The World’s Biggest, Oldest & Fastest Half Marathons (And More)

© Michael Krause |

© Michael Krause |

1) Fastest: RAK Half Marathon • Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates

Despite a slightly slower 2014 and 2015, the last decade of half marathoning has proved that Ras Al Khaimah is the place to compete against the best. From 2010 to 2013, the fastest women’s times were recorded and in both 2009 and 2013, the fastest men’s time were recorded here.

The course is incredibly flat, runs at sea level, and draws elites seeking to share a portion of the nearly $340,000 worth of prize money.

2) Oldest (U.S.): Lincoln Presidential Half Marathon • Springfield, Illinois

While the 13.1-mile distance has been raced with increasing regularity since the middle of the 20th century, the the Lincoln Presidential Half Marathon holds the title of oldest continuously run half marathon in the United States.

Since 1964, runners have been toeing the line in downtown Springfield, Abraham Lincoln’s home for 24 years. The start/finish of the loop course is located at the historic Old State Capitol where Lincoln delivered his famous “House Divided” speech.

3) Biggest: Göteborgsvarvet • Gothenburg, Sweden

With roughly 64,000 runners registered every year, Göteborgsvarvet easily takes the prize for the world’s largest field of runners in the half marathon. The race features more than 30 waves of runners over the course of three hours to accommodate the huge field, which run along a loop course sends them on a scenic journey of downtown Gothenburg, with plenty of entertainment along the way.

4) Most Prize Money: IAAF World Half Marathon Championships

Held every two years, the IAAF World Half Marathon Championship is the place to be for the biggest single paycheck. There are other races with bigger course record and world record bonuses, but the top male and female runner took home $30,000 each in 2014. Awards go six deep, but you have to pretty quick. 1:07:29 was the top women’s time in 2014 and 59:08 was the top men’s time.

5) Highest Elevation: Mount Everest Half Marathon • Tibet/Nepal

With a starting line that lies at 14,996 feet, the Mount Everest Half Marathon is clearly not the place to set a new PR. Though the race does have a net downhill, the lack of oxygen and extraordinary trail conditions will test even the hardiest of runners. There will be some competition though — in 2014, a total of 155 runners tackled distances from the half marathon to an ultra.

6) Lowest Elevation: Death Valley Half Marathon • Death Valley, CA

Runners often seek racing at sea level when chasing a PR, but rarely have the opportunity to run below sea level. The Death Valley Half Marathon drops to over 230 feet below sea level and the highest elevation is nearly 130 feet below sea level.

The out-and-back course does feature one large hill that runners tackle from both sides, but the low elevation and morning desert temperatures will help speed things along.

7) Flattest: Ice Breaker Indoor Half Marathon • Milwaukee, WI

If you are searching for a course without a single hill, the Ice Breaker Indoor Half Marathon might be the perfect race! Be warned that the one caveat of running a perfectly flat course involves 48 laps.

This easy-on-the-quads race will also free up any weather-related worrying as the entire 13.1 miles will be inside an ice center with a perfect running temperature from start to finish.

2 comments… add one
  • Allen May 25, 2022, 10:36 am

    The Lima, Peru half marathon has been running since 1909 (with the exception of 2 years during COVID).

  • Bob Watson November 27, 2015, 3:45 am

    Why limit the “oldest” category to the US? I think Lincoln Presidential is generally regarded as the world’s second oldest half marathon, behind the Route du Vin.

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