If you’re a runner, chances are you’ve considered running a half-marathon. And you’re not alone – year after year, the half-marathon, which measures 13.1 miles, has become the fastest-growing race distance. From 2000–2014, the number of half-marathon finishers has quadrupled, and by 2015, that number increased to more than 2 million. The number of participants in the half-marathon distance is second only to the 5K.
Of course, part of that growth can be attributed to the sheer number of runners out there — as well as an increased number of women finishers. In 1990, there were about 4.8 million race finishers (75% men and 25% women). In 2015 race finishers came in at 17.1 million (43% men and 57% women).
HALF-MARATHONS ARE MANAGEABLE AND SOCIAL
While there is nothing official on when (or how) the half marathon got its start, Running USA started collecting data in 1990, and has documented the growth of the event ever since. The half-marathon has grown in popularity for many reasons. “First, as the wave of marathon runners who came into the sport over the past 15 years continues to run, a marathon isn’t as manageable due to the time commitment it takes, injury risks, etc.,” says Scott Bush, Running USA Director of Communications.
Training for a 13.1-mile race allows runners to still balance their family, jobs and other hobbies. “Being able to run a 10-miler is easier than having to run 20-milers for a marathon but more challenging than the 5-6 miles you might need to put in for a 5k,” Bush says. “It’s enough of a challenge and time commitment to feel like it’s worth the time and energy, but not overwhelming, which is what marathon training can be.”
But there’s more to it than the time commitment. “Lastly, half-marathons are more social than a 5K or 10K when it comes to training and racing, which heightens the overall training and racing experience,” says Bush. “You can train for a 5K on your own, but a half-marathon training is generally more intriguing if you can train with others.”
IT’S STILL A CHALLENGE, BUT THE RECOVERY IS EASIER
Most people can finish the half-marathon in as little as 90 minutes up to three hours, making it a solid distance that doesn’t take up an entire day, as a marathon can. (Also, you can typically walk the next day.) Matt Fitzgerald, running coach and author of “The Endurance Diet,” says that “the half-marathon is long enough to present runners with a serious challenge and a great sense of accomplishment when they conquer it. But at the same time, it requires less training than a full marathon does — and the post-race recovery is much quicker.”
He enjoys the half-marathon because it’s the distance that he races most competitively. “I encourage other runners to stick with halves and not feel obligated to run full marathons if, like me, they find their sweet spot at 13.1,” he says.
Fitzgerald, who also has a background in sports nutrition, finds that the nutrition required for a half-marathon is one of the bonuses over a longer race. “Most runners don’t need to take in anything in a 5K or 10K, but in a half-marathon you’re likely to perform better if you consume fluid and carbs,” he says. “You can go much lighter on nutrition in a half than you would in a full marathon and thereby minimize the risk of suffering the GI issues that are so common in the latter.”
If you’re training for your first half-marathon, Fitzgerald has some advice: “It’s best to approach half-marathons with a marathon mentality: Pace yourself, be patient and focus on completing the distance.” If you’re no stranger to the half-marathon, Fitzgerald encourages you to aim high. “The half-marathon distance is short enough that they can really race it, pushing hard all the way for a fast time.” Whatever your perspective, this up-and-coming race distance is like the Goldilocks of races — not too short, not too long, but just right.
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT RUN