There’s a good reason why half-marathons have become the most popular distance in America and why more women are showing up on the starting lines.
Actually, it’s a “half” good reason:
“The half-marathon is a whole lot less wear and tear and a whole lot less time,” says Jeff Galloway, a 1972 Olympian and pioneer of the so-called run/walk training program that has helped more than 200,000 people finish marathons and half-marathons.
A record number of women — just more than 1.1 million, making up 60 percent of the finishers — completed half-marathons in 2012, according to Running USA. Galloway says the half-marathon, 13.1 miles, is especially attractive to women because training doesn’t require fancy equipment and is focused on results.
“Training for a half-marathon gives you significantly more a sense of satisfaction than a 10K, and if you do it right, you don’t have to beat yourself up in training,” he says.
Moreover, training for a half-marathon can be empowering for women. Galloway says that a day rarely goes by that he does not receive an email from a woman who says that she was able to apply her approach to training — setting a goal, breaking it down into smaller benchmarks and then taking action — to other life accomplishments, such as getting a graduate degree or saving for a house.
“There are a lot of life lessons in there,” he says.
Training for a half-marathon is decidedly different from training for a 5K or a 10K, distances in which the emphasis is on running hard for a relatively short period of time.
By contrast, half-marathon training, at least for beginners, is about learning to slow down.
Galloway suggests that half-marathoners put in a longish run once a week during training, run that distance at a pace that is 2 minutes slower than they normally run and include regular walk breaks. That protocol builds endurance and stamina and makes running longer distances much more enjoyable, he says. It also allows a couch potato to be transformed into a runner, he adds.
Once someone has a few half-marathons in the rearview mirror, training can shift to focusing on finishing times or the full marathon. In the beginning, though, he suggests just focusing on finishing safely.