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Beginner Half Marathon Finish Times: What you Should Expect?
If you have just signed up for your first half marathon, congratulations, it’s an ambitious step to take. Perhaps you’ve even started training. Or maybe you’re thinking about signing up for your first half. It’s the next step in your running journey or you consider it a worthwhile and motivating goal (which it absolutely is!).
But you’re wondering: What is a good half marathon time for a beginner? What should you be aiming for?
In terms of a good half marathon time, it depends on a variety of factors, including your age, your fitness level, your general health, and more. If you are a seasoned runner, you can probably aim for a fairly ambitious time. If this is your first race, you might want to be more realistic in your finish time.
Considering it’s a fair distance to run, many first-timers simply aim to finish the whole race running. Still, it helps when signing up for any race to know what time you should expect to finish at. In fact, most registration forms require it.
In this article, we’ll explore what a good half marathon time is for a beginner in more detail. We will also offer up tips to optimize your time and ensure you’re ready come race day.
How Long Is a Half Marathon?
One of the major appeals of the half marathon is the distance of the race. So let’s dive into that a little bit before we start learning more about finishing times. So just how far or long is a Half Marathon?
13.1 Miles or to be exact 13.1094 Miles
So, as you can see it’s a great distance for beginners looking to increase their mileage as well as for serious runners looking for speed and new PR’s.
The Average Half Marathon Time By Age
13.1 miles is a long way to go. You’ll hear many runners say that half the battle is the mental game you play with yourself throughout the run. Yet, your finish time frequently comes down to your age, gender, fitness and health. However, your hard work and consistency through training matters a lot as well. If you don’t put in the work, you won’t get the results you want.
While training for a half marathon is a lengthy endeavor, throughout the process, remember to enjoy the journey and stay positive. You might not be able to run 13.1 miles right now (maybe not even close), but with time and dedication, you will get there!
So, what’s a good half marathon time for beginners? What should you expect at your age?
On average we estimate, beginner males, finish half marathons between 2:05 to 2:15. On the other hand on average, beginner females clock in between 2:20 and 2:30. These times are based on a relatively flat and easy course, as you add elevation and difficulty to the course the average times will increase. Average male race winners come in typically between 1:10 and 1:30, with the current world record being 58:01. Meanwhile, average female race winners cross that finish line between 1:15 and 1:25, with the current world record for females being 1:04:31.
The good news? Your first half marathon will likely be your PB either way. PR or PB stand for a personal record or personal best. This is common runner lingo and it stands for your own individual best performance time in a given distance or at a given pace. Your PR during training can even serve as motivation as the time you want to beat. Most runners also find they tend to improve their times with race experience and more training.
The following chart outlines what finish time you can expect going at a set pace. This can help you determine where you are at or potentially where you need to be to reach your goals.
When discussing the average half marathon time by age, most individuals tend to improve upon their finish time throughout their 20s and 30s. After the age of 40, they often find they slow down.
However, it’s not just your age that impacts your time. Your general fitness and health matter too. If you have any serious medical conditions, you should consult with your primary provider or specialist. They can then make recommendations for you and your specific situation. Further, stress can also impact your time, which is why it’s always important to listen to your body and avoid pushing too far past your limits.
Even variables out of your control, like the weather or terrain, may influence your finish time. So, what can you do to make a realistic estimate regarding your half marathon finish time? In the following section, we take a closer look!
Determining Your Half Marathon Time
As previously mentioned, many runners simply aim to finish the race. You may also hear a lot of individuals claim their goal is to finish under the 2-hour mark or cross the line around 2 hours. This is a common goal for individuals who have already competed in races at different distances.
What is your current 1-mile pace right now? This can easily give you a realistic finish time. Ideally, if you’re tracking each run, you will know right where you stand in terms of distance, time, and predictability. And luckily, there are also various ways you can improve your half marathon time before you even run the race.
You can also use our pace calculator to help determine your total time or the pace you should be aiming for. This can give you a target goal to keep in mind and go after when training.
You’ll also want to ensure you have plenty of time to train before your half marathon race. A half marathon isn’t something you should do on the fly. We’ll dive into more tips and tricks when it comes to running your first half marathon in the section below!
Tips for Your First Half
First off, training is key. You must be ready to get up early on those Saturdays or Sundays and hit the ground running – rain or shine.
Secondly, you’ll want to get to know the race course. If you’re a beginner, take the time to look at the course map before you register. Make sure it matches your skill level before you pay and sign up. Usually, flatter races or races downhill are more suitable for a first-timer. It’s also not a bad idea to check the course time limit. There’s nothing worse than signing up and putting in all the hard work only to find out that you will not be allowed to finish due to a time cap.
You will also want to plan a training schedule and stick to it. As previously mentioned, a half marathon isn’t something you should do without training. Ideally, you should be able to run the full distance comfortably before race day. Aim to ease off of your training at least a week before your race. This will help you start fresh (without any muscle soreness or fatigue) come race day.
The key is often finding the right training plan that works for you and making sure it isn’t beyond your ability. A few reputable training programs include Runner’s World, Hal Higdon, and Jeff Galloway.
Further, finding a local running group at a running shop nearby, on Facebook, or through running clubs and groups is a great way to meet other runners and stay motivated while training.
You’ll also want to mix in some cross-training. While running is essential for training, you don’t want to overdo it. Plan for days where you cross-training through cycling endurance activities, or days where you perform speed and interval training, such as sprints then walks. This can help improve your endurance, lung capacity, and much more, prepping you to take on the big distance to come. Strength training can also help you build power and strength in the lower body which can help you propel forward as you run.
At the same time… don’t forget about those rest days. These are almost just as important as your training days. They help you recover and ensure you don’t end up overtraining or injuring yourself. The last thing you need is a pulled muscle along the way.
Diet and sleep are further important parts of training. Before you begin any long training run, load up on easily digestible carbs and protein. Plan to consume this meal at least two hours before you head out. Excellent examples include oatmeal and fruit or a bagel with peanut butter. You’ll also want to fuel up after to help your body recover with a good mix of carbs, fats, and protein. Sleep is also essential and should never fall to the curb-side! Aim to get those 7-8 hours of sleep every night. If you haven’t slept, consider pushing your long run the following day when you have more energy. Again, listen to your body here!
And remember to enjoy the journey. Training is where you put in all the hard work, the grit, the persistency, the sacrifices, and more. It will test not only your physical strength and endurance but your mental strength as well. You aren’t just building up your ability to run for a long distance. You’re also building mental resilience and toughness. Training is almost the real test, with the race being the final hurdle.
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When Race Day Hits…
On race day (and before), you will want to ensure you don’t run over the start line and beyond at full speed. There have been many times where runners have emptied their tank before even reaching half-way. Save some for the end and make sure you pace yourself so that you can make it the full distance. Many serious runners frequently train in a way where they run ‘Negative Splits.’ This means they run their second half faster than the first. The saying ‘finish strong’ derives from this whole concept.
Most races also include chip timing. This means your time doesn’t start until you actually cross the start line. This also means that you don’t need to push your way to the front at the start. It won’t hurt your finish time to start at the back of the pack since your time is specific to you. Further, slower runners tend to be toward the back, which means you shouldn’t be pushing it to keep up with faster runners. If you plan your coral (the time block you intend to finish at) accordingly, you should be within a group that is running at a similar pace to you.
GPS Watches or Training Apps
You may also want to use a GPS watch or an app, such as Strava, MyRun, or Nike Running. These can help you monitor your run during your race and ensure you are on pace and not blowing all your energy during the first quarter or half of the run. Many races, including The Canaan Valley Half Marathon, have Strava Groups that runners can join beforehand. This allows you to train with other runners in the race you will be running, which can facilitate the sharing of tips and tricks to keep your training on track. That way, you’ll be set come race day and prepped for what to expect.
Find a Pacer
Setting yourself up next to a pacer can also add an easy way to stay on track during your race. A pacer is someone who the race has hired to run an exact time. For instance, if you’re wanting to run your half marathon in 1:45, you’d set yourself up near a 1:45 pacer. They’re easy to spot too! Usually, they have bunny ears or are holding up signs with the target time. Typically, they will also offer encouragement and have many runners gathered around them which can continue to motivate you throughout the course.
Use the Bathroom
Before your race, another really important tip is to use the bathroom. About 90% of registered runners will use the bathroom about 15-30 minutes before the race starts. While there will usually be bathrooms on the course, it’s not ideal to have to use one in the middle of a race. Leave yourself plenty of time to use the bathroom before you hit the start line.
Fuel Your Body
Ensure you fuel your body properly before and after as well. Hydrate and make sure you get enough carbs to give your body the right energy to get you through it. You may even want to consider gel packs or Gatorade in water to help replace electrolytes and provide quick energy along your route. Certified half marathons are required to have at least six water stops along the course so don’t worry about running out – there will be plenty to go around!
Make a Playlist
Consider making a playlist to motivate you past each and every mile marker. Never underestimate the power of a good beat to keep you on pace and driven. But make sure you check that headphones are, in fact, allowed at the race you entered. Some races do not allow headphones, so definitely check out that FAQ section of the race before bringing your own.
After Your Race, Celebrate!
Grab that medal and proudly wear it out post-race – you earned it! Take those post race photos. Many races will have picture areas set up with special backdrops where you can pose with your medal (And don’t forget about #MedalMonday after your race and show off your awesome new medal!).
Then why not head out for a post-race meal? Most races have snacks at the end, but you will still want to fuel up with a bigger feast. Grab those snacks but intend on eating a proper meal within an hour of finishing, as well as a ton of water.
Afterwards, check your results. Finish times are posted fairly promptly and you never truly know how you did until you check it (who knows, maybe you came out on top in your age group!).
Once you’re done, start planning for that next race! And during all this post-race chaos, don’t forget to pat yourself on the back. You made it. Running your first half-marathon is a huge accomplishment and is something to be proud of!