GI issues, consult a doctor or dietician. 

Strength Training 

Getting in shape for a half marathon at any pace should include some targeted lifting.

“The right strength training program can build power, improve running form and efficiency, and develop the muscular endurance to get you through the harder miles when you start to fatigue, all of which also leads to helping you avoid injury,” says Coviello. “A program should be progressive and developed specifically with the runner in mind.” 

Recovery

Half marathon training is tough on your body. In order to build up your endurance and speed, you go through workouts and exercises to break down muscles. For them to achieve the strength they need to perform, your body needs time to regenerate. Rest days, foam rolling, eating enough, getting the right nutrients – all these seemingly passive activities are what make the training work. If you are trying to run a sub 2 half marathon, your must take recovery seriously. 

When you put all the elements of training together, you can be confident you will achieve your time goal. 

“Hard work, consistency, and figuring out the ancillary stuff like nutrition, strength, and recovery will go a long way in helping you reach the paces you strive for in racing,” Coviello says. 

Sub 2 Hour Half Marathon Training Plan

When considering a half marathon training plan, it’s most important to consider your training schedule – more specifically, how many days per week do you anticipate being able to run and how many weeks until the half marathon. Half Marathon Guide has training plans for runners between 8-weeks all the way up to 20-weeks from their race.

Experienced runners with a running base may be able to train with less time to achieve the sub 2-hour half marathon goal where beginner and first time runners may want to consider a longer training period to allow the body more time for adaptations and to prevent overtraining.

For all training plans for the half marathon distance, check out Half Marathon Guide Training Tips.

Half Marathon FAQs

Is sub-2 hours good for a half marathon?

Running a sub-2 half marathon is an above-average time. A global 2019 study by Run Repeat showed that the average half marathon in the U.S. is run in 2 hours and 10 minutes, so a sub 2 is substantially swifter. Most people would agree that accomplishing sub 2 is the gateway to being an intermediate long distance runner. 

What pace is a sub-2-hour half marathon?

To run a 1:59:59, you must run a 9:09 per mile pace. 

Can you walk a half marathon in 2.5 hours?

It takes a per-mile pace of 11:27 to complete a half marathon in 2.5 hours. Most people walk a mile in about 15 to 20 minutes. So, it would take three or four hours to finish 13.1 miles. Unless you are a fast walker, it’s improbable that you could walk it in under 2.5 hours 

What is the fastest mile pace for a half marathon?

The world record time for a half marathon is 57:31, making the fastest half marathon mile pace 4:23. For the women, 1:02:52 is the current world record, which is about 4:47 minutes per mile. 

How long does it take to run a half marathon?

The average time it takes people in the U.S. to complete 13.1 miles is 2 hours and 10 minutes. But there is a huge range. The average pace in other countries is 30 minutes on either side of that mark. Elites can run it in less than an hour while back-of-the-pack runners may take four hours. 

What is a good time for a half marathon?

A good time is subjective, and the only time a runner should be worried about is their own personal best. That being said, anything below two hours is considered a “good” time. 

What does the term “sub-2 hour” mean?

The term “sub-2 hour” means less than two hours. A runner might say they want to go sub-2, meaning they want to run under 2 hours in a half marathon – unless they are Eliud Kipchoge who is the only human alive who can run a sub-2 hour full marathon. 

What is the difference between a sub-2-hour half marathon and a sub-2.5-hour half marathon?

To run a sub-2-hour half marathon, runners must maintain an average mile pace of 9:09. A sub-2.5-hour half marathon requires an average mile pace of 11:27.   

What are the world records for a half marathon?

For men, the world record half marathon 57:31 was set by Jacob Kiplimo at the Lisbon Half Marathon on November 21, 2021. For women, the world record stands at 1:02:52, which was set in October 2021 by Letesenbet Gidey at the Valencia Half Marathon.

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