How to run a sub-2:00 half marathon

If you’ve set your sights on a sub 2:00 half marathon, here’s how to get there.

Do I have what it takes?

In order to run a sub two hour half marathon, you’ll need to be have hit the following running milestones:

Weekly mileage: 15-30 miles

Recent 10K time: 54:00 or less

Half marathons done: 1+

Half marathon PB (good conditions): 2:04-2:06

Half marathon PB (hills, heat or wind): 2:08-2:12

If this makes sub two seem too ambitious, take a look at these different half marathon training plans for every kind of runner. 

How fit do I need to be?

Ideally, you should be able to run 5K in 25-26 minutes and a 10K in less than 54 minutes. If you have prior experience and are returning after a layoff, chances are you’ll progress more quickly than a beginner, thanks to muscle memory.

“Regardless of whether you’re a newbie or an experienced runner, you need to condition yourself to feel comfortable running for two hours,” says Tait. “You need to feel that in running for two hours at a slower pace than you will on race day, you’re not left ‘broken’.”

The average person might be able to run for 5K comfortably, but the effort starts to take its toll after that. That’s because neuromuscular adaptations need to take place for your body to be in the condition to operate at the intensity it takes to run at a certain pace; for a sub-2.00, that’s 9:09 per mile or 5:40 per kilometre. There’s also the mental side: you need to be confident your body can keep going for two hours.

Do I need to take on fuel to run a sub 2:00 hour half marathon?

You’ll need to eat and drink on the road, says nutritionist Pamela Nisevich Bede. “Some runners think they can get through a half marathon without sports drinks or gels, but that can make for painful and slow final mile” she says. Aim for 45-60g of carbs each hour you’re running and practise fuelling on long runs so there are no surprises on race day.

Related: 4 sugar rules for race fuelling

I’m finding the training hard, how do I know when I need to back off?

If you are pushing the pace to get faster or adding distance to go further, your body will talk back to you. During training, learn to distinguish ‘good pain’ (discomfort from leaving your comfort zone) from ‘bad pain’ (something verging on injury). “There is a difference between muscles that burn at the end of a workout and something that hurts every time you take a step,” says sports psychologist Jim Taylor. “Part of training is learning body awareness. You also need to experience some discomfort so when it occurs in a race, you know you can push through it.”

What kind of core-work should I be doing on?

Core exercises will help you maintain good form until the end of your race, so try and fit these into your weekly training plan:

1. Bicycle

sub 2 hour half marathon cross training

Why: Works your lower abs with a dynamic exercise that mimics running.

How: Lie on your back. Bend your right knee and raise your leg so your right shin is parallel to the ground. Lift your left leg a few inches off the floor. Hold for two seconds, then switch legs. Alternate legs for 30-60 seconds.

2. Advanced plank

sub 2 hour half marathon cross training

Why: Targets core muscles that keep your pelvis natural, works the glutes.

How: Get in a plank forming a line from your head to feet. Brace your abs and life your left leg and right arm. Hold for two secs, squeezing your glutes, then return to start. Switch sides and alternate for 30-60 seconds.

3. Reverse plank with leg lifts

sub 2 hour half marathon cross training

Why: Targets your erector spinae muscles (which keep your back straight) as well as your glutes.

How: Lie face up, weight on your elbows and heels. Lift your hips. Lift your right leg. Hold for several seconds. With hips raised, switch legs. Alternate legs for 30-60 seconds.

4. Marching bridge

sub 2 hour half marathon cross training

Why: Strengthens the hips to keep the pelvis stable, activates the glutes.

How: Life with your right foot on the ground, left leg extended. Lift your hips and your left leg. Hold for two seconds. Then, while keeping your hips in the air, switch legs. Alternate sides for 30-60 seconds.

5. Side plank with leg raises

sub 2 hour half marathon cross training

Why: Strengthens the oblique muscles to keep your spine erect when you are running.

How: Get in a side plank, forming a line from head to feet. Raise and lower your top leg for 15-30 seconds. Then switch sides, and raise and lower your other leg for 15-30 seconds.

The sub-2 half marathon training plan

This simple schedule gets you to 1:59:59 with two quality sessions per week – a long run and a goal-pace (or faster) workout.

Sub 2 hour half marathon training plan

What does the plan mean?

Rest/Cross-Train (XT) – Take a rest day, or do moderate cross-training with a no-impact activity such as yoga or swimming.

Tempo – Run easy for one mile to warm up. Then ease into the given pace for the distance show. Run easy for a mile to cool down. Tempo runs should feel challenging; on a scale of one to 10, your effort will feel like a seven or eight. You should be able to utter just a few words at a time. These runs train your body to sustain speed over distance.

Easy – Easy runs should be done 30 seconds to one minute per mile slower than half-marathon goal pace (9:09 per mile).

Long run – This is a long, slow distance run that will build your endurance. Run at an easy pace; you should be able to hold a conversation. This should be 30 seconds to one minute per mile slower than your goal pace.

Mile repeats – After a one-mile warm-up, run one mile at the given pace, then jog very slowly for half a mile to recover. Repeat cycles as directed. Cool down with one mile of easy running.

HMP (Half-marathon pace) – This is the pace that you hope to maintain in the race. Run one mile easy to warm up and one mile easy to cool down.