A half marathon. 21.1 km or 13.1 miles. Over the years, half marathons have grown in popularity, recently passing 10k as the distance people are most excited about running. Many people prefer half marathons because while they are challenging, they do not require as much training as a full marathon.
Though half marathons often lack the pomp and glamour of the big marathons, some like the Great North Run are registering more than 50,000 runners. Yet, while there is the Abbott World Majors uniting the most prestigious full marathons, there’s no similar club for great half marathons.
So we’re setting out a list of some of the most prestigious ones. We looked at three criteria to build our list:
- Mass Participation — we only looked at races with tens of thousands of participants
- Speed — we looked at courses where a runner might stand a decent chance of running their personal best.
- Kenyan participation — It is said that if you want to gauge the competition of any major international road race, count the number of Kenyans on the start list. If there are many Kenyans on the list, know that the race is a no joke.
With those considerations in mind, here is our list of some of the most consequential half marathons in the world:
This is an annual half marathon held in Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates. It is notorious for assembling some of the world’s best road runners every year. It is also arguably the most competitive half marathon event in the world for elite runners with entries strictly limited to 5000 runners. It is a flat and fast course where world records have been set in the past, including Sammy Wanjiru’s 58:53 in 2007, Mary Keitany’s 65:50 in 2011 and Peres Jepchirchir’s 65:06.
The men’s course record is held by former marathon world record holder, Patrick Makau, in 58:52 while Peres Jepchirchir holds the women’s course record in 65:06.
With over 50,000 participants annually in the last five years, the Great North Run is arguably the largest half marathon in the entire world. It began in 1981 and takes place in North East England every September. In 2005, four runners among the 50,000 participants died in what could have been as a result of extra warm weather conditions.
Britain’s multiple Olympic and world champion, Mo Farah has won the last four consecutive titles in the men’s race from 2014 to 2017 while Kenya’s Mary Keitany has, during the same period, only missed to win the race in 2016.
Kenyans hold the course records in this race. Martin Mathathi holds the men’s record in 58:56 while Mary Keitany holds the women’s in 1:05:39.
Run in the world’s fourth largest urban area with a population of about 25 million people, the Delhi half marathon attracts mass participants in their race. It has however faced some challenges in recent years in dealing with smog. In fact some medics even advised for the cancellation of the 2017 edition due to the poor air quality, but it still went on.
A good prize purse and great organization attract some of the world’s best runners to this race.The course is flat, fast and even ideal for recording personal best times. Ethiopia’s Guye Adola holds the men’s course record in 59:06 while Kenya’s Mary Keitany holds the women’s in 66:54.
From 1991 to 2005, this event used to cover 20km. But, since 2006, the distance was extended to the standard half marathon distance — 21km. At the same time, the number of participants has significantly been increasing each year. Top elite athletes from across the world are attracted to this race as it meets the highest standards of an IAAF gold label road race.
Kenya’s Joyciline Jepkosgei holds the course record in a world record time of 1:04:51 which she ran in 2017 while Abraham Cheroben holds the men’s course record in 58:48.
This race is organized by the same organization that organizes the famous New York City Marathon in November; New York Road Runners. The half marathon which is held annually in March passes through famous landmarks in the New York City that include the Central Park and Times Square. The course starts near East 72nd Street and ends at the Wall Street in Manhattan. One of the most memorable moments of this race was when Geoffrey Mutai raced Mo Farah in an exciting race in 2014 that saw Farah falling down two times in the race.
Even though Kenyan runners dominate the winners’ list in both the men and women races since it was started in 2006, Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie holds the men’s course record in 59:24 while USA’s Molly Huddle holds the women’s in 1:07:41.
From 1974 to 1986, the distances used to be run here were ranging between 27 to 30 kilometers. The 1987 edition marked the beginning of the half marathon distance which has remained as the standard distance to date. However, the course is point to point, which means it is not eligible for registering world and other record times.
Kenya’s Solomon Yegon and Florence Kiplagat hold the course records in 58:44 and 1:06:38 for men and women respectively.
This half marathon is held every January in Houston Texas, USA since 1972. It is a flat and fast race and is christened the fastest winter half marathon by Ultimate Guide to Marathon’s editors. It’s the only race on our list that isn’t a stand-alone half marathons, as it is run together with the Chevron Houston Marathon. In total, the two events attract 25000 runners annually.
This year’s record holders are Molly Huddle who broke the American record here in 1:07:25. Men’s record is held by Jake Robertson of New Zealand in 1:00:01 — who famously trains in Kenya.
Held in Portugal’s coastal capital city, the Lisbon half marathon is run on a flat and fast course. For more than fifteen times, the men’s winning times have been run in under one hour. Eritrea’s Zersenay Tadese holds the world record of the half marathon after running a time of 58:23 in 2010.
There is a huge prize of €50,000 for anyone who breaks the world record here and is the reason why it attracts some of the world’s best runners every year.
Susan Chepkemei holds the women’s course record of 1:05:44 which she set in 2001.
This is another IAAF gold label race run on a fast and flat course in the spring, in Czech Republic. Unlike many of the half marathons here, the prague half marathon has a very low participation rate but, it’s a very fast race hence qualifying in our list of world half marathons.
Kenya’s Joyceline Jepkosgei set a world record here of 1:04:52, but lowered it by a second at the Valencia half marathon a few months later. Ethiopia’s Atsedu Tsegay holds the men’s course record in 58:47.
This half marathon was established after the Copenhagen city successfully held the 2014 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships. A few changes were made to the world championship course, but the fact that all the winning times in the men’s race have been below one hour is a testimony in itself that this course is ideal for setting personal best times.
Abraham Cheroben holds the men’s course record in 58:40 while the women’s is held by Eunice Chumba in 1:06:11. Both Abraham and Eunice are Kenyan-born athletes but live in Bahrain.
With over 30,000 participants annually, this is the only major half marathon in Germany and is being organized by the same company that organizes the Berlin Marathon.
It attracts a number of the world’s best road runners with the former world marathon record holder, Patrick Makau holding the men’s course record in 58:56 and Edith Maasai holding the women’s in 1:07:16.
This event takes place in October and was established in 2003. As of 2012, the event has grown very popular and attracts over 20,000 runners. The course is flat and fast and attracts some of the world’s best elite runners.
John Lotiang and Edith Chelimo of Kenya set the new course records of 1:00:42 and 1:05:52 for men and women respectively in 2017.
The Brooklyn half marathon is the biggest half marathon in the US and is held annually in May. It’s a popular race that many runners scramble to register. In fact, last year the online registration slots were filled up in just 26 minutes! The race goes through the borough of Brooklyn from Brooklyn Museum to Coney Island boardwalk.
Current race holders are Ethiopia’s Girma Bekele in 1:04:56 for men and Ayantu Dakebo in 1:12:33 for womens, also from Ethiopia.
This is a flat point to point race held every April in Yangzhou China. It began in 2006 and has been growing exponentially since then, attracting over 30000 participants. Since it received the IAAF Silver Label, the event has attracted both elite and amateur runners. While the race is ran predominantly by Chinese, East African athletes dominate the high places in the elite category.
Ethiopia’s Mosinet Geremew holds the men’s record with 59:52, which is the fastest record in China. Peres Jepchirchir holds the women’s record of 1:07:21.
There goes our list of world famous half marathons. What do you think? If there is a race you think we’ve left out, please let us know.
Of course, if you’re training in any of these runs, make sure to check out our excellent running shoes. They’re perfect for gearing up for a half!