Running a sub-2-hour half marathon is a great benchmark for the 13.1-mile (21.1-km) distance: it shows a certain level of training and underlying fitness. It also just so happens to be slightly faster than average – the average half-marathon time is 2 hours and 55 seconds!
Aiming to break the 2-hour mark in your next half marathon?
In this article, I’m going to walk through:
- The 2-Hour Half Marathon Pace You Should Follow
- Why You Should Follow An Even Pace Strategy
- How To Reverse Engineer Your Training To Optimize Around The Sub 2 Hour Goal
- Training Runs Guide + Training Tips
- And I share my free sub-2-hour half marathon training plan (PDF/Google Sheet download available in both kilometers and miles!)
Let’s jump in!
Sub 2-Hour 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 to the finish line in just under 2hrs. If you want to smash that, that’s great – but the advice below might not be best suited for you.
- Related: Couch To Half Marathon Guide + Training Plan (No Time Goal)
Here, I’ve worked backward 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.
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 pacing 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 your race, you’ll find that you will overtake most of these eager runners in the latter portions of the race.
- Related: I made a video on marathon pace strategy (the principles apply equally to half marathon pacing!)
Half Marathon Pacing: 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?
Related: What’s A Good Half Marathon Time? Average Times By Age + Sex
The Perfect 2 Hour Half Marathon Pace
In order to get around your half marathon in exactly 2 hours, you would need to run a 9 minutes 9 seconds per mile pace, or 5 minutes 41 seconds per kilometer.
Here’s the thing though – no half marathon is perfect.
Whether it’s hills, fatigue, toilet stops, crowds at the start, or that old knee injury, something is likely to slow you down at some point in your run.
That’s why I always recommend you plan to run a little faster than an exact 2-hour pace.
I always recommend that runners allow for 5 minutes of padding – thus finishing in 1hrs 55mins if all goes well.
Therefore my recommended pace to guarantee a sub-2-hour half marathon is:
8:46min/miles, or 5:27min/km
Write this pace down on a post-it and stick it on your fridge or somewhere you’ll see it!
The truth is, when I am aiming for a 2 hr half marathon I’ll constantly check my GPS and try to always be a little under the 2-hour pace, by a few seconds per mile/km.
Don’t have a GPS watch? Here are our GPS device recommendations (updated regularly).
Reminder: Don’t Forget To Factor In Hills
OK, so until now I’ve been advocating an even pace. That’s all well and good if your half marathon is pretty 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, we can work backwards from there and tailor your training to suit it.
Sub 2-Hour Half Marathon: The Training
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.
The sub 2-hour training plan I share below is 12 weeks long and assumes you can already run 5 miles without stopping.
Your Weekly Training Schedule
Your typical half-marathon weekly training schedule should include the following:
- 2-3 regular training runs. These should be at, or close to, the target race pace. In my plan, I include 2 regular runs and 1 ‘race pace run’. You can choose your regular run pace, I generally advise getting close to race pace if you can.
- 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 tops out around 10 miles – leaving a couple of miles on the table for race day. Remember these runs should be done slowly and easily – forget about pace!
- Speed work (optional). Speed work makes you faster and improves your running economy. If you already find the target race pace very achievable, speed work is less relevant. For the rest of us, it helps us get our pace in check before race day. Speed work is the most intense workout on the plan.
In my plan, I’ve included 800m intervals, once a week. Run 800m fast (at 9 out of 10 RPE) then do 800m slow (2 out of 10 RPE); repeat this as per the training plan. If you’re feeling burn-out, skip the speed work.
- Cross training – at least one dedicated session per week, preferably two or three if you can schedule them. Focus on strength training, specifically lifting weights – it’s the most effective form of cross-training, making you faster, stronger, and preventing injuries.
- Related: Weightlifting For Runners Guide
I’ve combined all of the above elements into my 12-week sub 2 hour half marathon training plan, which you can download below!
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.
Related: Half Marathon Long Run: How Long Should Your Longest Training Run Be?
‘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
Download The Training Plan Here
Enter your email, and I’ll send you this free training plan now, in PDF and Google Sheets formats (completely customizable), in both miles and kilometers.
After entering your email, you’ll be prompted to create an account on the Grow platform we use to control access to the plans. It’s completely free – make sure to complete the process to gain access to the plan!
Previous visitor or not seeing where to sign up?
Head over to our half marathon training plan database for full access to all plans.
Check Out The Premium Version of The Sub 2 Hour Half Marathon Training Plan . . .
We’ve teamed with TrainingPeaks to offer a premium version of the Sub 2 Hour Half Marathon Training Plan:
Access the plan via the TrainingPeaks website and app, track your workouts in real-time against the plan, and get performance data analysis on your progress.
2 thoughts on “How To Run A Sub 2-Hour Half Marathon + Training Plan”
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!