I’ve done more than my fair share of races over the last decade so I know a bit about the best half marathons. The last time I tried to count them it was up to about 50 in total and I seem to be doing more as time goes on.
As a distance, I’d probably say that 13.1 miles is my favourite for racing. The pacing and endurance side of the half marathon is way more enjoyable to a full-on 5k or 10k, and you don’t have the laborious training process of a marathon. You can also do them relatively frequently and have plenty of time to recover, unlike a PB marathon attempt that can take you out of racing for weeks.
So, out of all those races I’ve done in the UK over the years, here are the ones that I think are the best half marathons. Some may be obvious, but there’s a few lesser-known halfs that are well worth a look if you’re after a cheaper or slightly different race from the usual suspects.
Note: although some of these events are still to take place in 2020, they may well be sold out now (or could be very soon).
The best half marathons: Hackney Half Marathon
When I first ran the Hackney Half Marathon back in 2014 I really wasn’t a fan of it. They hosted it in June and it was ridiculously hot. There was also a painful winding section of the course that went back and forth around the Olympic Park to make up the 13.1 miles.
Since then they’ve moved the race to May and made a number of changes to the course. It’s become one of the highlights of the London race calendar that has an impressive community feel to it, with cheering Hackney crowds drinking coffee and/or craft beer. It’s a very unique experience that epitomises the East London vibe.
The course is pretty flat, save for a few sections towards the end and it’s quite meandering, so there’s limited long straights – by far my favourite format for a half marathon.
Since Virgin took over the event it has also become the Hackney Fitness Festival. The two-day mini-festival takes place on the massive Hackney Marshes and has loads of workouts to take part in, fun activities and a lot of East London food trucks. It’s normal nice weather so it has a sort of music festival feel to it.
In the past, they’ve also hosted a free community 5k on the Saturday where you’ve got a T-shirt and a medal. They don’t advertise it a lot though so you need to sign up for email update to make sure you get a spot.
When: 17 May
Price: £54. Which is really expensive for a race but you do get a nice medal and a T-shirt. It’s also fairly standard for a race of this scale nowadays.
The best half marathons: Maidenhead Half Marathon
I signed up to Maidenhead Half on a whim because I had a free race voucher and a weekend with nothing to do. To be honest I’d never been to Maidenhead before and expected it to be a cheap and cheerful little run around the surrounding areas of a town.
The race is actually a beautiful and flat two-lap course around the town which I was massively impressed with. There’s a few really nice road sections along the river, some enjoyable wooded areas and the whole area is exceedingly picturesque.
Considering that it’s only 35 minutes on the train from London (quicker than it takes me to get to many races actually in London), it’s well worth a look if you’re after an autumn half.
When: 6 September 2020
The best half marathons: The Great North Run
Okay, a fairly obvious inclusion to the list but one that’s well worth looking into if you want to experience a half marathon of massive proportions.
As with any large-scale race – it’s actually stated as being the biggest half marathon in the world with around 54,000 participants – The Great North Run is an enormous spectacle that comes with all of the positives and negatives you’d expect.
On the negative side are obvious things like the logistics of getting to the start line, a long wait for the race to actually start and the inevitable overcrowding in the early section of the race. The other main issue is that a large proportion of the race is run on a big, less than scenic dual carriageway. Still, you wouldn’t be able to get that many people on nice country lanes.
It’s also point-to-point. So you actually end up 13 miles away in South Shields and then have to wait to get the bus back – never fun after a long race.
Moaning aside, if you want a race that has the sort of grandiose, bucket-list scale of the London Marathon, The Great North Run has it all. The whole city basically turns into a big athletics showpiece with events happening across the weekend from city centre world record athletics attempts to a 5k and various activities dotted around.
The race is also incredibly popular with cheering fans. At many points, you forget about the fact you’re on a massive main road because you wouldn’t even be able to see the scenery for all the people cheering at you. If it’s a nice day the final plunge downhill into South Shields as the sea comes into view is an amazing feeling.
If you’re after a PB, expect it to be a slog, not only because of the crowds but because there is some undulation across the course.
When: 13 September 2020
The best half marathons: Hampton Court Palace Half Marathon
If you’re after a beautifully-set spring half around London then the Hampton Court Half Marathon is definitely one to add to the list. The start village sits within the grounds of Hampton Court Palace – which is a novel experience to begin with – then head outs along the Thames taking in some of the more scenic locations around South West London.
Obviously, since most of the route is close to the river, it’s a fairly flat course so it’s generally good for some fast times. Although it can get a bit squashed on some of the thin paths alongside the river, so make sure you’re in the right start position.
Also, if you’ve ever wanted to high five King Henry VIII as you run, this is your chance.
When: 15 March 2020
The best half marathons: Cardiff Half Marathon
I actually ran the Cardiff Half Marathon in 2016 when the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships took place there. It was a slightly different format and the race kicked off in the afternoon instead of the morning, but the route was largely the same – I imagine the crowds would be too.
I loved the race as I’d never been to Cardiff before and there was a really nice community feel to the whole thing even though it’s large scale event.
When I ran it the weather was awful and it even hailed it down about halfway through the race. I actually put it down as one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had in an event with people huddling under trees to hide from the massive chunks of ice.
Anyway, the route offers a diverse range of locations dotted around the city including the impressive castle and a really nice section that follows the coast and crosses the bay as you come back round to the final section.
When: 4 October 2020
Price: From £37
The best half marathons: Worthing Half Marathon
The UK’s most famous seaside half marathon may well be Brighton, but for me, the top slot goes to the significantly lesser-known Worthing half.
I headed down to take part in the race back in 2016 on a whim. It was a beautiful crisp winter’s day and I’d got up fairly early from London to get to the start line. Every time I get up early for a race I know nothing about I wonder why I do it. But, more often than not I end up finding some of my favourite new places.
Aside from the amazing coastal views along the route, there were phenomenal crowds cheering us on, fantastic organisation and, if you’ve ever run a coastal race before, the joy of treating yourself to proper fish and chips at the end. Pretty flat as well, which you don’t get at a lot of the main coastal races.
The half is part of the Worthing Running Festival, which also includes a 10k race and a mini-mile.
Price: Around £30