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13 Truths about 13.1 Miles

Do you have a half-marathon on your calendar? On your bucket list? Maybe the Cape Cod Half, with the upcoming BAMR retreat?

Since you’re here, the answer is almost certainly YES.

The half-marathon is our “favorite” race distance, according to the 2017 National Runner Survey conducted by Running USA. Nearly 2 million finishers completed 13.1 miles in each of the past few years; 60% of them were women. Among survey respondents, 75% planned to run a half-marathon in the upcoming year.

And for good reason: Running 13.1 miles is a brag-worthy accomplishment—with all the attendant bling and swag—but the training doesn’t overwhelm your life and destroy your weekends (or your relationships with your non-running family and friends).

Half-marathon or 13.1 miles
Molly Huddle set the U.S. women's half-marathon record of 1:07:25 in Houston in January, breaking a 12-year-old record (set previously by Deena Kastor).

It wasn’t all that long ago that the half-marathon was what running historian Roger Robinson (husband to legendary pioneer Kathrine Switzer) called an “oddball distance.”

Whereas the “modern” marathon has been around for over 120 years, the first half-marathon wasn’t until 1964, and it still isn’t in the Olympics.

Wait, why isn’t the half-marathon in the Olympics? I dunno. (Something about diluting the elite field between the 10,000 meters and the marathon, the Letsrun guys explain.)

Whatevs, guys. We’re running the half!

Here are 13 truths and tips about our favorite distance.

Half-marathon or 13.1 miles
Are you going to the Cape Cod BAMR retreat?

*1 Use this mile to warm up

Every world record from 1500 meters to the marathon has been run with “negative splits”—that is, the first half of the race slower than the second half. This is good news, especially since you are probably not there to set a world record. Don’t bother warming up before the race. Use the first mile to settle your nerves and into an easy pace, anywhere 15-30+ seconds slower than “goal” pace.

*2 Run this mile slowly too

If you conserve energy in the first few miles, I promise you’ll pass the people in the last 3 who didn’t listen and went out too fast. And you will draw energy from each person you pass—you’ll be an energy vampire, as Sage Rountree explains—which is REALLY FUN!

*3 What are you wearing?

Do you obsessively compulsively check weather-dot-com all week leading up to your race? Me too! I don’t like being too warm OR too cold, and if you’re anywhere near your peri/meno pause years, you probably understand. My trick has been to wear layers I can take off once I’ve warmed up and put back on when I get cold again, because that always happens: a long-sleeve T I can tie around my hips, gloves and/or a knit hat.

*4 Have a drink

Before race day, find out at which mile markers the organizers set up water/sports drink aid stations and HAVE A PLAN. Will you drink at every station, every other station? Will you take water or sports drink? Your needs are different from mine, and I know you practiced in your training runs, right, right?

*5 Garmin freakout!

When I ran the Philadelphia Love Half Marathon in March 2017, my Garmin bzzzz’d way before/after I passed the mile markers on the course. Why does that happen? Something about the way the satellites pinpoint you and whether you’re running the tangents (the shortest distance between two points). The point is: Your GPS is a more-or-less guide, not an absolute truth teller. It’s really a better practice to tune into how your body feels, not what your Garmin reports.

Half-marathon or 13.1 miles
I ran a half-marathon in Brooklyn on Mother's Day, which turned out to be a fun way to celebrate the day.

*6 It’s not “just” a half

The half-marathon is so popular that at many races that offer both 26. 2 and 13.1, the half-marathon has WAY more participants than the full. Yet when asked, many of us (me among them) say, “Oh, I’m doing ‘just’ the half.” Let’s all agree to stop that right now! Let’s own the distance! Oh, wait, we already do.

*7 Because it’s more than "just half" the training

The thing is, to run a strong half-marathon, you don’t really train half as much as you would for a full. It’s more than “just half” the training. You probably trained for 10-16 weeks, and built up long runs. 13.1 miles is a long way, people!

*8 Are you going to eat something?

Because you are a very smart (and BA) mother runner, you know all about the importance of snacks to keep up the energy and the happy moods. I trust you figured out in your training what kind of mid-run fueling works for you—whether that’s a gel or blocks or animal crackers (my current favorite).

*9 Fun fact!

There were only 303,000 half-marathon finishers in 1990, according to Running USA. While participation has dipped a little, this year will see close to 2 million finishers, and we have a remarkable 2,800 events to choose between. Wow!

*10 Now how do you feel?

Good? Good! Because you listened and went out at a nice conservative pace. Now’s the time to step on the gas, put down the hammer, choose your own metaphorically colorful phrase. (Unless you don’t want to, which is perfectly fine too!)

*11 Should we rename the distance so it isn’t HALF of something else?

A few years ago, a few runners tried to start a movement to rebrand the half-marathon as “Pikermi.” Why? That’s the name of a town half way between Athens and Marathon, Greece.

Half-marathon or 13.1 miles
The Lincoln half passes President Abraham Lincoln's home in Springfield, Illinois, a fun fact that might distract you from the hills.

*12 Fun fact!

The Lincoln Presidential Half-Marathon, in Springfield, IL, is the oldest half-marathon in the U.S., first run in April 1964. Race organizers describe the course as “scenic and challenging” (which probably means HILLS); it takes runners past “the most significant Abraham Lincoln sites in the nation.” If you’ve got history buffs in your traveling crew, that’ll distract them while you’re running.

*13 You’re done—yay!

Smile through your whole last mile! There is actual science that shows that smiling can improve performance, even if you feel lousy. Plus, you never know who’s watching and/or taking a photo.

And truly, we are all so lucky to have lungs, legs, heart and mind to take us on these miles of great adventures. Thank your body for taking you to the finish line and CELEBRATE!

What half-marathon is on your calendar or bucket list?

 

8 responses to “13 Truths about 13.1 Miles

  1. I love the Lincoln Presidential Half. The medals are almost always a giant penny although last year it was a top hat and one year a 5 dollar bill. The bling is great. Very scenic course. Through the homestead and cemetery both. The weather is always cold that first week of April but not horrible. Well supported course. It’s a great time. And you get your picture taken with Abe and Mary!

  2. Great article. I have 2 half marathons coming up in the month of November. Last year the weather was unusually hot so I am hoping for some cooler fall like weather this year!

  3. I just ran the Lululemon seawheeze half marathon-GREAT race! Scenic, great swag and so much fun!! The six minute PR was icing on the cake!

  4. Come run the Lincoln presidential Half Marathon with me!! I do it every year because it’s my hometown race. The medals are amazing!! I’d be happy to help out anyone who needs pointers on hotels or food or just wants to run with me!! I’m so happy this race was mentioned!!

  5. Just ran a half in Syracuse NY yesterday and got a PR by 1 minute and 30 seconds! Stuck to he plan of a 10 mile warm up with a 5k race- it did feel great to pass those people who burned their fuel too fast. Next up is the Syracuse Half in 1 month. After a brief hiatus I think I am falling in love with the half again.

  6. I love half marathons. Don’t think I’ll ever run a full. A half is challenging without overtaking your life. Ran the Purdue Boilermaker half(#6) 2 day’s ago…almost PR’ed! Vegas half next month. And who knows which half’s I’ll run in 2019!!

  7. I enjoy reading your articles Tish. Thanks! I may try 3 half marathons in the spring to be a half fanatic. New Orleans in FEB, Run the Bluegrass in MAR and Capital City in APR. Then maybe consider a marathon.

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