The Planet Wave: Love The Half-Marathon. Hate The Name.
by Bob "Wish" Wischnia on December 21, 2011
I’m one of those runners who loves racing. And the distance I love to race the most is the half-marathon. I’m certainly not alone in my affinity for the half as it is the fastest growing road race distance. In 2010, 1.4 million of us finished a half-marathon which is more than triple what it was 10 years ago.
There are many great things about the half-marathons, but one of the coolest is it happens to be the only road race distance completely dominated by women. Nearly, 60 percent of all half-marathon finishers are women.
Why? The most oft-cited reasons are the same ones most guys also have: The training isn’t nearly as arduous or time consuming as for a marathon, the taper and recovery time from a half also aren’t as long and yet finishing a half-marathon is a significant and satisfying accomplishment. Finally, there’s something magical about that marathon word, even if a half isn’t the same as running a marathon.
Which is the problem with the half-marathon. It has an identity crisis. It’s half of something and not an entity that stands alone.
And it should.
Years ago, there was a road distance called the mini-marathon. This was back in the days when there were miniskirts, minigolf, miniwages and Minnie Mouse.
I liked the distance (usually a 5-K), but hated the name. I didn’t want to run a mini anything. In my mind, a 5-K was 3.1 miles of racing and there was nothing mini about it. It wasn’t a minimarathon to me; it was a 5-K.
Eventually, the name mostly disappeared and today, the biggest mini anything are the New York Mini 10-K and the One America 500 Festival Mini-Marathon in Indianapolis which is—you guessed it—a half-marathon.
Even though these are both huge races (the Indy Mini is the biggest half-marathon in the United States with more than 31,000 finishers), it’s still a terrible name for such great events.
Think about it. We now have thousands of 5-Ks, 10-Ks, 10-milers, marathons, ultra marathons and assorted other distances but there’s only one half of anything. In track, there isn’t even a half-mile anymore. It’s the 800. Anyone who calls 800-meter runners “half-milers” probably still calls cross-country runners “thin clads.”
Triathlons used to have the same identity crisis as the half-marathon has. When I first started doing triathlons in the ‘80s, there were basically two distances. There was the Olympic distance which was too short for me and the Ironman which was way too long. It didn’t take long to devise the perfect distance. That was the Half Ironman which triathletes loved—except for the name.
Triathletes put in way too much training time to do half of anything so before you could say Hawaii Ironman World Championships, somebody came up with the new, easily identifiable handle for the distance: 70.3. That is, a half IM is 70.3 miles. And that popular distance is simply called 70.3.
Could we do the same for the half-marathon? Sure, why not? A half-marathon is 13.1 miles or 21.1 kilometers.
It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue right now, but call it 21.1. Change the name of some important races to 21.1 and pretty soon it’ll catch on just like 70.3 has.
As runners, we don’t do anything halfway. It’s 21.1 kilometers which is still plenty long and plenty tough running. Let’s give our most popular road distance a deserving name all its own.