The unofficial start of the 2010 half-marathon season kicks off this Sunday with the Davis Stampede and the Kaiser San Francisco races, and it got me thinking about the lure of the half. So popular have half-marathons become that the March 14 Shamrock'n in West Sacramento already has sold out.
For serious runners, the half is a great race to test your fitness level during your lonely months-long marathon training. Or just a nice tempo run for the really hard-core.
And for those of us training for spring marathons (me: Eugene in May), it can be our first foray outside of the heavy base-building period. I must admit I've yet to do speed work during this cycle, though I have incorporated hill work into long runs (the nasty Cantalow hill in really rural Vacaville). So, it'll be interesting to see just where my fitness level is after taking three weeks off, post-CIM, and then doing mostly long runs at above marathon pace since. Lactic acid, welcome back!
Maybe I just live a sheltered life, but I've yet to meet anyone among the dedicated recreational runners in Northern Califonia who specialize in the half. I know plenty of speedy 5K and 10K dude and dudettes, scores of marathoners and those wacky ultra folks, but no one who says, You know, my half marathon training isn't going well.
But the half has become the most popular distance simply because it can be challenging without being too taxing. You can run a half, hard, and recover quickly enough not to have it affect your weekly mileage goals. And if you're a 10K specialist, it's easy to go up.
Of course, I've failed to mention runners for whom the half is a pretty big achievement. Fleet Feet stores both in Sacramento and Davis have half-marathon training groups, but it can be a proud achievement for someone relatively new to running to complete 13.1 miles. For relative newbies, I see the half as being something of a "gateway drug" to a full marathon. You get that taste for distance; you want more.
Still, the half remains the Rodney Dangerfield of road races. No respect whatsoever. The popular running message board, letsrun.com, where snark rules, recently had a long-running thread slamming the half. Or, rather, slamming the people who put those 13.1 oval bumper sticks on their cars.
As one snooty, elitist guy wrote, "Gotta believe the only people who put 13.1 or 26.2 stickers on their SUV's are gallo-walking soccer moms. They probably also have that stupid 13.1 / 26.2 tattoo on their kankles."
Ouch. There may be some truth in that, but so what? Why the bitterness? Taking pride in completing a half is all right by me. I still can't figure out why the so-called running elites are so disdainful of the lesser skilled, but still dedicated, runners out there. It doesn't demean the swift 1:05 half-marathon times you do, so lay off.