How I Ran My First Sub-Two-Hour Half Marathon
Even with races cancelled, I was still able to achieve this major running goal.
This year, I achieved one of my long-term running goals by running a half marathon in under two hours. Because of the pandemic, there have been no group races, so I completed the entire run solo. Despite the challenges that this presented, the run went smoothly, thanks to careful planning and preparation.
Of course, I know that breaking two hours doesn’t exactly put me into the elite category, but for a hobbyist like myself, I’m still incredibly proud of this time. I also know that breaking 2 hours is an extremely common goal for the half marathon. So, I hope that by sharing how I reached it, I can help others achieve this goal as well.
When I first started preparing for this goal, I was running around 20 miles each week and my weekly long runs were only around 6 miles long. The main focus of my training was simply to increase the length of those long runs.
Each week, I extended my long run by just 1 mile. This may sound like a gradual progression, but the increases added up quickly. It took less than two months until I reached the half-marathon distance.
I actually extended my runs all the way to 14 miles, going just a bit further than the half-marathon distance. This got me comfortable with the distance I’d need to run, and gave me the confidence to know that I could go even further.
As for the speed of these long runs, I tried to find a balance between an all-out effort and an easy run. If I pushed too hard on my weekly long runs, it would have been counterproductive. Increasing my mileage and running as fast as I could, all at once, would end up just tiring myself out to the point that my running wouldn’t improve.
On the other hand, I also didn’t want to do my long runs at a completely easy pace. I needed to get practice not just running a long distance, but running a long distance with exertion.
To run a half-marathon in under 2 hours, I’d need to beat a 9:09 minute/mile pace. For my long runs, I kept the pace to about 10:00 minutes per mile. This seemed to be the perfect balance that I was looking for.
My long run was the key to my improvement, but I didn’t neglect speedwork entirely. I was running about 5 days each week, of which I normally did 3 or 4 completely easy days, leaving 1 or 2 for workouts.
I tried to do at least one run a week at my target half-marathon pace or faster. This was important because it helped me get used to what that pace actually felt like. These target-pace runs lasted anywhere from 3 to 6 miles.
I’d also occasionally run intervals, which I normally ran at my 5k pace or faster. Intervals helped to boost my top running speed, although it was difficult to tell how much they really helped with my half marathon goal. I did fewer of them as I got closer to my sub-2-hour attempt.
Since this all took place during the coronavirus outbreak, there were no official races to enter. Instead, I ran the half marathon on my own, going through the local greenway trails that I know very well. I timed the marathon using my GPS watch and double-checked the distance of my planned route using Google maps.
The biggest challenge that I faced was hydration. The water fountains in my city have all been turned off due to the virus, and two hours was way too long for me to run without a drink. I considered bringing a water bottle with me, but since I’ve never run with a bottle before, I worried it would be too big a distraction.
I ended up planning a route that would loop back to my home halfway through. I set up a filled water bottle before leaving, so I wouldn’t have to waste any time with it as I stopped back home.
Setting out on my run, my main focus was on not running too fast. I know from past experience that I often push myself too hard early on, which ends up ruining the second half of my runs. I tried using my GPS watch to make sure that my pace wasn’t dipping below 9 minutes per mile, although I still caught myself sometimes pushing it a bit faster.
Having done my weekly long runs for two months really paid off. Even though I was going a minute per mile faster, my half-marathon attempt didn’t feel as long as I expected it to, because I had already gotten so used to the distance.
The biggest mistake that I made was only stopping for water once, timed for right in the middle of the run. As I reached the last few miles, I could tell that I was under-hydrated. The next time I try something similar, I’ll loop back at least twice.
Despite this hiccup, I was still able to finish the run while maintaining my pace. In the end, I beat my goal by just about one minute, which I think is great pacing considering I did it all on my own.
Beating the 2-hour mark was a major goal for me, but thanks to consistent practice, it went smoother than I ever could have hoped for. If you’re setting out to improve your own half marathon, I hope this recap can help you. The single biggest piece of advice I’d give is to focus your training around your weekly long runs because those are the runs that will prepare you best for your half.
With enough practice, a sub-2-hour half marathon should be achievable for most runners. I can tell you from personal experience, the satisfaction is worth the effort.