Half Marathon Distance, Explained

Medal after running a half marathon distance
Photo by Rosie Kerr on Unsplash

If you want to build your endurance or are looking for a challenging-but-attainable goal, the half marathon distance is the perfect sweet spot for any runner, with any level of fitness.

A half marathon distance is 13.1 miles — it’s half of a full marathon, which is 26.2 miles.

Half marathons are the most popular race distance people run. Many runners who may have already completed a 5k or 10k can train to the 13.1-mile distance over just eight to 12 weeks of training. But even if you’re starting on the couch, you can successfully train to run 13.1 miles in just 16 to 20 weeks.

A half marathon is especially popular because it’s long enough to be a challenge, but not as long as a full marathon, which certainly requires more of a training commitment.

We’ll be the first to say 13.1 miles can feel daunting if you’ve never run for more than 3 or 5 miles. But, with a great training plan and mindset, anyone can complete that half marathon distance without too much pain or stress.

If you like the Goldilocks challenge of a half marathon distance and are thinking about training for your first, we’ve got everything you need to know below, from how long it should take to finish (on average), plus a few tips to help you get the most out of your training.

How Long Is a Half Marathon Distance?

A half marathon is 13.1 miles. In kilometers, the distance of a half marathon is 21.1k.

Half marathon races are available all over the world — from Antarctica to the land down under — Australia.

But you don’t need to go that extreme. There are likely numerous half marathons in your city or near your town, too. 

How Long Does It Take to Run a Half Marathon?

The average half marathon time for males between 20 and 40 years old age group is approximately 2 hours, and for women, the average finish time is 2 hours and 20 minutes.

Related: How To Tell if You Have a Good Half Marathon Time?

How Fast Is a 2 Hour Half Marathon?

To run a 2-hour half marathon, you’ll need to hit an average pace of 9:09 per mile (5:41 per kilometer). 

Crossing a half marathon finish line in 2 hours is a common goal for many beginner runners, but you should feel accomplished no matter your finish time.

How Fast Is a 1 Hour 30 Minute Half Marathon?

To run a half marathon in 1 hour 30 minutes, you’ll need to run at an average pace of 6:52 minutes per mile (4:16 per kilometer).

Many intermediate runners have the goal of running under 90 minutes. This is especially true for runners who are a bit more serious about their training and who already have a few half marathons under their belt.

What Is the Time for a 1 Hour Half Marathon?

To finish 13.1 miles in 60 minutes or less, you’d need to run at race pace of 4:35 minutes per mile (2:51 per kilometer).

Obviously, this is really hard. We typically only see elite or very experienced runners finish close to this time.

In fact, the fastest half marathon and current world record half marathon is recorded by Jacob Kiplimo in 2021 in the Lisbon half marathon, where the Ugandan set a time of 57:31. That’s a running pace of close to 14 miles per hour for the half marathon.

How to Train for a Half Marathon

Training for a half marathon may seem scary at first, especially if this will be the furthest you’ve ever run. 

But sticking to a half marathon training plan will:

  • Provide you with the confidence to finish the distance
  • Increase your fitness
  • Allow you to set your best possible half marathon time

Here are the best ways to determine how to train for a half marathon:

1. Use a training plan

Following a training plan is the best way to make sure you’re ready for your race.

We have a number of half marathon training plans ranging from 8 weeks to 20 weeks. We recommend giving yourself 2, 16 or 20 weeks to train for beginners. This will help ease your body into the demands of the sport and impact. 

You can search our training plans to find the right half marathon schedule for you.

2. Use a training app

While, of course, we recommend our own half marathon training programs, you can use your own or be guided by the use of a training app like Runna.

The Runna app creates personalized training plans for every type of fitness level: from beginners to advanced runners. The app specializes in holistic support, dynamic training plans crafted by experts, and mixed in cross-training for strength and conditioning.

3. Create your own plan

We do recommend following a training plan designed by a coach or an app like Runna to reduce your risk of injury and improve your performance. But if you don’t like the rigidity of pre-set plans, you can create your own.

A good DIY training plan should include a mix of:

  • A weekly long training run 
  • Tempo runs
  • Shorter interval training efforts as speed work outs – Running 400 meters, 800 meters, or 1 mile distance repeats)
  • Strength & conditioning cross-training workouts 

A mix of sessions is needed to facilitate the right training adaptations. This will make running 13.1 miles that much easier (and faster). For example:

  • Shorter interval efforts and mile repeats increase your VO2 Max — that’s a fancy way of saying you use less oxygen to increase energy
  • Running at a faster pace will improve running economy and make you a more efficient runner. That means better running form, but also more physiological adaptations, such as an increased number of red blood cells (more oxygen to supply the body).
  • Running for longer distances will increase your slow twitch muscle density training your muscles to feel less fatigue during races.

How Long Do You Need to Train for the Half Marathon Distance?

We suggest a minimum of 8 weeks up to 20 weeks of training to run a half marathon successfully. If you are currently running 0 to 5 miles a week, the longer you give yourself to train, the happier you’ll be. If you’re already running regularly, you can train for a half marathon in 8 to 12 weeks.

No matter your current fitness level, the longer you train, the better prepared you’ll be.

And if you follow a structured training plan, you can be confident that you’ll toe the line ready to perform at your best.

How to Have a Successful Half Marathon

Training for your first half marathon can be tough. 

You will spend a lot of time training and ticking off various sessions. Start with building a habit of running consistently and increasing your distances and don’t worry so much at the beginning about “tempo runs,” “mile repeats,” or running on hilly terrain. 

This can seem daunting at first, but don’t worry.

We’ve put together a few rules for successful half marathon training:

1. Be consistent with your training 

If you’re not consistent with your training, i.e., you miss several runs a week because you’re taking too many rest days, then you inevitably make the event that much harder — strive for consistency.

To remain consistent, choose a training plan that fits your lifestyle.

It sounds so simple, but if it’s not sustainable, you won’t follow it. And then you’ll be in a world of pain on race day.

2. Dial in your nutrition

When people talk about half marathon nutrition, they often talk about what to eat on race day.

And while that is critical, what you eat before your runs or during the rest of your training is even more important.

  • Eat plenty of protein to support recovery and consume plenty of carbs to fuel your runs
  • A lot of people tend to avoid fat — but not all fat is bad
  • Avoid sugary snacks
  • Consume enough calories to fuel your body for training. But eat the right foods (i.e., whole, healthy foods).

Related: The Best Breakfasts for Runners

3. Prioritize rest and recovery

Training for a half marathon is tiring. You’re spending hours on your feet completing long runs, tempo efforts, and intervals. Long training sessions while road running cause high-impact to joints and muscles and require scheduled decompressions. And let’s not forget those strength sessions — they play a big part in your training schedule.

Compound that with your daily commute, looking after kids, and your job, and it won’t be long before you can’t wait to hit the pillow every evening.

Therefore, it’s essential to prioritize rest & recovery.

Start going to bed earlier than usual, if possible. And eat plenty of protein and a well-balanced diet.

4. Pace yourself properly

A lot of beginner runners tend to set off too quickly and then pay the price later in the race or training session. 

A good pacing strategy is key.

Practice your pacing during training. A good time to do this is on your weekly long run.

Learning to better pace yourself helps you achieve your running goals.

We recommend wearing a running watch or using the Runna or Strava smartphone app to measure your pace.

The more you pay attention to it, the easier it gets.

But it’s one of the best skills you can learn that will drastically improve your running.

Mistakes to Avoid When Training for a Half Marathon

A lot of runners make the following mistakes when training for their first half marathon event:

1. Running the bulk of your weekly mileage in one session

A big mistake we see many people make is running the bulk of their weekly mileage in one session — usually the weekly long run.

And while it’s important to get time on your feet, try not to run more than 30% of your weekly miles in one run.

For example, if you run 30 miles for the entire week, your long run should be no more than 9 miles. 

Obviously, you increase your weekly miles the closer you get to the event.

So while on week 1 of training, your long run could be 6 miles, in the final few weeks, it could be 10 or 11 miles.

2. Skipping strength training 

Unfortunately, this is a lesson many people learn the hard way when training for their first half marathon.

Training for a half marathon requires more miles — that means more time on your feet and more force placed through your joints.

Research shows that including 2-3 strength training sessions/per week increases running efficiency over a 8-12 week period [1,2].

But that’s not it. 

Adding strength training sessions to your training will likely reduce your risk of injury. And with 24% of half marathoners and 30% of full marathon runners reporting injury during or 2 weeks after their event [3], a weights session once or twice a week is a good trade-off.

3. Missing a session and then jumping into the progressive version

If you miss a session, perhaps a weekly long run or mile repeats, don’t try to make up the miles in your next session.

Also, don’t skip the progression and move on to the more difficult version.

For example, if you have a session of 4×1 mile repeats and the following week you’re supposed to do 5 x 1 mile repeats, do the 4×1 instead.

Progressing too soon without the proper training increases your risk of injury. 

4. Not investing into the proper running gear

Bare minimum, if you’re going to be participating in a half marathon, you need running shoes. There are amazing shoes for every type of runner. You can read our recommendations on best half marathon running shoes.

Also consider safety products and recovery products. But, the shoes are the most important above all else.

FAQs

How Many Miles Is a Half Marathon?

The half marathon is 13.1 miles — it’s exactly half the length of a full marathon (26.2 miles).

What Is the Average Time for a Half Marathon for a Man?

The average male half marathon time is about 1:55. To hit this, they’re running an average pace of 08:49 minute miles.

What Is a 10K in Miles?

The 10k distance is 6.2 miles. Many runners choose to complete at least one 10km event before moving up to the half marathon.

What Is Full Marathon Distance?

A full marathon distance is 26.2 miles — exactly double a half marathon.

What Is a Realistic Time for a Half Marathon?

For a beginner, a realistic time is anywhere between 2 and 3 hours.

References:

  1. Balsalobre-Fernández, C., Santos-Concejero, J. and Grivas, G.V., 2016. Effects of strength training on running economy in highly trained runners: a systematic review with meta-analysis of controlled trials. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 30(8), pp.2361-2368.
  2. Blagrove, R.C., Howatson, G. and Hayes, P.R., 2018. Effects of strength training on the physiological determinants of middle-and long-distance running performance: a systematic review. Sports Medicine, 48, pp.1117-1149.
  3. Mohseni, M.M., Filmalter, S.E., Taylor, W.C., Vadeboncoeur, T.F. and Thomas, C.S., 2021. Factors associated with half-and full-marathon race-related injuries: a 3-year review. Clinical journal of sport medicine, 31(5), pp.e277-e286.

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