If you’re running your first half marathon distance, you have picked a popular race distance, indeed! The half marathon distance in miles is 13.1 miles, or 21.1 kilometers. It is now the second most popular road race distance in the U.S., at an 11% participation rate (5K is #1). As a matter of fact, the half marathon distance is four times more popular than the marathon! The half marathon is an endurance event that beginner runners tend to tackle before the marathon (wise), but there are still several common mistakes to avoid. Much more on that below.
Why is the half marathon distance so popular?
For many running their first half marathon, they feel they’ve become a “serious runner” with this distance. It’s both a blend of stamina with some speed thrown in. It also doesn’t require as heavy a training load (in both miles and weeks) as the marathon. Therefore more seasoned runners look to the half marathon to work on speed and PR’s, while beginner runners are looking to increase their mileage.
How long does it take to train for a half marathon?
The training duration for the half marathon distance depends on a runner’s current base mileage and fitness level, so the range is between 12-20 weeks for beginners, and at minimum eight weeks for more established runners.
Also, most half marathon plans typically include at least four run days per week, and cross-training (i.e. strength training) 1-2 days per week. Meaning, it’s wise to expect you’ll need to commit to at least 12 weeks of training, and 4-6 days most of those weeks.
What’s a good half marathon time for beginners?
First, here’s the average times for men and women for the half marathon distance, globally as of 2019:
- Male average half-marathon time: 1:59:34
- Female average half marathon time: 2:14:41
Keep in mind this includes ALL runners of all age groups, and experience on a wide variety of terrain (flat versus hilly courses) and weather!
With that said, the average half marathon time for ALL beginners is between 2:10 and 2:25 (equates to a pace of 9:55 and 11:04 min/mile, respectively).
Plus, it is typical for the best half marathon times to occur when runners are in their 20’s and 30’s, and then decline in the 40’s and beyond.
How can I predict my first half marathon time?
Of course, there are a number of factors that go into your first half marathon finish time. But, keep in mind the primary goal is to finish! Secondly, know that whatever time you finish, it will be a PB (personal best) or PR (personal record)! I think it’s wise to not put a lot of pressure on a finish time when tackling a new race distance.
However, it’s helpful to have some parameters to help gauge your expectations. Amby Burfoot, a previous Boston Marathon winner, writer, author and coach has created a very helpful pace prediction chart for not only the half marathon distance, but other races as well (5K, 10K, marathon).
Essentially, it allows you to roughly predict your half marathon time based on a previous race of a different distance. It’s important to remember you should be selecting a race that is fairly recent, or one that represents a similar fitness level to where you currently are. Here is the link for the pace chart based on a different race distance you’ve previously completed.
Keep in mind that temperature, weather, course elevation, and of course, your current fitness level will impact your finish time!
If you consider yourself more of a beginner runner, and this is your first half marathon, here are some mistakes to avoid with your training. Note, at end of post is a link for common half marathon race day mistakes.
Common Mistakes to Avoid While Training for Your First Half Marathon
Not allowing sufficient time to train properly.
As said above, most beginner training plans for the half marathon are 12-20 weeks. The 20 week plans typically assume you are running very little currently.
If you don’t allow sufficient time, you increase your risk of injury, or are ill prepared for your race. Most injuries are a result of doing too much, too soon, and too fast – which often occurs with a short training cycle. You want to have some buffer for things like vacations, a crazy work schedule, or an injury(!) in the midst of your training.
Zero familiarity with the half marathon course.
A hilly half marathon will be much more enjoyable if you’ve been training on hills! You want your legs and body to be accustomed to the type of course you’ll encounter on race day. The same applies to flatter courses on race day. Keep in mind, too, that races with less elevation gain are more suitable for first-time half marathoners.
Similarly, if you’re running a race in warmer temps, attempt to acclimate pre-race if possible. Even if the temps while training are chillier, you can always layer clothes, run indoors on a treadmill (no fan) to better prepare yourself for warmer temps on race day.
Lastly, you want to be familiar with time caps for the half marathon course, as most courses cap the time allowed on course. There’s nothing worse than putting in all the training to not finish on race day.
Inconsistent training and NO training plan.
Consistency with training is likely the key ingredient to progress as a runner, and be ready come race day. On and off training will not only leave you ill prepared, but greatly increase your odds of injury. Once injured, you can’t continue to follow your schedule, thus, it sets you back from being fully prepared.
Training plans abound for half marathons. The key is to honestly assess where you are right now as a runner (for example):
- Are you running at all?
- Do you have any lingering injuries?
- How much time can you commit to training (days per week)?
- How many weeks before your potential race?
With an honest assessment, you can then pick an appropriate half marathon training plan for you. Some plans are free, others are not.
Training plans or working with a coach also help take out the guesswork, and provide some structure and motivation – both keys to being a consistent, thus more successful runner.
Running with old shoes, or the wrong ones.
This is one of the biggest half marathon mistakes for the beginner runner. Old running shoes alone can easily lead to a running injury. Therefore, have a fairly fresh pair of shoes for your half marathon training. Even better, have two pairs of shoes! Studies suggest that rotating your shoes while training decreases injury risk. Plus, giving your shoes “time off” between runs helps extend their shelf life.
Of course, you should be running in a shoe that is appropriate for your foot shape, foot strike, and a whole host of factors. Meaning, it’s always wise to visit a local running store for a foot/gait analysis so they can help you pick a shoe that’s best for you.
Skipping rest days.
Your body must rest and recover for you to get the most benefit from your training. The time off allows your body to repair and strengthen itself between your workouts.
Sure, sometimes we need to adjust our schedule and string a few runs together (more so than normal). What’s not okay is adding more days to the calendar/schedule in hopes of gaining fitness sooner. Overtraining is just as bad as being inconsistent with your training plan (both are likely to lead to injury!).
Discounting how much sleep you need.
With an increase in miles and your overall exercise commitment, you must ensure you get enough sleep. Sleep is an integral part of rest and recovery. Some tips are here to help you sleep better during your training!
And, if you’re anything like me, I tend not to sleep great the night before a race, especially a half marathon, or marathon. While you can still have a good race with a crappy night’s sleep the night prior, it’s optimal to sleep well. Here are some tips to sleep better the night before a race.
Ignoring pain, or early warning signs of an injury.
Confession: I’ve been there, done that! Unfortunately, it typically leads to a more serious injury, and more time away from running. Oftentimes, just a few days off of your schedule will be enough to resolve the issue IF you do so with the early warning signs.
It’s also wise to be mindful of your running form and posture. It is possible to meddle sensibly with your running form to reduce your injury risk.
This mistake is not only for beginner runners that are tackling their first half marathon, ALL runners struggle with it. BUT, newer runners tend to get more injuries, so it’s important to heed the signs!
Banishing the idea of run/walk with your training.
First of all, the run/walk method is a fantastic way to increase your endurance and time spent on foot with less injury risk. It can also lead to faster overall race times than “straight running!”
It is a great choice for those leaping to a new race distance, like the half marathon. Keep in mind you don’t have to do ALL training runs with the run/walk method; for my first marathon, I primarily did a run/walk interval on my long runs (and on race day).
Having the wrong idea about the long run.
Some folks are weekend warriors and focus mostly on just getting that long run in. Others tend to skip the long run, for various reasons.
Both ideas are bad.
You need to complete the majority of your long runs as long runs most closely resemble what you’ll experience during the half marathon distance. Your body needs to acclimate to the fatigue felt on a long run (physically and mentally), plus you need to learn how to fuel properly before as well!
Related topic: Common Runner Hydration Mistakes to Avoid
Those that mostly focus on long runs have insufficient weekly mileage, and once again, are more injury prone. Generally speaking, long runs should equate to about 20-30% of your weekly mileage. Meaning, if you don’t do your (typically) weekday runs, you are not getting enough mileage, and your long run will account for a large chunk of your weekly miles (unwise).
A beginner runner needs to not only focus on avoiding the above mistakes with half marathon training, but on race day as well. Below is a related topic, with most emphasis on race day pitfalls to avoid.
Related Topic: Your First Half Marathon, 8 Tips for Success