Considering the half marathon distance? Tips for conquering it and routes to try

At 13.1 miles, the half marathon distance is tough, exciting and very rewarding – provided you get your training right.

For those of you who have ticked the “finish a 10k” box, the half marathon distance is what you need to be thinking about next. 

So, for all of you keen runners pondering the questions: “How long is a half marathon?” and “Can I complete one?”, we’re here to confirm it’s very achievable and something to be very proud about finishing. 

It doesn’t matter whether you’re 51 or 81, age is by no means a barrier and, as you’ll discover, thousands of like-minded, similarly aged competitors will toe the line with you. 

A man running in the half marathon distanceCredit: Shutterstock /
The half marathon is an achievable distance in your fifties – and beyond

How long is a half marathon?

The half marathon distance is 13.1 miles (21.1km). As the name suggests, it’s exactly half of the full marathon distance. To give you a quick idea, it’s: 

  • Slightly more than five times up and down Heathrow’s longest runway. 
  • Just shy of four times around Silverstone’s F1 circuit. 
  • More than 10 times the length of King Charles’s coronation procession. 
  • The same as swimming to the Isle of Wight and back twice (depending on the tide, of course). 
  • Six laps of Chester’s Roman and Medieval city walls. 
  • Just under four laps of Holyrood Park in Edinburgh (although that’ll be pretty hilly). 
  • The same as running between Manchester City and Manchester United’s grounds three times. 

Training tips for the half marathon distance

Inspired to give the half marathon distance a go? Well, the good news is the training basics are simple to do and, in fact, you’re probably already well on the way to doing them in your own training week right now. 

Learn to run easy

If you’re a 50-year-old runner (or older), your journey over the half marathon distance is all about one thing: recovery, especially as your muscles tend to repair more slowly after hard work than younger people.    

Of course, you’ll need to do the actual running training and get used to half marathon pacing. But successful running at an older age is also about how well your body recovers.  

It all takes time

For training to start working, be that from a complete beginner’s point of view or a seasoned veteran’s, you need to allow muscles time to break down, repair and grow stronger.

So, when you’re thinking about how long to devote to your training, think in eight to 12-week blocks. A great plan is to train hard for three weeks, back off for a week and then repeat this. 

Mix and match the distances you run

To build up to the half marathon’s 13.1 miles, during the time you’ve put aside for this goal (at least eight weeks, but preferably 12), you could tackle one shorter run of around three miles, one medium run of around six miles and one longer run of around eight or nine miles.

Add a mile each week to your overall total and fit in a third element that involves a strength training session every 10 days, and you pretty much have the perfect formula.  


8 great half marathon races to try

Hackney Half Marathon. London

Head out from the Hackney Marshes for the Hackney Half Marathon and experience everything east London has to offer. You’ll pass the Olympic Stadium with a mile to run, making it one of Britain’s most memorable and exciting courses to run. 

Cambridge Half Marathon 

Explore Cambridge’s historic colleges in your running shoes in the Cambridge Half Marathon. This iconic two-lap course is not only fast, it’s memorable for so many reasons. When else can you run through the grounds of Jesus or Trinity Colleges? 

Oxford Half Marathon 

If you’re a dark blue fan, then 13.1 miles through the streets of Oxford past the colleges is a must (light blues, head to the race above). The Oxford Half Marathon is fast and flat, and takes in the city centre and surrounding countryside to maximise your sightseeing experience. 

Alton Towers Half Marathon, Staffordshire 

What’s not to like? Celebrate your amazing achievement of finishing the Alton Towers Half Marathon by spending the rest of the day on the incredible rides. 

Run Tatton Half Marathon, Cheshire 

This fast, flat course offers everybody the chance to represent England in the over50s category. After you’ve entered the Run Tatton Half Marathon, register your interest with England Athletics and you never know, if you run fast enough, you could be selected to don an England vest. 

Great North Run, Newcastle 

The leader of the pack, with more than £1 billion raised by more than one million runners. The Great North Run has a superb course, crossing the Tyne and passing the historic Gateshead Stadium before you eventually find your way to South Shields and the coast. 

Aintree Half Marathon, Liverpool 

The racecourse is well known as the home of the Grand National, and it’s a wonderful location for a race too. The Aintree Half Marathon sees you run four laps around the circuit to give you an idea of what the horses experience. No fences, though.

Plymouth Half Marathon 

If coastal routes are your thing, the Plymouth Half Marathon is a must. The race route includes Plymouth and the spectacular views of the harbour, plus a bridge crossing, so it’s memorable for so many reasons. 

“Why I love the half marathon distance”

A half marathon It was a good, realistic goal when I first began running, and was something I could build up to and achieve when a full marathon seemed daunting and out of reach,” says Phil Martin, a medal award-winning runner.

“For someone who is running their local Parkrun, the half marathon distance is a good challenging step up from 5k. From there, who knows?”    

Martin, who was a 20-a-day smoker before he turned to running, has represented England at age-group level, won five British Masters titles, and, in 2018, took first place in the Himalayan 100 Mile Stage Race, run at the base of Everest. 

Three fun facts about the half marathon distance

  • More than a million finishers have discovered for themselves that The Great North Run is 13.1 miles, but initially the man behind it all, Brendan Foster, wasn’t too worried about how far it would be. One of the team, however, insisted it needed to be a recognised distance and, given the route from Newcastle to the coast in South Shields is approximately the distance of a half marathon, that was the length decided on.
  • Dorking in Surrey hosts the Bacchus wine half marathon every September. The race ambles (surely the only way to describe a race route that includes running through a vineyard) around the picturesque countryside visiting six wine stations on the way. Each station offers a selection of Denbies’ wine. There’s even snacks and desserts if you wish, although for the more sporting-minded runner, there’s also water and energy gels.
  • If exact half marathon times aren’t a concern, you could do a lot worse than run in the Race the Train Tywyn event in North Wales. It’s as the race name suggests and is all about running alongside a steam train on the Talyllyn Railway in an out-and-back race. It’s actually half a mile further than a road half marathon, but the steam train more than makes up for that.  
Paul Larkins

Written by Paul Larkins


Paul Larkins has been a sports journalist for more than 30 years, covering two Olympic Games, one Paralympics, numerous World Championships and, most recently, the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022. He’s also been a magazine editor, heading up titles covering everything from running to cooking and buying tractors.

But his real passion is running. As a former GB International athlete and sub-4-minute miler in the 1980s, Paul has a great understanding of life-long fitness and the benefits it can provide. In fact, he’s still very competitive. In 2022 he ran in the World Masters’ Mountain Running Champs in the over-55 age group and is now looking forward to moving up a category and taking on the 60-year-olds.

He’s also part of the England Team Management set-up in road running as well as being an England team coach in the U18 age group for track and field athletics. Currently, he coaches a group of athletes ranging from 13 years old to 55 at his local club.

Outside of work, Paul loves cooking and driving classic cars. He’s owned everything from a 1966 Ford F-250 pickup to a clapped-out 1987 Porsche 944. He’s married to Elaine and they have a West Highland White Terrier named Benji, who’s not that keen on being timed for every run!