How to run a half marathon in 2 hours or less

A race strategy that tells you how to run a half marathon in 2 hours or less looks at everything from your pace to your form. 

If your training for your next half marathon, you may be wanting to achieve your next PB.

Running a sub-2 hour half marathon is a huge achievement.

I remember when I first started running half marathons. A race time of 2 hours or less seemed like a distant, unachievable goal.

But if I’ve learned anything as a runner, is that if you put your mind to it, you really can achieve whatever you set your sights on.

According to a recent study on pacing during a half marathon, “the half marathon is the most popular endurance running race in terms of number of races and runners competing annually”.

So if you’re looking to improve on your race times, here are my top tips on how to run a half marathon in 2 hours or less.

Break down your times

A big part of your sub-2 hour half marathon strategy should be to break down your current run times. 

In order to run a half marathon in 2 hours or less, you need to have hit the following running milestones:

  • Weekly mileage – 15-16 miles
  • 5k time – 25-26 minutes
  • 10k time – 54 minutes or less
  • Half marathons completed – one or more
  • Half marathon PB (good conditions) – 2:04-2:06
  • Half marathon PB (hills, heat or wind) – 2:08-2:12

If you’re a beginner runner, then my advice would be to start with a shorter distance like a 5k or 10k before attempting a half marathon.

Once you’ve mastered these distances and have achieved times closer to those listed above, then it’s time to start working towards the half marathon distance.

Practise your race pace during training

A large part of your sub-2 hour half marathon strategy is your training plan. Many races are made or broken even before the race has begun.

You need to condition yourself to feel comfortable running for 2 hours, and not feel broken afterwards, and even during the race.

If you’re used to running 5k and 10k races, you’re used to sustaining your 5k or 10k race pace for 3 to 6 miles.

This pace will take its toll after a while, so for a half marathon you need to approach it differently.

A sub-2 hour mile works out at 9.09 minutes per mile, or 5.40 minutes per kilometre.

Ask yourself – could you sustain a 9.09 minute mile pace throughout the whole race?

It would be a shame to miss out on your sub-2 hour goal by a few seconds, so practise running at a 9.09 mile pace during your training.

When you step up from a 5k or 10k race to a half marathon, adaptations in your body need to take place. 

In other words, your body needs to get used to the intensity of running a 9 minute mile for two hours straight.

Fuel your race

Food and nutrition is incredibly important for a successful sub-2 hour half marathon strategy.

Fuel before and after your race, and fuel during your race so you don’t succumb to fatigue and tiredness. 

If you’re going to be running between 15-25 miles per week, you need to fuel your body in the right way.

Think of your body as a machine, it won’t function properly if you put the wrong type of fuel in it.

Likewise, it won’t function properly if you don’t give it enough fuel. 

Your body needs 45-60g of carbohydrates every hour, so it’s wise to invest in energy gels so you can eat these during your race. 

If you’re not used to eating gels during your run, practise eating them during your training runs so you don’t receive any surprises on race day.

Strengthen your core

Your core is extremely important when it comes to running. A strong core helps you hold a strong and stable position for longer.

Include core workouts in your weekly training routine. A lot of core workouts are easy to do at home as no equipment is needed. 

Alternatively, hit the gym and include equipment like kettlebells and medicine balls in your workout. 

Exercises like plank, side plank, bicycle crunches, Superman pull, lying windscreen wipers are all good examples of core stability exercises for runners. 

Perfect your form

Proper running form is all about running in the most efficient way possible. 

Run tall, try not to bend from your waist, and keep your chin lifted as you run.

Keep your shoulders back, keep your hips high and distribute your weight evenly on both hips. 

Try not to look at the ground while running – keep your gaze upright and forward.

Keep your arms by your sides and try not to let them cross your body. 

If you let your arms cross your body too much, it will cause you to run sideways, not forwards, therefore creating inefficient running form. 

Drive your elbows back and keep them relaxed to avoid stiffness in your shoulders. 

There are also ways to improve your footstrike.

Do hill repeats

Hill repeats are a great way to improve your power and strength as a runner. 

Include at least one hill training session in your training plan and you will reap the rewards on the race track.

Try and land on your forefoot (near your toes) when running uphill. Use your arms to really propel you forward. 

Allow yourself to relax and stay forward on your toes rather than sinking back into your heels on the downhill run.

You will gain speed instead of hitting the breaks. 

If you struggle to get out onto hills during your training, there are plenty of treadmill workouts that you could try.

By using the incline function on the treadmill, you mimic outdoor runs. 

An incline of 2 to 3 is great for long, uphill run training, which is a great strength builder. Whilst an incline of 4 to 7 is good for quick hills varying in length. 

Do speedwork

Speedwork is a game changer for a lot of runners who are working towards a PB, or just generally want to run faster.

Speedwork includes interval training, tempo runs, Fartlek training and strides.

Try and include at least one speedwork session in your training plan each week. 

At the start of your training plan, include an interval session then gradually increase its intensity over the following weeks. 

For example, with interval training, increase the amount of work and decrease the amount of rest.

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