Running Times magazine recently noted that the half-marathon has been the fastest-growing race distance in the United States since 2003. I didn't understand why the 13.1-mile race was that popular until I trained for my first one in 2010.
Here are the 10 reasons I discovered to run a half-marathon:
It's a building block: I've always looked for greater challenges. Since one of those challenges is running a marathon, completing a half-marathon became the foundation for reaching that accomplishment. Finishing the race gave me the confidence to keep moving forward.
I get a fancy sticker: It might seem funny, but I got tired of seeing my wife earn the rather cool looking triathlon and marathon stickers for her car. I've always been a competitive person, and her accomplishments pushed me to get my very own 13.1 sticker for my rear bumper.
It's easier to recover: I've witnessed first-hand what training for a marathon or Ironman does to a person's body. My wife has often been out of action for a few days after one of these events. However, I didn't have that problem when training for the half-marathon. The shorter distance is a tough workout, but it requires much less recovery time afterward.
It requires less training: I'm a busy person. I don't have the time to devote hours upon hours to prepare for a marathon. However, I have enough room in my schedule to run for 60-90 minutes in a training session. The half-marathon gives me a race distance that I can train for without sacrificing other important parts of my life.
It burns more calories: Shorter distance races help you burn a lot of calories, but training for a half-marathon is special because it pushes your body to further limits. The extra stress that running longer distances puts on your body helps you burn more calories. I tend to carry a little extra weight, so this race distance is particularly effective for me when I'm trying to drop the pounds.
It gives you a goal: When I first started running, it was all about doing a 5K race. However, running has never been much of a challenge for me, and running a 5K proved to be rather easy. With that in mind, I set the goal to run a half-marathon. That was much more of a challenge to me both physically and mentally.
It's fun: No, I'm not kidding. Running a half-marathon can be a lot of fun. Both the full and the half-marathon tend to get better crowd support than the average 5K or 10K race. When you have people out there cheering your name and taking pictures, it makes the race a lot more fun to complete.
There's more scenery: The one thing I enjoy about running the half-marathon is that I get to see more of the area I'm running in. When I competed in the 2010 Cincinnati Half-Marathon, I ran along the Ohio River rank, around Paul Brown Stadium, and through the middle of downtown. That was a lot of visual stimulation for a person who generally gets bored after five minutes. Having more things to look at helps make a longer workout easier to live through.
It feels real: I enjoy running most races, but half-marathons have a different feel to them. Finishing a 5K or a 10K is a great thing. However, I didn't feel like a true runner until I completed my first half-marathon. It just the first time that I felt like I'd truly accomplished something while running.
More family time: My wife and I both have busy lives. Getting out and training for the half-marathon gives us both some much-needed time together. I can't wait for the day when we cross a finish line holding each other's hand.
Derek Ciapala ran his first half-marathon in October 2010. He hopes to complete his first 26.2 mile race in the 2012 Columbus Marathon.