How To Run A Half Marathon In Under Two Hours + Training Plan

Aiming to break the 2 hour mark in your next half marathon?

 Follow our key principles of training and preparation to guarantee you smash that two hour barrier.

The 2hr Half marathon – a benchmark

The half marathon is a great distance event – it’s a challenging but achievable distance run for new runners, and still long enough to make seasoned runners push themselves.  Given that it’s accessible to many different ability levels, the ‘two hour’ benchmark has become an invisible marker that many try to beat.

Whether you’ve run several half-marathons or you’re a first-timer, the fundamentals which follow are applicable to everyone.   The paces and training plans I’m sharing are specifically aimed at getting you round in just under 2hrs.  If you want to smash that, that’s great – but the advice below might not be best suited for you.

Here, I’ve worked backwards from the core goal of breaking the 2hr mark.  As with a lot of my articles, the key focus is on getting PACE right.  You want to train at the right pace, and run a consistent pace on race day.

 First I’ll address pace in-depth – why it’s important, what your pace will be, and how to measure it.

 Then we’ll look at training requirements to get you to race ready condition .

 How To Run A Half Marathon In Under Two Hours + Training Plan 1

Pace Is King

A consistent pace is the key to a successful and fulfilling half marathon.

The over-enthusiastic runners go out too fast and pay for it later.

The under-prepared runners slow to a crawl in the latter stages of the race as they hit the wall and succumb to injuries.

You don’t want to be in either camp – you want to be a prepared, structured runner and run as-close-to a consistent pace as you can.

Half marathons are rife with runners that have no pace strategy.  They go out too fast then because of this they hit the wall, or get injured later on.  These are the people who dash past you in the first few hundred metres of the race.  If you can have the discipline to run at the same, consistent pace throughout you race you’ll find that you will overtake most of these eager runners in the latter portions of the race.

Visit our Half Marathon Training Plan page to download your free, customisable training plan.

What’s A Split?

FYI – each race is split into a few sections on the timing tracking equipment, called … ‘splits’.   A runner who runs a consistent pace throughout the run is said to run ‘even splits’ – this means that when you review your timing chip data, each section will have taken roughly the same amount of time.

Runners who slow down throughout the race are said to run ‘positive splits’ – because their split time increases as the race goes on.  Runners who actually get faster throughout the race run ‘negative splits’ – this is the ideal state for running a half or full marathon, but takes a lot of preparation.  Assuming you’re closer to the ‘novice’ end of the spectrum, we’ll say your goal should be to run ‘even splits’.

 So – we’ve established that you want to run at the same, constant speed throughout the race.  But what is that speed – and how do you train for it?


What Pace Is Right?

So we already know that you want to run your half marathon in under 2hrs.  If you are running at a consistent speed, you just work out what speed you need to run to get in under 2hrs – easy!

The table below shows the pace you’ve got to run for various Target Times, broken down into 15 minute differences.  (note: you can calculate your our target pace yourself by dividing the amount of minutes you want to take (120 minutes in our case) by 21.1 for kilometres, and 13.1 for miles.  Beware: the decimal you get will be as a percentage of a minute – so you have to take it and multiply it by 60 to get the number of seconds.)

Target Time (hh:mm)  min /km  min / mile
03:00 08:32 13:44
02:45 07:49 12:35
02:30 07:07 11:27
02:15 06:24 10:18
02:00 05:41 9:10
01:45 04:59 8:01

However, I’d recommend leaving a little bit of fat in there.So technically, if you want to get in under the 2hr mark you’ve just got to run slightly faster than 5:41 minutes per kilometre (or 9:10 minutes per mile).

 A half marathon is a long run, and who knows what could happen during it?  You could get an injury, or get held up in a crowd at the start line, or need an unexpected toilet break.  You might find, towards the end, that your legs are simply tired – and your pace starts to drop off.  So it’s always worth building just a little bit of slack into the system – say 5-10 minutes.   So let’s aim for a 1hr 50min pace – this would mean running at a speed of 05:13 min / kilometre, or 08:23 min / mile.

 But wait, how fast is this? How does it feel?

Well, for most of us, it’s not a jog or a super-relaxed pace.  It’s a pace that requires some sustained effort.  Get yourself a GPS and check how you get on when trying to maintain this pace.

Don’t Forget The Hills

OK, so until now I’ve been advocating an even pace.  That’s all well and good if your half marathon is flat, but chances are there are going to be at least a couple of ups and downs in there.  Some half marathons in the UK are practically all hill-work, so maintaining an even pace would be totally the wrong approach!

If you only have a couple of minor hills, then you won’t have to account for them much.  But once you are running hilly halfs, you’ve really got to look at the elevation profile of the race and plan out when to run fast and when to run slow.  Remember, your goal will still be to have the same average pace throughout the race, though you’ll have to vary it on the hills.

Okay, now you’ve got a race day pace, you can work backwards from there and tailor your training to suit it.


Once you know your race pace, the most important aspect of half marathon preparation comes down to having a good training plan, and sticking to it.

 To draw up a good training plan, the two main inputs you require are:

  • Your current fitness level. This determines the amount of work you have to do
  • The amount of time you have before your half-marathon. This determines how quickly you have to ramp up your mileage.

 half marathon

Weekly Schedule

 Your typical half marathon weekly training schedule should include the following:

  • Two ‘typical’ runs. These should be 3-10km in length, and you should work to get them up to ‘race pace’.
  • A long, slow run at weekends. These will be the longest runs in your training. They will gradually build in length to get your body used to the distance.  The longest run should be just short of a complete half marathon.
  • One cross-training activity – an hour of cycling, swimming, gym work or other cardio activity.
  • One tempo run – a run that starts slow and gentle, before building pace to faster than race pace, before backing off again to zero.

If you follow the above training plan, you’ll give yourself a great start to your half marathon preparation.  Although the cross-training and tempo runs are not essential to making you a competent runner, they help a lot.  Cross-training helps your body recover from running while working out other areas, and tempo runs help with your pace, and your body’s discomfort threshold.

Visit our Half Marathon Training Plan page to download your free, customisable training plan.

 half marathon


How many miles should you be running each week?

It all depends on what your current running level is, how much free time you have for training, and how comfortable you want to be during the race.  For this reason, it’s hard to put an exact number on it without being too prescriptive.

One of the biggest issues faced by half marathon runners is avoiding injury.  The most common cause of injuries is increasing your mileage too quickly.  Many half marathon runners are starting at zero, and immediately go running three or four times a week – this approach can lead to imbalances and injury quickly.

A general rule of thumb that works well for most runners is the 10% Rule.  This states that you should only increase your mileage by 10% every week in order to prevent over-training.

Consider doing a tune-up race as race day approaches in order to iron out your racing strategies!

This has been incorporated into our downloadable training plans.

 half marathon


 ‘Tapering’ is the term given to winding down prior to a race.  It’s when you scale back your runs and let your body rest, recover and relax – so come race day you are ready to go.

 For a typical half marathon, you should only need to taper for around two weeks prior to the event, assuming your training has gone well.

Related: Half Marathon Taper Guide

half marathon

Thomas Watson

Thomas Watson

Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of His work has been featured in Runner's World,, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and good beer. More at his bio.

2 thoughts on “How To Run A Half Marathon In Under Two Hours + Training Plan”

  1. the downloadable half marathon training plan, is this for a complete novice or if you want to complete the race in under 2 hours? I’m unsure on how to customize it even though I have read your post. Still very confused therefore I would rather just follow one that is already done. Can you help me please.

    • Hey Tara, depending on your running ability, it is definitely possible to adopt this training plan as a novice! The trick would be to try and follow it for the first week or two and see how you go!


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