The half-marathon: the kinder and gentler race

By Hal Higdon

Author, "Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide"


When friends asked my time at the Disney World Marathon in January, my response was quick, simple, unblinking:

"I ran 2:47 ."

That's a fairly fast time for 26 miles 385 yards. Though nearly a half-hour slower than my personal record some decades ago, it still caused eyebrows to rise. Of course, I ran the half rather than the full marathon at Disney -- but why quibble over being a few miles short?

Fast times don't count at races such as Disney. Only good times. I realized this several years ago while I was running seven marathons in seven months to celebrate my 70th birthday. Toughest of the seven was the Heart of America Marathon in Columbia , Mo. , run on a devilishly hilly course on a Labor Day with clear skies and temperatures that soared to 88.

Already struggling at 13 miles, I looked at my watch and realized I was passing the halfway point in a time slower than my winning time in that same race several decades earlier!

It occurred to me then that if I wanted to match my fast times from my youth, I should concentrate on half-marathons rather than full ones.

Times don't count

Non-runners don't care about times anyway. All that interests our more sedentary friends is that we finish and prove ourselves crazier than they. In fact, non-runners don't even understand distance. Twenty-six miles 385 yards fails to compute among people who only go that far in an SUV.

At a pre-race clinic at the Expo on Saturday, I told the crowd, "The most common question when people learn you've run a marathon is: 'How far was that marathon?'" The crowd's laughter indicated that every runner in the audience had been asked that same silly question at some point in their career.

Sunday morning, I joined some 18,000 runners on a divided highway near Epcot. Approximately two-thirds of the runners had entered the full marathon; one third, the half. Because the course at Disney narrows and winds as it enters each of the four theme parks, the race only can accommodate about that number of starters.

Interestingly, the half filled within 12 days after entries opened in January. The marathon took almost seven months to reach its limit. I am not alone in finding half-marathons a kinder and gentler race.

Still, as I approached 13 miles in the race and the marathoners shifted to the right, half-marathoners left, I felt a pang of regret for having stopped short.

I boast having run 111 marathons during my long career -- and that seems like the perfect number on which to end. If I stick with half-marathons a while longer, maybe I can continue to break three hours.

Copyright 2004 by Hal Higdon Communications, all rights reserved.

Hal Higdon is a Senior Writer for Runner's World and the author of 34 books including, most recently, " Run, Dogs, Run! " for children. Visit his Web site at . A four-time world masters champion, Higdon provides training schedules and answers questions for Click here to access Hal's InterActive Training Guide .