How to Set Your Half Marathon Goal Pace (Plus a Half Marathon Pace Chart)

How to Set a Half Marathon Goal (Plus a Half Marathon Pace Chart)

Half marathons are often a tricky distance to pace. Half marathon pace and your goals often depend on your experience. First-time half marathoners may choose to focus on finishing. Experienced half marathon runners may choose to race and push at a fast pace throughout the entire race. This article explores how to set a half marathon goal pace, including a half marathon pace chart to understand pacing for common goal finish times. 

Should You Set a Half Marathon Pace Goal?

As with the marathon, goal times are based on experience level. If you are a novice runner or are new to completing races, it may be best to focus on finishing your half marathon. More experienced runners (whether or not it’s their first half) can set half marathon goal times if they want. 

It is worth remembering: you only need to set time goals if you enjoy racing for a goal time. If a goal time creates stress for your or saps enjoyment from running, you do not need to set a goal time. 

How Hard Should Half Marathon Pace Feel?

Half marathon finish times vary significantly. Highly competitive runners may finish in 65 to 75 minutes. Breaking two hours in the half marathon is upheld as a popular running goal. First-time half marathon runners or run-walks may finish in 2.5-3 hours. 

Because of the wide range of finish times, the physiology of half marathon pace varies. Runners finishing in under 75 minutes work close to their lactate threshold, which has a high carbohydrate demand. For faster half marathon runners, the pace will feel fairly challenging. Runners finishing over 2.5 hours are likely running below their aerobic threshold, which uses both fat and carbohydrates for energy and is less fatiguing. For back-of-the-pack half marathon runners, the pace typically feels less challenging (at the start). 

That’s all to say: base your expectations on how your half marathon pace will feel based on your estimated finish time. If you aim to finish in 2 hours, half marathon pace should not feel very challenging until near the end. If you are aiming to finish under 90 minutes, half marathon pace may feel moderately hard from the start. 

How to Set Half Marathon Goal Pace

Assess Recent Training

Similar to marathon training, the optimal time to set a half marathon pace goal is near the end of your training cycle. Once you reach the taper (here’s how to taper for a half marathon), take a look back over your recent workouts and long runs.

Assuming you are adequately trained, you can look at threshold runs and long runs to determine fitness. If you are running a half marathon in 90 minutes or faster, your threshold runs will provide a rough estimate of your goal pace. If you are aiming for a 1:30-2:00 hour race time, you can 10-20 seconds per mile to your threshold pace in workouts to estimate half marathon pace. For runners finishing in 2:00-2:30, a good rule of thumb is 30-45 seconds per mile slower than threshold pace. For half marathons 2:30-3:00 hours, aim for your long run pace or slightly (10-20 sec/mile) faster. (This is an approximate method of estimating; it is not an accurate prediction. Your exact finish time may vary based on your training). 

Some half marathon plans also include longer tempo runs or long run workouts at half marathon race pace/effort. If your plan does, these workouts will provide the most reliable estimation of your half marathon pace. 

Estimate Your Fitness off of Recent Races

Shorter distance races can provide a ballpark estimate of your half marathon pace, especially if you are finishing in under 2.5 hours. The more recent the race, the more accurate of an estimation it will provide. Longer races (such 10K and 15K) also predict the half marathon more accurately than shorter races (mile and 5K). 

Tune-up races provide the opportunity to assess fitness approximately 4-6 weeks before your goal half marathon. You can race a 5K to 10K race as a tune-up race for a half marathon. Then, take your result and plug it into a race equivalency calculator such as the VDOT Calculator. The calculator will provide an estimated equivalent half marathon time. (This is just an estimate, which should be interpreted in the context of your broader training.) 

Half Marathon Pace Chart

This half marathon pace chart calculates pace (in min/mile and min/km) for finish times from 1:00:00 to 3:30:00. To use this chart, pick your goal marathon finish time; the corresponding paces are what you would need to run to finish your marathon in that time. All paces were calculated using the VDOT Calculator and assume you are running 13.1 miles. Due to GPS error and poor tangents, you may run 13.2 to 13.5 miles in a half marathon, which means these paces would correspond with slower official finish times. If you are running a trail half marathon, know that the exact distance of the course may not be exactly 13.1 miles.

For a pace chart based on common goal paces (such as 8:00/mile, etc), reference this article.

Half Marathon Finish TimePace (Min/mile)Pace (min/km)

(If you are running a marathon, use this chart!)

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