Find Your Half Marathon Race Pace

McMillan Running has the perfect definition for the nuance of the half-marathon distance:

“Part of the reason that half-marathon pace is such a weird pace for many runners is that it lies between two key thresholds: The anaerobic or lactate threshold and the aerobic threshold. The lactate threshold is roughly one-hour race pace (half-marathon pace for really speedy runners, but too fast for most) whereas the aerobic threshold is roughly two and a half hour race pace (half-marathon pace for some of us, but a bit slow for many—and marathon pace for a few up front). Since half-marathon pace falls somewhere between those two thresholds for most of us, it makes it a hard pace to “feel.” Running close to a threshold is much easier for most runners. That’s why having a good estimate of goal pace and then practicing it in training is an absolute requirement to be ready for your best performance on race day.”

Whereas the 5K and 10K are skewed in favor of fitness over finesse, any race distance that takes an hour or more to complete requires a bit more strategy than it does guts.

How long does it take to train for a half-marathon?

Under normal circumstances it takes between 12-16 weeks to properly prepare for a half-marathon race, but in some cases it can be beneficial to take up to 20 weeks.

What does it feel like to race a half-marathon?

A man and woman run side by side during a race.

Racing a half-marathon feels like a little bit of everything. If you have a good level of fitness, the first portion of the race is going to feel almost a little too relaxed. You might start around 70% of maximum effort, or 7.0 RPE. It is tempting to want to push the pace too soon in a half-marathon, but you should stay relaxed through the first few miles.

Once you get to the 5K mark, maintaining race pace is going to take focus and a bit more of a concerted effort. All of a sudden, you might find that sticking to race pace is no longer a 7.0 RPE but is actually closer to 8.0 RPE.

If you are trying to maximize your performance, the last 5K of the half-marathon is going to feel similar to the “comfortably uncomfortable” sensation of the 10K slowly culminating in the “redline” effort the closer you get to the finish line. In other words, you’ll transition from speaking in complete sentences, to just words and finally only grunts and other noises.

What is the best strategy to race a half-marathon?

Treating the half-marathon like a long progression run keeps you honest in the beginning, while allowing you to keep your foot on the gas all the way through the race. Instead of thinking about consistent, even splits, you can embrace a different perspective.

At predetermined intervals (half-mile, miles, etc.), slightly increase your pace and after one or two minutes at the new pace ask yourself if you can maintain that level of effort for whatever distance is left in the race. Inherently, this means you’ll start conservatively while simultaneously giving yourself the ability to go hard when you feel good and back off when you don’t.

Ideally you will be able to maintain a faster and faster pace as the distance between yourself and the finish line becomes shorter and shorter.

How do I determine my half-marathon race pace?

Half-marathon race pace is going to average roughly 15-30 seconds slower than your 10K race pace or 15-30 seconds faster than your marathon pace. The operative term here is “average,” as we have already seen that your pacing over the course of 13.1 miles is bound to fluctuate.

If you are just beginning your training block, doing a 10K time trial will gauge your fitness levels, provide a basic idea of your training and racing pace, with the added benefit of highlighting any weaknesses you might benefit from developing before your goal race.

What is a good workout to practice my half-marathon race pace?

A man and woman run together on a trail.

Different coaches use different terminology, but whether you refer to it as “tempo”, “threshold” or “critical velocity” it all means the same thing: extended periods of a hard effort.

When dealing with race distances/times of over an hour (as we’ve seen), interval-based workouts have less of a direct transference (specificity) to the actual race than longer, more drawn out efforts at a slightly lower effort level than intervals.

Workouts like these can be defined in either minutes or miles, but the principle is to practice the equivalent of two-thirds of your race at a pace/effort that is slightly faster/harder than what you expect to experience during the first 10 miles of the race, and mimics what you will feel during the last 3.1.