One of the most common running goals I hear as a coach is the sub-2 hour half marathon. Breaking two hours in the half marathon is a big goal for many recreational runners, given that the average half marathon finish time is approximately 2:15 for women (source.) This article does not provide a specific training plan, as what brings one runner to a sub-2 half may not get another runner there. Instead, this article guides you through how to design both a half marathon training plan and a racing strategy for a sub-2 hour half marathon – or faster.
(If you have already broken two hours, keep reading here for how to run a sub-1:45 half marathon.)
What Does a Sub-2 Hour Half Marathon Training Plan Include?
There are no exact weekly mileage or series of workouts that guarantees a sub-2 hour half marathon. Genetics and training background do factor in. Some runners may be able to run sub-2 off of very little training. For others, a sub-2 half marathon requires dedicated training.
The half marathon is an endurance event – you need to train appropriately to prepare for it. A sub 2 hour half marathon training plan will often include four to five runs per week, totaling approximately 30-35 miles per week. (Some runners may do less, others may do more.)
It’s important to think beyond weekly mileage. While Zone 2 training is essential to develop endurance, easy runs alone will not bring many half marathon runners to a sub-2 hour finish time. You need to work at a variety of training paces to improve your race performance. Tempo runs and threshold training are important since they improve your ability to run faster paces for sustained periods with less fatigue. Strides and short intervals upregulate running economy, meaning you are more efficient across the half marathon distance.
Half marathon training involves running at paces that are both faster and slower than your goal race pace. You want to develop all aspects of fitness, not just your ability to run a 9:08/mile pace. A sub-2 hour half marathon training plan will include easy runs, strides, threshold runs, goal pace runs, and even some interval runs.
Training Paces for a Sub-2 Hour Half Marathon
The race pace for a sub-2 hour half marathon is 9:08/mile. However, very few runners accurately run the tangents on a race course. Many runners will run 13.2-13.4 miles, depending on how many turns are present on the route. If your goal is to break two hours, you may want to anticipate missing some tangents. Instead of aiming for a 9:08/mile, you may want to aim for a 9:00-9:05/mile pace. (This is why it is listed as 9:05/mile below.)
Importantly, your training paces should be based on your current fitness, not your goal race time. If you have a goal of a sub-2 hour half marathon, you will want to see approximately these paces in your workouts leading up to the race. Do not force these paces if your fitness is not there.
- Easy runs: No faster than 10:30/mile
- Half marathon goal pace: 9:05/mile
- Threshold workouts: 8:45-8:50/mile
- Critical velocity workout: 8:25-8:30/mile
- Interval runs: 8:00-8:05/mile
If you consistently see these paces in the 6-8 weeks leading up to your half marathon, you have the fitness to run a half marathon in under two hours.
Equivalent Race Times for a Sub-2 Hour Half Marathon
If you have raced recently, your race time may give you an idea of your current fitness. Race equivalencies are based on large population data; there may be individual variations. If you can run these approximate times, you have a higher probability of running a 1:59 half marathon.
- 5k: 26:00 or faster
- 10k: 54:00 or faster
- Marathon: 4:07:00 or faster
If your 5K or 10K times are slower than these equivalent times, it may be worth getting faster at those distances first. A specific 5K or 10K training plan for 8-12 weeks would help you develop the speed, before then transitioning into the half marathon training block.
If your 5K or 10K times are faster but you struggle to hit the half marathon pace, you may be lacking endurance. In that scenario, you would benefit more from increasing your weekly mileage.
There are no “best” workouts for a sub-2 hour half marathon. The exact workouts that increase your fitness for a 1:59 half marathon may differ from other runners, based on your current fitness, strengths, and weaknesses.
Some workouts you may see in a sub-2 hour half marathon plan include:
- 3 x 10 min at threshold/3 min recovery jog
- 5 x 4 minutes at critical velocity/2 min recovery jog
- 5 miles at half marathon effort
- 12 mile long run with final 2-3 miles at half marathon effort
When designing your training plan, think about your experience level and the time on feet. An experienced, sub-1:30 hour half marathoner may be able to do 8 mile tempo runs – but that would be too long of a workout for a 2:00 hour half marathoner.
Your workouts will also be catered to your specific race course. If you are racing on a hilly course, you may opt to include some hill repeats or goal pace runs on hills in your training. Similarly, if you are preparing for a flat course, you may want to do your goal pace runs on a flat route to understand how to pace them.
Fueling for a Sub-2 Hour Half Marathon
A 1:59 half marathon is just long enough that you need a fueling strategy for a successful race. The body can really only support about 90 minutes of running at moderate to moderately hard to intensity before glycogen depletion. The half marathon relies heavily on carbohydrate oxidation, so you need to have enough glycogen and glucose available to keep on pace for the whole two hours.
Fueling does not just provide you with the energy to run faster; it also gives your brain the boost it needs to push hard in those final miles. Carbohydrates provide a stimulus to the central nervous system. When you take a gel, the receptors in your mouth sends signals to your brain that energy is coming.
The recommendation for a 2-hour race is to consume 30-60 grams of carbs per hour. The range is wide to account for individual preferences. If you are new to fueling, start on the low end – and then increase as you train your gut more. Practically speaking, a gel every 30-40 minutes will help you reach this goal.
In addition to your mid-race nutrition, you will want to eat carbohydrates before your race. This article guides you through what to eat before a half marathon.
Hydration is important too! While you are less likely to become dehydrated as you would in a marathon, you can still experience performance declines if you lose too much fluid. A safe approach is to grab a cup at each aid stations and drink based on thirst. Or, if you have a refined hydration plan from training, follow that in the race. Most runners need approximately 8-16 oz per hour in a half marathon.
Pacing Strategies for a Sub-2 Hour Half Marathon
You spent months training for a half marathon – don’t let poor pacing on race day prevent that fitness from expressing. Banking time is not an effective strategy for running a sub-2 hour half marathon.
For most half marathon runners, either a slight negative split or even splits will be an effective pacing strategy. Your exact pace strategy will be course dependent. A hilly half marathon may have more variation in pace than a flat half marathon. (Read here for more on how to pace your fastest half marathon.)
You may find it helpful to have checkpoints throughout the race, rather than focusing on each mile split. For a sub-2 hour half marathon, you want to reach the 5K mark at approximately 28:23, the 10K mark at 56:44, and the 10 mile mark at 1:31:30.
You will also benefit from warming up before the race! The aerobic system takes time to turn on; before then, your body produces more lactate. A warm-up starts this process while you work at a lower intensity than race pace. More than likely, you will also notice your stride feels smoother from the start of the race due to increased blood flow. You do not need a long warm-up; even 5-10 minutes of light jogging before the race is sufficient. Dynamic warm-up exercises will also help you feel prepared to run at goal pace from the start.
Performance Mindset for a Sub-2 Hour Half Marathon
Most importantly: if you want to run a sub 2 hour half marathon, you need to believe in your ability to do so. Racing a half marathon is hard. If you doubt your ability despite your training, you will struggle on race day.
Strategies that support a performance-oriented mindset include: