Having been a part of the marathon running community for so long – and continuously writing about running a half or full marathon – got me thinking, questioning, really. Why these particular distances? What exactly is it that draws people to run nonstop for 13.1 or 26.2 miles?
Speaking from strictly personal experience, I will say that once you begin running and then keep at it consistently, the half and full marathon distance races are simply what are considered the most viable challenge for you as a runner. This does not just apply to Americans; it is a global phenomenon. Whether you are a runner in Greece, Thailand, the United States, Argentina or Tahiti, the half and full marathon are the distances to race as a runner.
If there ever was one thing in the entire world that boasts an even playing field, it’s the sport of running. No matter your age, gender, race, creed or socioeconomic status, once you are out there running side-by-side, working hard and giving it all you’ve got, those other factors simply met away with your sweat. This is especially true during a half or full marathon as the help you can get from fellow runners – via verbal encouragement and pacing – may be the only thing that gets you through that 13.1 or 26.2 mile distance to see the finish line. But I digress.
Let’s get back to the question of why choose the half or full marathon distance to race.
- Take a look at the statistics of participation in the marathon in the United States. According to findmymarathon.com, a total of 512,010 people completed running a full marathon in 2017, and runningusa.org reports that a total of 1.9 million runners completed a half marathon race in 2016. Considering that the population of the United States is well over 323 million, this represents just a very small percentage of the entire country’s population. Still, that fact that approximately 2.5 million Americans annually run a half or full marathon speaks volumes.
- They are the most common and prolific long distance races available for most any runner. While a countless number of 5K races are available throughout the world, there are also race distances of 10K (6.2 miles), quarter marathon (6.55 miles), 15K (9.3 miles), 20K (12.4 miles), and 30K (18.6 miles). And for those ultra lovers, there are 50K (31.1 miles), 50 mile, 100K (62 miles) and 100 mile races.
While is it very uncommon, some individuals dive right into ultra-distance rather than progressively build up their race mileage. However, it remains that the half and full marathon distance races are the most common and accessible.
- There is just something about theses distances that seem doable, especially the half marathon. For the new runner who has been slowly and progressively building up their mileage and distance, your brain may think, “I bet I can do that!” when your running buddies mention a half marathon in the fall. Though you may not realize just how far 13.1 miles is, the gauntlet has been laid down and you can easily start increasing your running mileage.
As for the distance of 26.2 miles, that’s a bit of a different story. For many runners, the marathon is the ultimate challenge (and that is no diss on ultra-running). If you want to really get a good idea of just how far 26.2 miles is, just go drive it. I will never forget the one time I had the opportunity to run the Boston Marathon. You climb aboard a school bus in downtown Boston and then drive the entire 26.2 mile distance to Hopkinton where the race starts. As the bus kept going and going and going and going, I suddenly realized, “Whoa! This really is a long way to run!” Despite this realization, I, we, all of us runners still go after the challenge.
For many of us, running just one marathon is not enough; we keep going back for more and more marathons. This is because running 26.2 miles pushes you as a runner and as a human being. No matter how well trained you are, running a marathon usually pushes your body to its athletic limits and beyond. This is true for not only your physical capabilities as a human, but also your mental capacity.
Once your body reaches its limits to continue running well, or even just running, this is where your mental processes kick in to motivate your body to keep going beyond what it thought it could do. This is the place where you usually discover another layer of your personality you may not have ever known about. You discover that you are capable of doing things you never ever thought you were capable of – like running 26.2 miles! I call it unleashing your inner champion.
Yes, there is a champion lying deep within you just waiting to be unleashed – one that you may never have ever discovered or un-tethered. Your inner champion may not complete 1,000 marathons like Jim Simpson, but running a half or full marathon may just be the way to unleash that champion within you.