So, you have just signed up for your first half marathon and you are feeling super excited and understandably nervous - both of these emotions are normal and to be expected.
A half marathon is a great accomplishment and something really enjoyable to work towards.
Whether you have a few 5k and 10k races under your belt (3.1 miles and 6.2 miles respectively) and you are looking for a slightly bigger challenge, or whether you have decided to sign yourself straight up for a half marathon with the aim of training hard for it, your first half marathon experience is bound to be a great one.
In total, a half marathon covers 13.1 miles. In kilometers that is just over 21 km.
This makes it almost double that of a 10k race. These figures alone can seem daunting, but for your first half marathon, the focus should be on going slow and steady because even completing it is a wonderful achievement, regardless of the time it takes you.
Before you even start training for your half marathon, a great question to explore is how long you can expect the half marathon to take you to finish.
Of course, the answer to this will vary from person to person, but it is still helpful to gauge a rough estimate so you know what sort of time frame you should be working towards, and of course, so you can tell your supporters when to expect you at the finish line (hopefully with refreshments and a towel in hand!).
In this article we are going to be exploring how long it takes to run a half marathon, considering all of the factors that could contribute to the finishing time and helping you to gauge a rough estimate over how you can work out how long it will take you to finish this distance.
The Typical Finishing Time for a Half Marathon
First thing’s first, we want to begin by exploring the typical finishing time for a half marathon.
It is important to note here before we give you the figures, that this is just a general idea of how long it could take you based on whether you are an experienced runner (also known as an elite runner) or whether you are a beginner runner, or if your running style is naturally a little slower.
For elite or professional runners (think those people who seem to do half marathons a few times a month rather than one or two a year), the typical half marathon finishing time can be as low as one hour.
This sounds like an unattainable feat when you are just starting, but remember, these elite runners probably felt the same as you at the start and now then can manage it with ease.
For beginners or people who naturally run slower, or even people who like to walk during the race in between running, the typical finishing time can be around three hours with the possibility of this going on even longer into four hours or more.
You may be thinking “wow, could I even finish within this time?” or perhaps “well, I can beat that!”. Either of these thoughts is fine - some people may fall somewhere between these beginner times and the elite time that we just talked about.
Some complete beginners may feel that even three hours is being too generous. Remember though, you will not be thrown straight into a half marathon race with no practice.
You will build up to it through your training and will be able to gauge a better idea of your capabilities.
How can you predict your time for finishing a half marathon?
Race time predictions can be calculated based on the distance of the race - so, in the case of a half marathon, this is 13.1 miles or 21 kilometers - and a personal finishing time for a race you have completed (this does not need to be a professional race and can be something you have timed yourself whilst training).
You can then input these figures into an online calculator that is specifically designed to work out race times. One of our favorites is by Chicago Endurance Sports as it is simple to understand and easy to work out your predicted finishing time.
Bear in mind though that this is just an indicator of how you may be able to perform and is not a hard and fast rule - many factors can influence your actual finishing time on race day.
How accurate are half marathon finishing time predictions?
As we have already discussed in the previous section of the article, the prediction calculator is just that - a prediction.
This means that it is not a definite time and can easily be changed even with the most minuscule of changes.
For example, the terrain on which you are running the half marathon could slow you down (or speed you up!), your fitness levels on the day could have a huge impact on your finishing time, the weather conditions could also impact it, and even how nervous you are feeling on race day!
All of these external factors could work to alter your predicted finishing time.
Many of these things are, of course, out of your control, and so it may be a good idea to slightly overestimate your finishing times as you are training, letting your supporters know that you have allowed say ten or more minutes to be added on as a contingency plan for the day.
In fact, it is very common for beginners to not get their predicted time! Even the most experienced runners can struggle with that sometimes.
We think that the most important thing for a beginner at a half marathon to do is to complete the race. This in itself is an enormous achievement, regardless of whether you meet your predicted time or not.
How to get the most accurate race time prediction possible
In order to get the most accurate race time prediction possible, we highly recommend that you use the online calculator we discussed earlier in the article by Chicago Endurance Sports.
When it comes to inputting your figures, the best course of action to take is to try and enter figures that are as close to the distance of the race as possible.
For example, when inputting your latest race times, ensure that the distance of the race is around the same (if not exactly the same) as the half marathon.
What we mean by this is that inputting your time for a 13.1 mile race will get you a more accurate prediction than inputting your time for a one mile quick sprint.
You could also try and make sure that the times you are inputting for your predicted run time calculation are very recent.
We recommend them being at least in the last six weeks to ensure that your fitness levels are more or less the same. It may also be a good idea to gauge an idea of the weather conditions and terrain on the day you are running the half marathon.
You can then try to practice in similar conditions to see if your run time changes in any way, thus giving you an even more accurate estimate for your actual race.
What happens when you have your predicted race time?
As soon as you have your predicted race time, you can check your average pace and work out a race plan. Remember though, add in at least 10 seconds to the time so that you can factor in a slower start off.
This will ensure you do not make the rookie mistake of starting too fast! Slow and steady wins the race, after all.
This will conserve some energy for the latter half of the half marathon, allowing you to have a strong finish and get your times as low as you can.
Working out what range you will fall under
Typically, finishing times are organized into sections - top 10%, mid-range, and lower - and you can work out roughly where you might fall by checking last year's half marathon results which are usually widely available online for most of the big half marathon races all over the world and comparing your predicted time with them.
The last thing that you may want to keep in mind is the fact that many half marathons (as with all races in general) have time limits.
For example, you may encounter a half marathon with a time limit set to three hours, meaning you would need to finish the race within this time.
If this is something you want to avoid then it may be worth looking for beginner-friendly half marathons such as those that allow you to walk when needed.