If you’re about to run your first half-marathon, like I am in a month, you may be wondering what a good half-marathon time is for beginners. Like many aspects of running, it varies greatly by individual.
If you’re in pretty good shape already, and perhaps have even run several 5ks or 10ks, you can shoot for a more ambitious goal time. If you’re someone who just got into running, your goal might be to just finish, and think about time at a later race.
In this article, we’ll discuss what goes into setting an achievable half-marathon goal time for beginners based on where your level of fitness and commitment. We’ve thrown in some basic tips to help you run the best half-marathon that you can!
How Many Miles Is A Half-Marathon?
Before we start talking about times, let’s review how far a half-marathon is exactly.
A half-marathon takes its name from the marathon. And a full marathon is 26.2 miles. Therefore, a half-marathon is (wait for it…) 13.1 miles. Half the distance of a full! Pretty basic, but it’s easy to forget the mileage, especially if you aren’t familiar with the marathon distance.
For Canadians, Europeans, and anyone else who measures distance in kilometers (km), a half-marathon is 21.08 km, often rounded down to 21 km.
Now let’s get into how long that will take…
Good Half-Marathon Times for Beginners
First things first: remember that a good time for any race can be vastly different based on an individual’s age, gender, physical fitness, health, and so on.
Additionally, due to the length of a half-marathon, you’ll be more impacted by factors such as weather, a hilly versus flat course, and size of entrant field.
In the U.S. in 2016, males finished half-marathons with an average time of 2:05:15. Females stopped the clock at an average of 2:23:48. That’s roughly a 9:30 pace for men, and an 11:00 pace for women.
World-class male runners can complete a half-marathon in under an hour, while elite women are around an hour and ten minutes. But obviously most people aren’t going to finish in that time—in fact, only three American men ever have run 60:00 or faster, while 16 American women have hit the 1:10:00 mark. Needless to say, a more modest goal will serve you well.
Breaking a 2:00 half-marathon is a common goal, especially for those with some running experience running, and it is considered a decent time, particularly for females, in the running community.
More competitive runners may try to break the 1:45:00 (particularly females) or 1:30:00 (particularly males) time barriers. If you’re interested in the average half-marathon race pace for someone of your age and gender, you can check out this chart or this other chart that gives more detailed information about finishing times over 13.1 miles.
As a broad and extremely generalized statement, any time between 2:00:00 – 2:30:00 for a female in generally good health running her first half-marathon is a solid time. For males, completing the distance in 1:45:00 – 2:15:00 is a decent starting point.
How Long Will It Take Me?
The bigger question, though, is how long you will take to run a half-marathon. If you don’t have any experience, then it can be a bit of a guessing game. Fortunately, there are tools to help you figure out.
First, you can use this table that allows you to take times from a recent one-mile, 5k, or 10k race to suggest how long it would take you to finish a half. For example, if you can run a 5k in 26 minutes, you should be able to finish a half-marathon in under two hours.
Of course, you have to account for factors such as changes in weather, distance and quality of your training, the hilliness of the course, and so forth. So while a race predictor can give you a great ballpark for a finishing time, there is no guarantee.
You can also use this race time predictor that is based on the formula developed by Pete Riegel, and is widely accepted. If you have a running watch, it may even have a function that gives you a predicted time based on your training.
My Garmin Forerunner 235 has that function, and I’ve seen the time go up and down as I’ve gone through my training. Right now, it is staying pretty consistent (within a minute or so) of one time. We’ll see how accurate that is a month from now!
I’ve also noticed that the time on the Forerunner is pretty similar to other times I’ve seen on a variety of race time predictors. You can always enter information into as many race time predictors as possible to get the widest range. But remember: these pace predictors can’t take into account all the factors that affect pace. It is still just a rough estimate.
I personally have found this article particularly helpful. It’s geared for women, but the information has been extremely accurate. If you’re shooting for finishing under 2:30:00, 2:00:00, or 1:45:00, this article will help, because it tells you how fast you might finish based on 5k and 10k race times. More importantly, it provides guidance in training, with times to aim for in long runs, tempo runs, and so forth.
A final way that you might get a good indication of finishing time is by your times while training for a half marathon. Experts say that you should run at a pace 30 – 60 seconds slower than your goal pace during long training runs.
If you’re able to consistently make a 9:00 pace for 10 – 11 miles, you’ll probably be able to run your half at an 8:30 or even an 8:00 pace. But remember to factor in that hilly courses will add some additional time, especially if you’ve been training on flat areas!
Basic Tips for Your First Half
While I’m still working up to my first half, I’ve been scouring the internet for information and picking the brains of my race-savvy friends. I have a lot to share!
The best thing you can do before starting your training is this: figure out why you’re running this half, and a tentative goal time. 13.1 miles is a long distance, and if you’ve never done it before, you need to know why you’re getting up early on a rainy Saturday morning.
Similarly, having a goal in mind gives you something to shoot for, even if you don’t reach it. I’ve personally found it helpful to have several goals (an easy one, one that I should be able to make with some effort, and a reach goal).
Even finishing a half, or not walking during the half, is a goal. Don’t be worried if you don’t have a time goal. Just figure out what you personally want to accomplish in the half and try to do that.
Speedwork and Strength Training
If you’re like me and you want to train to run a faster half, you’ll want to include speedwork as well as hills. Speedwork is going to be hard on your body, but it will make you faster. Hills are easier on the body, but more challenging when you’re in the midst of them. Both are critical to developing your leg strength and stride.
Additionally, you should definitely incorporate dedicated strength training. Simple, no-equipment exercises like body-weight squats, lunges, and box jumps all build speed while they add diversity to your training routine. Building core strength is another great way to run faster, so make sure that you don’t forget about cross training.
Progression runs, where you start the first mile with a slow pace and steadily get faster, are good not only for developing speed but also preparing you for race day. Teaching yourself to finish strong will make all the difference between a 1:50:00 and a 1:52:00 finish!
Other things that I have done to train to run faster include keeping a running journal to figure out what I did during my successful training runs, and what I can repeat for race day. This tip isn’t just about your running routine: log your food, hydration, stretching, strength work, and rest as well.
As you look toward race day, make sure that you’ve figured out ways to stay focused during the race. I started my training listening to music, but I stopped after I started doing longer runs to prepare me for race day. Similarly, I’ve tried to focus on being grateful when I run because I know this will help me on race day.
Be sure that you get enough nutrition during the race. While there will likely be water and gel stations, you may want to bring your own gels just in case something goes wrong. As the old adage goes, “Nothing new on race day,” so you will want to try the gels at the stations beforehand in your training.
Make sure that you’re staying hydrated and have enough carbs in your body. It might be overkill, but I’m pretty lightweight, so I’ve been taking a gel every three miles. This has helped me immensely in my training.
Finally, don’t underestimate the taper. You will want to give yourself 7-10 days of tapering (cutting back your mileage and intensity) before your half-marathon. This will really help your speed, and help you to run the best half-marathon that you can.
Once you finish your race, give yourself a pat on the back, take it easy for a couple days while you rest and recover, and then figure out what your next race is going to be!