Predict Running Race Finish Times

Tattooed female marathon runner checking smart watch in urban park
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When you register for a half-marathon or marathon, you are likely to be asked what your likely finish time and pace will be. If you haven't finished one of these races before, you probably wonder how to estimate these numbers.

Predicting a race time, especially for a long-distance race like a marathon, is tough because there are so many variables that can affect your performance. Of course, weather conditions can be unpredictable. But other factors that may not seem significant—like pre-race sleep, race-day jitters, and even crowd-turnout—can play a role in your finish time as well.

So how do you set realistic goals for your race outcome? There are a few different ways to establish a reasonable goal for your finish time.

Use a Calculator

To get a more exact prediction of your race finish time, you can also use a calculator.

Keep in mind that the race time predictions are estimates of the time you might achieve if you do the appropriate training for that distance. So it doesn't mean that if you train for a 5K and achieve a good time, then you'll automatically run the corresponding marathon time.

In addition, as previously mentioned there are many variables that can affect your time. No two courses are exactly the same. For example, running a hilly course is likely to be slower than running a flat course. And running in high altitude is going to be slower than running at sea level.

Use a Table

If you've recently run any other race, one way to give yourself a rough estimate of what you're capable of running is to use a chart. The chart below predicts race times based on performance at other events of varying distances.

Look for your most recent race time in one of the columns on the left, then follow it across to your predicted marathon finish time.

1-mile    5-K          10-K      Half-marathon   Marathon

4:20       15:00        31:08          1:08:40              2:23:47

4:38       16:00        33:12          1:13:19              2:33:25

4:56       17:00        35:17          1:17:58              2:43:01

5:14       18:00        37:21          1:22:38              2:52:34

5:33       19:00        39:26          1:27:19              3:02:06

5:51       20:00        41:31          1:31:59              3:11:35

6:09       21:00        43:36          1:36:36              3:21:00

6:28       22:00       45:41           1:41:18              3:30:23

6:46       23:00       47:46          1:45:57               3:39:42

7:05       24:00       49:51          1:50:34              3:48:57

7:24       25:00       51:56          1:55:11              3:58:08

7:42       26:00       54:00          1:59:46              4:07:16

8:01      27:00        56:04          2:04:20              4:16:19

8:19      28:00        58:08          2:08:53              4:25:19

8:37      29:00        1:00:12       2:13:24              4:34:14

8:56      30:00        1:02:15       2:17:53              4:43:06

When using the table, keep in mind that it is best to use an actual time from a hosted event (rather than a training run), as that is when you are performing at your peak. You might even schedule a 5K or 10K race before you register for a half or full marathon to see your pace at those distances.

How to Get a More Accurate Prediction

You're more likely to get an accurate prediction for a marathon based on a half-marathon time, rather than a 5K. So, if you can input a similar distance when using a table or calculator, you're likely to get a better result.

It's also good to use a time from a recent race, ideally no more than six weeks before signing up for your race. If it's more time than that, your fitness level may have changed (for better or worse) and the times won't be as accurate.

Also, if you're running local races, running a race within a few weeks of your target race increases your chances of having similar weather conditions for both races, which will also make your time prediction more realistic.

Predicting a Walk/Run Time

While experienced runners may know their race pace at various distances, it may be much more difficult for walkers and those who use the walk/run method to know their pace.

Average Times Using Different Methods

There are different ways that experts suggest you can use to predict your time. Of course, you can use a calculator. You might even average your predicted calculator time with times estimated using other methods.

Marathon coach Hal Higdon suggests finding your marathon finish time by multiplying your 10K time by five if you are a first-timer, or 4.66 if you are an experienced marathoner.

Dr. John Robinson suggests a different approach. He says that you can add 20 seconds to your mile each time you double your distance. If you have done a half marathon, take your average minutes per mile, add 20 seconds and multiply by 26.2.

Compare Predicted Time to Posted Cutoff Times

As a walker or a walk/runner, compare your predicted time to the cutoff time posted for the event you plan to participate in. Do not enter an event if you might not make the cutoff time.

There are many half marathons and marathons available that are walker-friendly with either a generous cutoff time or no cutoff time at all. Consider one of those events for your first marathon. The experience is likely to be more enjoyable for you if you don't have to worry about a late finish.

In a worst-case scenario, take the sag wagon if you don't expect to make the cutoff time. You'll have to take a DNF (did not finish) but the miles that you completed still count as an accomplishment. And you can turn the experience into a win. Use it to focus on fully training for your next race.

A Word From Verywell

Remember that if you sign up for a marathon or longer race, you will be assigned to a corral based on finish time. Race organizers start each corral a minute or two apart to keep the course from being congested. So it is helpful to know this number.

There's obviously a large margin of error when using race predictor calculators, but it's helpful to have a rough estimate before a race, rather than going into it blindly. It can definitely keep you from setting race goals and prevent pacing mistakes, such as going out too fast.

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  • “Oxygen Power: Performance Tables for Distance Runners,” by Jack Daniels and J.R. Gilbert.