Pace your half marathon with a smart strategy to help ensure you have a successful race. The longer your race distance is, the more important pacing becomes. By planning out your entire distance, you ensure that you don’t burn all of your energy in the first few miles when the adrenaline sends you soaring across the starting line.
Half Marathon Pacing Strategies to Conquer Your Next Race
There are four basic half marathon pacing strategies you can pick from when deciding how to pace your half marathon: steady pace, negative splits, positive splits, and suicide pace. I have ranked them in order from most preferable to least preferable, but each has its purpose.
1. Consistent, Steady Pace
This is the half marathon pacing strategy I recommend for beginners, especially if it’s your first half marathon. In a steady pace strategy, you calculate the pace you would need to run to complete the half marathon in your goal time. Then, you run that pace, or slightly under, for the duration of the race. This pace should feel ridiculously easy at the beginning and then it will likely feel increasingly difficult to hold as the race nears its end.
For example, if you want to run a half marathon in 2 hours and 30 minutes, you would need to run a consistent pace of 11:27 minutes per mile to finish exactly on your goal time. Because things don’t always go exactly as planned, I recommend keeping a steady 11:15-11:20 pace to be safe.
2. Negative Splits
Negative split pacing is the most fun to execute, but it takes a relative level of accuracy as far as knowing where your fitness level is. With this half marathon pacing strategy, you would run slightly slower (say 20-30 seconds per mile slower) than the average pace for your goal finish time in the first few miles of the race to save your energy. In the middle miles of the race, you would run at your goal finish time average pace. Then in the final miles, you kick it into your next gear and push the pace as fast as you can to finish strong. Like I said, this strategy is really fun to execute if you have the fitness to start out at the right pace and still get faster.
The example here we’ll use is a 2 hour and 10 minute half marathon finish goal. The average pace for this time is 9:55 minutes per mile. In the first 3-4 miles, I would aim to keep my pace between 10:10-10:30, which would be starting pretty conservative. Starting at mile 4, I would start slowly increasing my pace to hover around the 9:45-9:55 mark for several miles, through around mile 9. After that, I would kick it into fun mode and start pushing my pace gently. Say, around 9:30-9:45. After mile 11-12, it’s time to put on the afterburners and give it all you’ve got! This is where you can pass a ton of people in the final miles, which gives you even more of a boost. You would keep your pace at 9:30 or faster, maybe even pushing to a sub 9-minute pace as you finish strong.
I executed this strategy for the Ogden Half Marathon in 2019, and I passed people like CRAZY at the end!
Related: Ogden Half Marathon Race Recap
3. Positive Splits
Positive splits are where you start out faster and get progressively slower as the miles tick by. This is the pacing strategy that most people default to when they don’t start out with a plan. They start out in the early miles running at a faster pace than they can realistically maintain for the entire distance. Inevitably, they slow down over time.
Some people employ this strategy intentionally, however. Have you ever considered running slightly faster than the average pace for your goal time to “bank time” in case you need that buffer later in the race? If so, you have employed the positive split half marathon pacing strategy.
I intentionally chose this strategy during the last half marathon I ran, where I earned a new personal record. The course was mostly downhill for the first several miles, then flattened out in the last 4 miles. I knew with the grade flattening out that my pace would inevitably slow for the same effort, so I aimed to run a little faster at the beginning on the downhills to build an extra time buffer for the final miles.
My time goal in this case was to finish the half marathon in under 2 hours, which is an average 9:10 minutes per mile. I started out just under a 9:00 pace, around 8:56. As the miles went on, my average pace increased slightly with every mile, with the final 3 miles being 9:37, 9:14, and 9:22. In those final miles, my legs were completely depleted and I was thankful to have some time in the bank to get me under my goal. I ended up finishing with a time of 1:59:14!
4. Suicide Pace
“The only good race pace is suicide pace, and today looks like a good day to die.”~Steven Prefontaine
A suicide pacing strategy is obviously not for everyone, and it comes with a serious risk of not finishing the race or hitting the wall hard before you reach the finish line, killing your time. (Hence the “suicide” name).
The only time when suicide pace is really a plausible strategy is for experienced half marathoners who are looking for a new personal record and a killer fast time. A suicide pace is a pace a little faster than you think you can reasonably maintain. In fact, there’s a good change you won’t be able to maintain your suicide pace unless everything falls into place just perfectly on race day. It’s a risky pace.
Why would someone try to race at a suicide pace with the great risks that come with this strategy?
Perhaps, they already have an impressive personal record at the peak of their personal fitness, and they’re trying to push it just a little bit farther. The reward of gaining a new personal record is greater than the risk of hitting the wall, not finishing, or having to slow down dramatically if something goes wrong.
Prepare for Your First Half Marathon
If you’re ready to get ready for your first half marathon and want to save you time as you learn, I’ve created two options to help you learn what you need to know, without all the extra “advice” that isn’t necessary for your first long distance race.
- Join my FREE 6-Day Half Marathon Training Kickstart Course. This course will set you up to start your training including a workout tracker, training plan recommendations, and mindset training.
- Enroll in the “12 Weeks to Your First Half Marathon” course. This is the FULL 12-week course where I walk you through your training plan week by week with advice applicable to each phase of your training. I’ll share helpful things I wish I knew while training for my first half marathon. This course is a great way to save you time scouring the internet and sorting through all the information to find what you need, not to mention saving you from making painful mistakes!
What is your favorite pacing strategy for half marathons?
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About Me: I’m Alexis, Founder of RunningMyBestLife! I am an avid recreational runner, half marathoner, wife, dog mom, busy professional, downhill skier in Northern Utah. My mission is to help new enthusiasts fall in love with the sport of running. I believe that running is a catalyst to taking control of your life and living your best life by design. Learn More –>