How to Run a Half-marathon in Under 2 Hours
I’ve seen it asked many times before, “What’s a good half-marathon time for your first marathon?” While this answer will vary a great deal depending on your previous running experience and overall fitness level; running a half marathon under 2 hours is a common goal.
And in fact, I think its a great goal to set for a first half marathon (if you have some running experience).
How Many Finish a Half Marathon Under 2 Hours?
So, what percentage of half marathon finishers complete the race in under 2 hours? A while back I took a look at one of the largest half marathons in the US, just to get a point of reference. Here’s what I found: Out of the 5,535 Men running the 2012 Rock n Roll Arizona Half Marathon on Jan. 15th, 2013, approximately 2,050 finished under 2 hours.
This would equate to about 37% that finished under 2 hours and 63% that did not (over 2 hours).
For the same race, approximately 7,895 woman completed the half marathon. Of those finishers, 1,193 crossed the line in under 2 hours. This equates to about 15% of women finishing the half marathon under 2 hours and 85% finishing over 2 hours.
This is just one race of course, so let’s take a look at average half marathon times across the US.
Average Half Marathon Times in the US
The most recent State of the Sport report by RunningUSA states that the median half marathon time was 2:01:37 for men (avg. age 38.7 years) and 2:19:49 for women (avg. age 35.6 years).
Naturally these times can be impacted by the age, so I’ve split out the results based on a set of factors used by the World Masters Athletics Organization (WMA), and the USA Track and Field Masters Long Distance Running Committee to benchmark their athletes.
|Age||Avg. Time||Age||Avg. Time|
Looking at these numbers, you can see that the 2 hour mark is pretty much the divider between the top and bottom 50% of male runners.
For women, running a half marathon in under 2 hours would put you in the top echelon of runners!
So if the average time for men is just over 2 hours, and about 2:20 for women, why did only 37% of men and 15% of women finish the 2012 Arizona Rock n Roll Marathon in under 2 hours?
Well a look at the course incline gives a big hint:
The hill right at the end will have slowed down a lot of runners who would already be feeling very tired at that point.
Some half marathon tracks will have a flatter course than others (or even downhill), and these will be far easier to post a personal best time, so keep that in mind.
Personally I recommend taking a look at some of the Half Marathons in Florida where almost every race is flat!
My Personal Half Marathon Races
I have now run 3 half-marathons under 2 hours. But my first half marathon was about 2 hours and 10 minutes! Now my fastest time is 1:40:50 (see all my PRs Here), but I hope to beat that by at least a few minutes this weekend at the Famous Idaho Potato Half Marathon in Boise.
So, its VERY possible to get below 2 hours…even if your first attempt wasn’t under that mark! Personally, I ran a poor race and went out much too fast during my first half marathon, and ended up walking a couple of miles at the end.
If I had gone out at a much slower pace, I believe that I would have gotten under 2 hours. In fact, that is what I did my next half marathon…and I have since been able to drop well over 20 minutes off my time.
So, how did I do it? (and how can you?). I believe that tempo training and long runs are the key.
A Word About Nutrition
While I won’t spend a ton of time on it here, it goes without saying that proper nutrition is critical for a distance runner. It’s not just about race day, either.
It’s what you are putting in your body while you train. One important note is that you shouldn’t try new things on race day.
Don’t try any new foods, drinks, or supplements just because they are available for free at the race. You’re not sure how your body will react to it, and it isn’t worth the risk once you’ve reached the day you’ve been training for. So stick to what your body is used to.
For me, I used to run with a running belt stocked with Gatorade. However, I now simply bring my own GU (shown below) and stop as needed for water during the race.
If this is your first half marathon and you aren’t used to energy gels – I’d suggest buying a variety pack like this and figuring out what works best for you. These things can really help sustain you throughout the race.
Training for a 2 Hour Half Marathon
Here is a typical training week that I am following right now for my race on May 18th (except my mileage is a bit higher). However, I believe the following schedule can help the average runner get to under a 2 hour marathon:
- Monday – Easy Run: 6 miles (about 1 to 2 minutes slower than half marathon pace)
- Tuesday – Intervals: 5 x 1 mile repeats (at 5k to 10k pace). With a warmup and cool-down.
- Wednesday – Easy Run: 6 miles
- Thursday – Tempo Run: 5 or 6 miles (at very close to half marathon pace; with warmup and cool-down).
- Friday – Rest or 3 or 4 miles Easy Run
- Saturday – Long Run: 8 to 15 miles (Build up mileage slowly, and run slow at about 2 minutes slower than half marathon pace).
- Sunday – Rest
Total weekly miles – Average around 35 miles
While intervals can help with speed, and if you are truly trying to max out your running potential, I do think they are important. However, if your goal is to get under 2 hours, the Tempo and long runs are more important.
The tempo run essentially gets your body used to running at your half marathon pace. So, if you want 1:59:59 in the half marathon, then your average pace should be 9 minutes and 9.14 seconds. Just run it at 9 minutes and 9 seconds to be safe :).
So, your tempo run should be run at about 9 minute mile to 9 minute 9 second mile pace.
The long run is not meant to test your racing ability, its there to train your body to run long distances. So speed is not a concern during the long run! In fact, if you are running it too fast, you could be hurting your training…so slow down.
I personally like to run at least a few long runs at the full 13.1 mile distance or longer during my training plan. I highly recommend the same for you if you truly want to finish the race under 2 hours.
By going further on your long runs (some training plans have you stop at 8 or 9 miles), you are much more likely to finish the race strong, rather than walking (like I did during my first half marathon).
Race Pace Strategy
I believe the primary 2 reasons for people not accomplishing their race goals is poor preparation and poor race strategy. Obviously you need to train well.
But even if you train well and don’t set an appropriate race pace, you could be setting yourself up for failure. I know, because I’ve made the mistake of going out too fast in several races!
So, trust me as someone who has made all the mistakes and fortunately learned; you need to set a realistic goal and stick to it. Many people simply go into a race without really knowing what their goal should be. But if you have planned properly (using your tempo runs as a gauge), and you know you are shooting for 2 hours, then you can set a good pace.
I would recommend going out your first first miles right at or 5 to 10 seconds slower than your goal pace (9 min. 9 second miles). This will help you mentally prepare to NOT go out too fast, which is a big mistake.
- So miles 1 to 3 at about 9:15 pace.
- Miles 4 to 7 at 9:09 pace
- Miles 8 to 10 at 9:05 pace
- Miles 11 to 13.1 9:00 pace (or whatever else you have left in the tank).
This will get you to your 2 hour half-marathon.
Overall, running a half marathon under 2 hours is very feasible even for the average runner. If you go into the race with the proper training and right strategy, you can find yourself posting a time that is far better than average!
Have something to add to this article? I would love to hear your comments below.