For many, a half is greater than the sum of its parts.
There are some truly great marathon finish lines: Boston, with the run up Boylston; New York, running through Central Park; Chicago, heading up Michigan Avenue. They are all views not to be missed. My problem with these finishes was that by the time I got there, with the exception of Chicago, the sun was already going down.
This may help explain why I’ve become more and more excited about running half-marathons. After all, my half-marathon time is pretty good – if it was for a full marathon. And since the general public doesn’t really know the difference, when I say I ran a (mumble here) half-marathon in under three hours, they’re pretty impressed.
I’ve often said that the running universe changed forever in June of 1998 with the first Rock’n’Roll Marathon in San Diego. No one had ever seen so many bands and cheerleaders on a marathon course. There was – and still is – no incentive at all to finish that course as fast as you can.
But when the folks at Elite Racing decided to create a Rock’n’Roll Half-Marathon in Virginia Beach in 2001, I’m sure most of the industry thought they were out of their minds. Who would come to Virginia Beach on Labor Day weekend to run only a half-marathon? Well, about 12,000 people came the first year. It has grown each year, and my guess is about 20,000 running, walking, music-loving, sun-bunnies will be there on September 4.
I’ve run the race for the past three years. I didn’t run the first year because, to be honest, I was a marathon snob. A half-marathon was okay for someone who didn’t have the time, talent, or tenacity to run a full marathon. But not me. I was a marathoner.
I was also dead wrong. First off, the race isn’t half of a full marathon; it’s a full half-marathon. I’ve seen many marathoners, myself included, take the distance lightly, thinking it can be knocked out as a training run. It can’t. Some 10-K specialists think the half is like a really, really, long 10-K course. It isn’t. It isn’t like any other distance at all, not even its predecessor the 20-K. It is a race distance unto itself.
And the Rock’n’Roll Half-Marathon is a race unto itself. You can see it in the crowds at the expo. They aren’t the wired, uptight, on-the-edge-of-nausea marathon crowd. They are laughing, hanging at the beach, staying up late, and listening to the music. They are there to party.
I don’t think they’re excited because it isn’t a full marathon. They’re excited because it is a half-marathon. It’s a distance that many – or most – never conceived of running. It is still the accomplishment of a lifetime for nearly everyone.
When it’s over in Virginia Beach, you get your medal, walk across the sand, and stick your feet in the Atlantic Ocean. Everyone finishes before dark. Heck, everyone finishes before noon. Even someone like me can tell his friends to meet after the race for lunch, rather than for a post-marathon dinner.
In the end, the distance doesn’t diminish the experience. In fact, it may well be enhanced. Many runners seem to want to mark off a marathon as a life goal and be done with it. But at the end of the half, most finishers are already planning for their next one.
It’s like I’ve been saying: It’s half the distance but twice the fun.
Waddle on, friends.