Planning on running your first half marathon? Congratulations! Aiming for this milestone shows that you’re a dedicated runner who wants to improve upon your time and reach new goals.
But what’s a good half marathon time for beginners? How do you know your expectations to set appropriate and reachable goals?
If you’re still a newish runner, just finishing the race is a huge achievement. But it’s helpful to have a number in mind to focus on as a point to reach.
Let’s have a look at good half marathon times for beginners, what sort of factors could influence your finishing time, and some handy tips to help you run the best first half marathon possible!
How Long Is a Half Marathon?
A half marathon is commonly known to be 13.1 miles—21 kilometers. In reality, it’s just a touch longer than that, at 13.1094 miles, but rounding down is much easier!
If you want some context, you’d have to run 53 laps on a standard track to finish a half marathon!
Interestingly, the half marathon is the most popular distance after a 5K! That means more people run it than most other distances, so if you aim to make a half marathon your next race, you’re certainly not alone.
Good Half Marathon Time for Beginners
A good half marathon time for beginners really depends on a few factors. It differs by gender, age, and of course, by your fitness level.
It’s hard to specify a time based on that, but it may be useful to know the average time across all genders and ages.
For men and women of all ages and fitness levels, the average half marathon time is 1:50:15, which works out to a pace of 8:25 per mile.
Men seem to naturally run a little faster than women. The rough average time for beginner male runners to finish a half marathon is between 2:05 and 2:15.
Women aren’t far behind, though! The average time for a beginner female runner to cross the half marathon finish line is 2:20 to 2:30.
Remember that these averages are based on a flat, non-technical course! If the race you plan to do is hilly or particularly tricky, you can expect those times to increase.
Typically, as you age, you slow down when you run. This is often thought to be due to age-related muscle loss, slower metabolic rate, and a decline in aerobic performance.
That doesn’t mean you can’t perform exceptionally well as you age, but it does mean that you most likely won’t be able to hit the same times as a younger runner of comparable skill and fitness levels.
Beginners can get a good idea of what their time is likely to be in the following table!
What Can Impact Your Finishing Time?
Gender and age aren’t the only things that can have an effect on your finishing time. Based on historical data, they may give you the baseline time that’s expected for you, but other factors that are out of your control can affect how well you do on race day.
This is within your control, but it definitely affects your finishing time. The fitter you are, the better your time is likely to be.
Beginners who are not very fit should expect their times to be slower than the average. However, if you’re coming from a background of a different sport or if you’re naturally quite fit, you’re likely to run a half marathon in less time.
If the course is rough, winding, or hilly, you can expect to have a slower finish time. It’s important to consider this, especially if you’re regularly running your target time in training, but you’re training on flat ground!
If you’ve been doing most of your training in cooler conditions—like if you prefer to train in the early morning or evening—it can be a shock if race days are hot and humid.
The heat can slow you down significantly, even if you make sure you’re well-hydrated. Other weather conditions can also make a difference. Light rain may not be enough to cancel the race, but it can make the course slippery. Wind can reduce your speed by quite a lot unless it’s a tailwind!
How to Calculate Your Predicted Time
You can aim for the average time as presented in the table above, but it’s always helpful to calculate your predicted time. This will give you a better idea of what to expect when you run your half marathon!
Runner’s World’s race time predictor calculator is an excellent way to predict what your half marathon time could be. It explains some of the mathematics in case you’re interested, but ultimately it’s a plug-and-play calculator.
All you need is a recent finishing time—you can use a training run’s time if you haven’t raced recently—and the number of miles you’re running per week.
Remember that this is a prediction based on your previous time and how much training you do. It doesn’t consider things like the weather conditions on the day, the terrain you’ll be running on, or what you ate the night before!
In other words, don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t make your predicted time. Every half marathon you do will improve as long as you continue to train and improve your performance.
Also, remember that a lot of half marathons have cut-off times. It’s a good idea to check the cut-off time for your chosen race. If you think it’s not within your reach at the time, you may want to do a few more 10-mile races to increase your fitness level and improve your time before going for a half marathon.
Beginner Tips for Running a Great Half Marathon
If you’re running your first half marathon—or your second or third as a beginner runner—here are some tips to help you get the best time possible!
Train for 12 to 16 Weeks
One of the most common mistakes beginner runners make is not training enough. It’s easy to think that because you’ve done well in a few 10-mile races, that counts as training for a half marathon.
But the truth is, to run a good time, you need to dedicate at least 12 to 16 weeks to training for this particular race. This prepares your body for the strain of the race by increasing your endurance, as well as building confidence!
Following a training plan will help you to stay consistent and keep you accountable. You can take advantage of our free half marathon training program in this article!
Work On Your Pacing
As mentioned above, the average pace for a half marathon is 8:25 per mile. However, you will need to pace yourself throughout the race because if you start out too fast, you’ll lose steam halfway through and slow down, missing your goal time.
Starting from your training, you should follow a strategy of running even splits. This means you should aim to run the same pace for every mile, so you will run the same pace at the end as you started.
It can take some practice to get this right, as sometimes the average pace for your goal time can feel too slow initially. However, sticking to this pace will ensure that you don’t fatigue too quickly so you can push through while others are starting to tire.
Cross-training should be done in between your training runs. This will help to give your “running muscles” a break, reduce the impact on your joints, and build muscle that can help to propel you forward when you’re racing.
Your cross-training should include strength training—resistance training. Weight training is the best way to build muscle and stay injury-free. You can also try calisthenics or training with resistance bands if weight training isn’t available.
Cardio cross-training can also be beneficial. This will give the legs a break from the motion of running while still improving your cardiovascular fitness. Some good choices include cycling, swimming, the elliptical machine, and rowing.
Recovery is as important as training. Neglecting recovery can increase your chances of becoming fatigued, injured, or demotivated.
A good recovery routine should include the following:
- At least one full day of rest per week
- Foam rolling, stretching, yoga
- Enough sleep
- Proper hydration (even when you’re not running)
- A healthy diet
Practice & Plan Your Fueling
Thirteen miles is a long way to go without any kind of fuel! You will need to carry something with you along the way that you can quickly take when you need an extra burst of energy. These could include:
- Energy gels
- Energy chews
- Sports drinks
- Energy bars
- Electrolyte tablets
The important thing here is that you experiment with different fuel types during your training. Don’t wait until race day to do this—if one product doesn’t agree with you, it will affect your race negatively.
You should also experiment with when you need to fuel during your race. For example, if you start to feel a little weak halfway through your 10-mile training run, it’s a good sign that you should fuel up around 5 miles.
Don’t Forget to Taper
Tapering is something that many people forget to do at the end of their training plan. However, giving yourself some time to rest before giving your all-out effort during your race is important.
You should begin to lower your mileage 10 days to 2 weeks before race day. This should be built into your training program, so make sure to follow it!
Carbo-Load 2 or 3 Days Before
Carbo-loading is not necessary, but it can help you run more strongly during your race. In a nutshell, this means increasing your carbohydrate intake for a few days before the race to allow for muscle glycogen stores to be replenished.
This will have a positive impact on your energy levels throughout your race. Your muscles use glycogen as fuel, so the more high-quality glycogen is stored, the better you’ll run.
But you can’t just eat processed carbs the day before your race and expect it to boost your performance. There’s a right way and a wrong way to carbo-load. You can learn how to do it effectively in this article!