Use this free 10-week half marathon training plan to finally run a half marathon in less than 2 hours!
Breaking the 2-hour half marathon is something that many runners dream about, and it’s a goal I’ve been chasing for quite a while. Since I’ve come so close (2:02), I decided to put some extra work into this goal and tap an expert for some tips.
Before I jump into those tips, take a look at the training plan I created, which has some basic nutrition tips at the bottom.
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How to customize the training plan
Training plans are meant to be a guideline. If you can’t follow it exactly, that’s okay! Instead, consider these points and adjust it to fit your schedule.
- What day do you have enough time for a long run? Make that Day 7 and then go from there–it’s fine if it’s not a weekend.
- Do you prefer another method of cross-training? If so, swap it into day 3.
- If you need to miss a day, don’t freak out. However, stick to your long run and strength training every week. These will help build endurance and prevent injury.
- Tempo runs are set at the race pace, while “easy” runs are whatever pace you want.
- “Fartleks” is a Swedish word for “speed play”. During this exercise, you do fast bursts, followed by easy running. For example, after warming up, run at your normal pace for 1-minute and then speed it up for 1-minute and repeat. Or run faster between signs or trees to keep things fun.
- 400 meters is about .25 miles. These should be an all-out sprint, followed by a walk.
Don’t forget about nutrition–the bottom of the training plan includes some nutrition tips for half marathon training!
For more info on nutrition for running and specific examples of fueling for different distances, be sure to check out The No-Brainer Nutrition Guide For Every Runner.
8 tips to help you follow the plan
The sub 2-hour half marathon requires hard work, proper planning and mental tenacity. These 8 tips will teach you how to use the training methods that the best runners are following and work smarter, not harder.
1. Practice running at or below 9:09 per mile or 5:41 per kilometer
To finish a half-marathon in under 2-hours, you have to run the entire race at a 9:09 minute mile (or 5:41 minute kilometer). In other words, if you want to run a race at a 9:09 pace, you need to train at that pace.
Your best bet is to give yourself a little wiggle room and train at a slightly faster pace, like a 9:00 minute mile. Try incorporating speed work and strength training to boost your speed. More tips to follow.
2. Focus on quality of running versus quantity
A common misconception is that running more will lead to faster half marathon times. Do you need to run consistently to build up endurance for 13.1 miles? Absolutely! That being said, you don’t need to run 6 days per week to set a PR.
Instead of focusing on quantity of running, think about speed and strength. To train for a sub 2-hour half marathon, it is more productive to complete a 9-mile long run at 9:35 mile pace than it is to finish a 12-mile long run at 11:30 minute mile pace.
Running at faster speeds for longer periods of time trains your body to improve its lactate acid tolerance and overall endurance. Remember, there are no breaks in the half marathon. If you choose to stop in the race, you will dramatically lower your chances of breaking 2 hours.
3. Recovery properly after a run
Although running fast and hard is required for half-marathon training, it’s also necessary to give your body time to rest and recover. The benefits of all of our hard work comes from rest days.
The body needs time to recover from hard workouts, which will help you feel stronger during your run. There are far too many runners who run too fast on their recovery days.
For example, what if you did your own track workout on Monday and then join a group long run on Tuesday? The group may have taken a rest day on Monday, so they are prepared for a long run. But your body is still tired from the track workout and more prone to injury.
Take it easy on those recovery days. The body takes approximately 21 days or 3 weeks to adapt to training. The benefits from the workouts you do today won’t be seen until a few weeks from now.
4. Consider Heart Rate Training
If you aren’t sure what’s considered an “easy” or “hard” run, look at the heart rate on your fitness tracker. Although heart rates are different for everyone, these are guidelines you can use to determine your effort:
- Easy running – 130 to 150 beats per minute
- Moderate – 151-160 beats per minute
- Hard – 161 to 166 beats per minute
- Anaerobic Threshold – 167 to 174 beats per minute
- Aerobic Capacity – 175+ beats per minute
The top runners from Kenya and other parts of the world make it look easy for a reason. It isn’t just because of talent. They spend a higher percentage of their weekly mileage at very high heart rates and intensities.
Heart rate monitoring is a great way to not run too fast on easy days and reach your goals on harder, tempo and long run workouts.
5. Run faster during your long runs
To master the half marathon distance, you have to train for longer periods of time at a higher heart rate. This is going to take some time and patience. At first, you might not be able to sustain faster efforts for long periods of time. You have to allow time for your body to adapt to the stress.
At first, this might be difficult and you may only be able to run faster for 3 miles during a 10 mile long run. Keep in mind, as you get fitter your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to run faster.
6. Change up your long run routine
The idea isn’t just to run faster during your long runs, but change how you’re doing your long runs week-to-week. For example, go out for a faster long run one week and follow it by a relaxed long run the next week. Remember, faster mileage doesn’t always equal better results. Faster mileage coupled with proper recovery will.
Here are a few examples of how to vary up your long runs:
Week 1: 8 mile long run = 2 miles easy, 3 miles at 9:35 mile pace, 2 miles at 9:55 mile pace, 1 mile cool-down
Week 2: 10 mile long run = 2 mile jog warm-up, 6 miles at 160 beats per minute (85 to 88% of your max heart rate), 2 mile cool-down
These types of long runs are extremely demanding, which is why running easy and relaxed on your recovery days is so important.
7. Improve your hydration habits
One of the biggest reasons runners miss the sub 2-hour half marathon is failing to take in enough fluid. Practice your hydration techniques during your training. If you’re not sure if you’re properly hydrated, try conducting a sweat rate test.
Take a few gulps of water every 15-30 minutes during your long runs. [Read more about hydration in The No-Brainer Nutrition Guide For Every Runner.]
In addition, many runners fail to ingest enough calories during the race. You need to fuel during your long runs and on race day. Glycogen stores are used up after 60 minutes of exercise, so you’ll run out of energy if you don’t take in some simple carbohydrates.
8. Train mentally
Running a half marathon in less than 2-hours takes mental strength. Visualize yourself crossing the finish line in 1:59:59 or faster.
Have a mantra that you repeat to yourself during training and on race day. Talk to yourself in a positive way, and it will help you overcome the tough obstacles.