Curious about what average half marathon times are – and what quantifies as a “good” time? There’s no one definition of a good marathon time, but you can look at the averages, records, and your own running history – and draw your own conclusions from there.
Plus, learn why half marathon times vary based on age, running form, training, weather, and several other factors, and discover tips for improving your own half marathon time.
Average Half Marathon Times
The most recent data found that looked specifically at half marathon results was published by RunRepeat in 2019. Their data looked at more than 70,000 events between 1986 to 2018, totaling over 107 million race results (across multiple distances).
They found that in the United States, the average half marathon time was 2:10. This breaks down to an average for males of 2:02, and an average for females of 2:16.
They also looked at average pacing and compared genders across global results. The average pace of male half marathoners was 9:09 minutes per mile (5:40 minutes per kilometer), for an average global total race time of 1:59 for males. For female half marathoners, the average was 10:16 per mile (6:22 minutes per kilometer), for an average global total race time of 2:14 for females.
Other fun facts from their data include:
- Russia was the #1 country for half marathon times, averaging 1:45:11.
- The average age of half marathon runners has increased from 37.5 in 1986 to 39 in 2018.
World Record Half Marathon Times
Curious how the average time stack up to the world records?
The current male world record is held by Jacob Kiplimo from Uganda. He achieved a time of 57:31 at the Lisbon Half Marathon in 2021.
The current female world record is set by Letesenbet Gidey from Ethiopia. She hit a time of 1:02:52 at the Valencia Half Marathon in 2021.
What’s a Good Half Marathon Time?
There’s no standard answer to this question. Good is subjective.
For example, if you’re a first-time half marathoner that just started running a few months ago, “good” could mean crossing the finish line in under 3 hours.
If you’re an elite male athlete competing at the top level, “good” probably means a sub-1 hour race.
For many recreational athletes, hitting a sub-2 hour half marathon is a common goal, and might be something to work towards if you’ve been running for a while.
Factors that Affect Half Marathon Times
When thinking about average and good half marathon times, there are a lot of factors that affect these. Here are a few examples:
In general, if you’ve put time into a structured training plan over several months (or more), you’ll likely come out ahead of a similar athlete that’s decided to jump into a race with little training.
Structured training creates many adaptations in the muscular system and cardiovascular system that lead to vast improvements, especially for beginners. And for experienced runners, structured training with different types of runs (like tempo runs, hill workouts, and long intervals) will help improve speed.
That said, keep in mind that everyone is different. Some runners will train for years and maintain a similar finishing time. Others may improve a little bit each year for ten years. There are so many factors that go into speed!
In general, younger runners tend to have a faster half marathon time compared to older runners when looking at averages.
For example, a 2019 study found that the <25 age group was the fastest age group in the half marathon, while the >54 age group was the slowest. Other research has suggested those in their 20’s and 30’s perform best, but regardless – at a certain point, performance starts to decline.
This occurs for a few reasons:
- VO2 max and endurance capacity naturally declines with age. Research suggests this follows a linear pattern through most of middle age and early older age, then declines more rapidly after reaching the late 70’s.
- Older runners may also experience changes in form, utilizing shorter stride length and reduced muscle activation in the legs (source).
- Overall activity levels tend to decrease with age, which may lead to a lower fitness level in less-trained older adults (source) – though consistent training can obviously mitigate this factor.
For both winning results and averages, men tend to be faster than women in half marathon races. This could be due to the greater proportion of lean muscle mass and less fat mass (which could influence stride power and speed), as well as higher levels of testosterone (involved in muscle growth and repair during training). In addition, heart and lung size tends to be a bit larger in men compared to women.
Interestingly, though, research shows women tend to have more even pacing in half marathon races compared to men. This pacing difference becomes more pronounced in longer races, and could be one reason why women tend to perform well across long distances.
For example, in a survey that analyzed more than 15,000 ultramarathon races, men and women had nearly equal times in 100 mile races. And in races over 195 miles, women were found to outperform men.
Genetics can influence the types of muscle fibers in the body, and could play a role in other processes involved in endurance running (from recovery to injury risk to whether caffeine may help improve perfromance). This means that some people may have a stronger genetic disposition towards faster half marathon times.
5. Running Form
Running form can affect speed, which would impact your half marathon time. Poor form leads to inefficient movement, which can use more energy to maintain – and thus can lead to slower pacing as the race goes on.
If you feel like this may be getting in your way, hire a coach for a one-time session to evaluate your form and give some tips.
For many years, we’ve known that heat can impact half marathon times. In hot weather, your body has to divert some blood flow away from the muscles and to the skin’s surface in order to cool the body. This can lead to slower finishing times.
Fun fact: women seem to be less affected by heat compared to men, possibly because of smaller body mass.
At high altitudes, the decreased air pressure means there’s less oxygen available. This impacts the ability of your muscles to work, which often leads to earlier fatigue and slower speeds at altitude.
If you are planning to run a half marathon at high altitude and you typically train at sea level, you should expect that your times will be a bit slower.
8. Road vs. Trail
If you’re planning to do a trail half marathon, your time will likely be slower than the equivalent race distance on the road. When running trails, you need to navigate through tree roots, rocks, and different leveling of the terrain.
9. Hilly routes
Running uphill requires more energy than running on a flat road, so a hilly half marathon course will likely result in slower times compared to a flat course.
Weight is a complicated subject in the running field, and I want to first reinforce that I take a weight-neutral approach to fitness. However, since it often comes up, let’s cautiously address this factor.
If all else were equal (age, training, gender, genetics, etc.) – it is true that extra weight would likely lead to a slower half marathon time. These results have been shown in studies that have looked at either a pound added or a pound lost (via a pulley system) and found speed improves by about 1.4-2.4 seconds per mile, give or take.
This makes sense when examined in a silo, as more weight is a larger load to carry over miles (requiring a larger energy output) and also increases the force when hitting the ground.
However, there is far less research on the actual impact of losing weight, which brings in many confounding factors. For example, calorie restriction to lose weight can lead to reduced muscle mass and lower energy levels, which could actually negatively impact performance.
It’s a complicated and nuanced topic, and isn’t as simple as losing weight = faster running.
Tips on Running a Faster Half Marathon
If you’re looking to improve your half marathon time, here are some quick tips:
1. Use a good training plan
Whether you hire a coach, use a solid training plan you find online, or develop a plan yourself that utilizes scientific methods for endurance and speed – simply following a structured plan will likely result in better times compared to “winging it.”
For beginner runners, you’re looking for a plan that follows a gradual progression of total weekly mileage and long run distance, likely peaking at 10-12 miles for your long run in training.
For experienced runners, you’re looking for a plan that incorporates speed and possibly hill work. Your long run will likely peak anywhere from 12-15 miles in training before you start to taper.
2. Improve running form
As mentioned, poor form can cause you to use more energy when running, leading to poorer performance over the course of the race.
Good form looks like a neutral head and neck, arms lightly swinging at your sides, and quick feet in a normal stride. Try to avoid taking big huge leaps while running – known as overstriding – which is inefficient and increases injury risk.
If you’re not sure about form, hire a coach for a session to help!
3. Do the right kind of speed work
First, don’t incorporate speed work until you’ve built a solid running base for several months without injury.
Once you are comfortable, you can choose the right types of speed work according to your race distance. For half marathons, this typically looks like tempo runs and longer intervals.
Tempo runs are done at a pace that’s “comfortably hard”; the pace you could sustain for 1 hour of really tough running.
Longer intervals might be track intervals (like 1 mile repeats) or could be alternating tough and easy running for time-based segments according to RPE (like 6 min hard / 3 min easy x 5).
For most runners, it’s probably not worth it to incorporate tons of short intervals into half marathon training, which can increase injury risk and don’t always extrapolate well to the long-distance performance.
For example, weekly 200 meter repeats typically aren’t going to add much value to your training because that performance doesn’t translate well in a 13.1 mile race. (That said, occasional short intervals like this may add some value as far as breaking up the monotony of training and including runs faster than race pace).
The key is all about look at your current fitness level, strengths, and weaknesses – and then developing appropriate speed work accordingly.
4. Strength train
While getting enough mileage in is key to good half marathon training, strength training can also be quite beneficial. Stronger glutes, hamstrings, and core muscles will allow you to maintain your form longer and power your stride, which can help with your performance.[Read more: 25 tips for long distance runners.]
The Bottom Line
On average, it takes runners around 2:10 to run a half marathon in the United States. A “good” half marathon time is subjective, though, and could be simply crossing the finish line, hitting the average benchmark, or achieving a particular time goal based on your past running history. There are plenty of factors that affect half marathon performance, some of which you can control and some of which you can’t. Focus on structured training, smart speed work, and good form to help bring down your pace over time!
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