So, I hear you’ve decided to run your first half marathon! Congratulations and welcome to the wonderful world of long distance running! If you don’t know already, I’m sure you will soon learn that training for your first half marathon can be one of the most grueling experiences of your life. Sore muscles. Missing toenails. Sweating what seems to be gallons and gallons. These woes are all par for the course, but training for and running a half marathon can also be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. The tenacity and determination it takes to train day after day and week after week. The euphoria of hitting your first runner’s high. The sense of accomplishment when you’ve run a distance you didn’t previously believe you could. Distance running is a wonderfully addictive activity so welcome to the club and now you’re on the path of looking for the best half marathons for beginners.
The joys of running aside though, your first half marathon will be difficult, and so selecting the perfect race is of the utmost importance. In general, you want to make it as easy for yourself as possible in your first outing. You can always try the Pikes Peak Half on your second or third race. There’s no reason to make it unnecessarily difficult for yourself while your body is already going through so much.
What Makes It One of The Best Half Marathons For Beginners?
Luckily for you, I’ve compiled a list of some easy, breezy, beautiful halves that make perfect races for first time competitors. In general we’re looking for flat, we’re looking for good weather, and we’re looking for races that are well-supported (meaning you don’t have to carry your own water while you run through the wilderness.) It’s also much easier to run a race if there are other people running around you, so for your first half a race with a decent-sized field is always nice. I’d also recommend a road race over a trail race so you don’t have to worry about tripping over roots. Throw some good scenery and a cool course in the mix, and you’ve basically found the dream race.
Here are eleven of the best half marathons for beginners for that excellent picks for your first time Happy running!
Publix Atlanta Half Marathon in Atlanta, GA
The Atlanta Track Club is one of the best race organizers in the world. They’ve hosted the Olympic Trials, they have an impressive roster of events every year, and they just generally know their stuff. Their premiere half marathon, therefore, is one that can be easily relied on to impress. It’s an easy loop course so that you start and end at the same area (which can save you a lot of headache with transportation), the course is mostly flat, and you get a scenic tour of Atlanta. And while Atlanta can certainly get muggy, February is pretty safe on the weather front, so you can run in the nice big crowds without worrying about keeling over. Publix Atlanta Half Marathon because of its deep connection with the city, crowds, and scenery makes it one of the best half marathons for beginners in the country.
While I haven’t ran the Houston Half exactly, I did run the Houston Marathon, so I ran alongside the half-marathoners for plenty of the course. Texas, like Florida, is flat, so if you want a course without any hills or bridges, this is the perfect choice. It’s also a little known fact that Houston has the fourth largest population of any city in the US (behind New York, LA, and Chicago), which means there is no shortage of people to cheer you on.
The loop course makes transportation easy, the aid stations are all well-executed, and the city is overflowing in queso. I don’t know about you, but queso sounds like a great celebration snack, so why not sign up for a race there just to get a bowlful as a reward? The Aramco Houston Half Marathon is quickly making a name for itself nationally as being a half marathon worth traveling for because of it’s flawless production, crowds and manageable course. While some runners enjoy a mountainous or beachside destination race, the unpredictability of both weather and production quality don’t make them safe options for beginners.
The Aramco Houston Half Marathon makes the top of our list as one of the best half marathons for beginners and is putting Houston on the map of top running cities.
The Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon is one of the most popular and well-established running event held in the midwest. The race takes participants on a journey through the vibrant streets of downtown Indianapolis passing iconic landmarks like Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument and the picturesque White River State Park. The Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon has a notable flat and fast course which the full marathon had 20.4% of the field with Boston Qualifying times in 2022. Beyond the race itself, Indianapolis is a vibrant city with plenty to offer visitors like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway or the Indianapolis Museum of Art. This blend of a well-organized event and a lively host city makes the Indianapolis Monumental Half Marathon an appealing choice for beginners seeking a memorable and enjoyable racing experience.
The Disney halves are always favorites for first time runners, and while they have a variety of halves with different themes, I opted to include their standard half, held the first Saturday after New Year’s. The Disney races excel for several reasons. First, because it’s Florida, the course is flat, flat, flat, and second, because they aim to get the runners through the parks before they’re fully open, the start time is early in the morning while it’s still dark. That means you’ll be running a flat course out of the direct sun. Disney is also top notch when it comes to on route entertainment. You run through the Magic Kingdom, past characters from their films, and get a massive medal when you finish. One note of warning, however, is that there are a ton of photos ops along the course which are a ton of fun, but if you’re looking to run your first half without stopping, you might want to pick a different race and circle back to Disney when you care less about the running piece. The pomp and circumstance of the race make it entertaining and celebratory which makes it one of the best half marathons for beginners.
The Surf City Half is located along the shore of California just south of Los Angeles, and as such is another flat course. Most of the run is along the beach so you get plenty of breeze and the mostly straight course means you won’t have to do too much ducking and weaving. The February So Cal weather is usually temperate, and with runners coming from all over LA, there’s always plenty of runners and even more adoring fans to cheer you on. Some of the east coast beach races can be sort of miserable, especially in late spring or early fall, so this is a nice option if you’re looking for a race that allows easy access to a polar plunge post-run. This is one of the best half marathons for beginners that’s along the California coastline.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon in Las Vegas, NV
Like the Disney, Rock ‘n’ Roll also hosts a series of events each year that are incredibly popular. If you’re looking for a race that doubles as a party, then these halves are the ones for you. The Vegas version, which starts in the evening after sundown, a fairly unique prospect for a long distance race, sends runners up and down the strip before ending with a concert. There’s live music along the course, beers at the finish line, and if you want to play a few slots as a reward for finishing, who’s going to stop you. If you want something that’s more than just a race, but aren’t keen on Disney, this is probably your best bet. Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas specializes in creating a unique, memorable experiences and because of its location in a United States entertainment capital, positions itself as one of the best half marathons for beginners every year.
From my experience as a runner, the NYC Half is the best half marathon around (although as a New Yorker, I will say I might be biased). That means it is slightly more difficult to enter (there’s a lottery or you need to raise money for charity), but it’s well worth it. While the course isn’t pancake flat like many others on this list, it makes up for the few hills with the splendor of the scenery and the verve of the crowds. No other race lets you run over the Manhattan Bridge, through Times Square, and to a finish in Central Park. No other race has crowds this massive. If you want to be completely overwhelmed in the best way possible, then I’d enter the lottery and cross my fingers.
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Fargo Half Marathon in Fargo, ND
The Fargo Half boasts that it’s “America’s Best Small-Town Race,” and I’m not going to argue with them. While there’s certainly something to be said about large city races, because of their size and scope, often smaller races provide a more unique running experience. Fargo is sort of the best of both worlds, with enough entrants so that you don’t feel like you’re running alone, but also plenty of scrappy small town charm. Cheering is an endeavor taken on by the whole town, with many throwing block parties and passing out candy and shots (maybe not great for a first timer) to keep the mood festive. Also, with a late May date (because it’s still cold in North Dakota then), you might be able to avoid training in the snow if you sign up for this one.
Heartland Half Marathon in Omaha, NE
Notice that we jumped straight from May to September. Running in the summer can be a rewarding challenge, but for your first half, I’d highly recommend not running a race in June, July, or August. Even the end of September might be pushing it, but if you live in the north and the training weather isn’t too hot, Omaha’s half could be a nice choice. Being in Nebraska, the course is pretty flat, and you get to run over the Missouri River not once, but twice, which gives you some incredible views. This course is also an out-and-back, which some runners hate because you are basically running the same course twice. I disagree though, because the people watching during a half marathon is incredible, and you get to see EVERYONE on this course.
Urban Bourbon Half Marathon in Louisville, KY
Every half marathon has some sort of post-race festivities whether that be the meager banana and a Gatorade or something more exciting with live music, pizza, and beer. As I’m sure you’ve guessed from its title, the Urban Bourbon Half in Louisville offers an after party with a little extra kick. Finishers of the half get to enjoy some of the city’s famed bourbon while they cool down, and if you’ve just finished your first half, you certainly deserve a bit of a celebration. While the Kentucky course is a bit hillier than others on this list, if you think enough about the bourbon, you probably won’t even notice them.
If you’ve never heard of Lowell, MA, you are certainly not alone. It’s a tiny town north of Boston up near Massachusetts border with New Hampshire. And while most of the races on this list are in larger cities because bigger crowds are more fun for first time runners, the Baystate course is known for being a flat runner-friendly option. There’s not nearly as many bells and whistles as Disney and Rock ‘n’ Roll, but the double loop course allows you to know exactly what’s coming in the second half before you get there. Often crowds are motivational, but if you’d prefer to run your first half a little less out of the spotlight, this lowkey race might be a nice choice as well.
Detroit Free Press Half Marathon in Detroit, MI
The only half I can fully endorse for first time half marathoners is the Detroit Half, because it was the first I ever ran. I loved every second of it, and think it’s still too underappreciated. Detroit actually has two halves on race day, a US version that stays in Michigan and an international one that crosses the border into Canada. I’d personally recommend the international version. You get to run over the Ambassador Bridge during sunrise, zig zag through Windsor, and then return to Downtown Detroit via a tunnel under the river. The course is one of the most exciting and inventive on this list (or any list for that matter). It does have a few hills, and it can get hot running in the tunnel, but I think the visual interest really does keep it interesting.
2023 – 2024 Best Half Marathons for Beginners Calendar
- Fargo Half Marathon on May 20, 2023
- Heartland Half Marathon on September 24, 2023
- Urban Bourbon Half Marathon on October 14, 2023
- Baystate Half Marathon on October 15, 2023
- The Detroit Free Press Half Marathon on October 15, 2023
- Walt Disney World Half Marathon on January 6, 2023
- Houston Half Marathon on January 14, 2024
- Surf City Half Marathon on February 4, 2024
- Publix Atlanta Half Marathon on February 26, 2024
- Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon on March 3, 2024
- United Airlines NYC Half Marathon on March 19, 2024
A beginner should expect to train between 6 and 20 weeks for a half marathon. The specific time allowed is dependent on your level of overall fitness prior to training.
Your first half marathon should be picked based on what you’re trying to prioritize in your running experience. The most common factors runners consider when selecting a half marathon are – proximity, accessibility, and an easy course.
While it’s possible to do a half marathon without training, any physician or running coach will tell you it’s not advised! Your muscles, tendons, and ligaments need to adapt to the mechanics of running – therefore requires training to build the strength and endurance to run the thirteen miles.