The start of the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships (Getty Images)

Half marathon

How it works

A road race of 13.1094 miles (21.0975km), the half marathon is exactly half the distance of a full marathon.


With the steady growth of recreational running in the 1950s, race organisers looked to offer an alternative to the standard marathon distance, and so the half marathon was born.

The first world best, as listed by the IAAF, was Ron Hill’s 1:05:44 clocking in Freckleton in 1965, although it should be noted that Abebe Bikila’s half-way split from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics was quicker, 1:04:28.

The half marathon is not part of the World Championships or Olympic programmes, but the event gained its own championships in 1992 in the form of the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships.

The popularity of the distance has continued to grow and it is now one of the most popular road events.

Did you know

The largest half marathon ever held was the Broloppet between Copenhagen and Malmo with 79,719 finishers, held in connection with the Oresund Bridge inauguration in 2000.

Gold standard

Kenya's 1991 world 10,000m champion Moses Tanui was the first man to cover the distance within one hour, clocking 59:47 in Milan in 1993. Legendary Norwegian runner Grete Waitz was the first woman to run faster than 70 minutes for the half marathon, running 1:09:57 in Gothenburg in 1982.

Kenyan athletes dominate this event almost as much as they do the steeplechase. But, as with most distance events, Ethiopian athletes are similarly strong. There are also some European and North American athletes capable of challenging the best in the world.


Zersenay Tadese

After being out-kicked on the track at numerous major championships, the Eritrean found his niche in the half marathon. He triumphed at the 2006 IAAF World Road Running Championships – the first of two years in which the event changed its name and the race was held over 20km – and then won three more world half marathon titles in a row. Although he was beaten in 2010 – having set a world record of 58:23 earlier that year – he returned to the top of the podium in 2012 to take an unprecedented fifth gold medal at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships.

Lornah Kiplagat

The Kenyan-born Dutch runner excelled over 13.1 miles. Following her victory at the 2006 IAAF World Road Running Championships, Kiplagat won at the 2007 edition – held over the half marathon – and at the 2008 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships. She set a world record of 1:06:25 when winning in 2007.