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Let's hear it for the Half Marathon!

There’s something wrong about the name we’ve given to the half marathon. 

It’s just not right to refer to such a challenging and worthy racing distance as “half.”   The name suggests it’s only part of something greater, only 50% of a preferred distance, and less than complete.  Wrong.

Ornament Every other race enjoys a proper, respected description either in miles or kilometers—5k, 10k, 5 mile, 10 mile, etc.  But unfortunately, we’ve chosen to name and define the half marathon using a fraction, misleading some to believe the marathon is the greater race

Nobody would ever refer to climbing half of Mt. Everest. Nobody wins half an Oscar.  We would never put the word “half” in the name of an Olympic event.  There are no half triathlons.  We don’t call someone with $500,000 a half millionaire; we call them very successful!

Many marathoners are also half marathoners, and they would deny that the half marathon is a step child of the full marathon. On those days we are training for the half marathon, does anyone feel like they’re giving it half of what marathoners are giving?  Don’t think so.

I actually ran my first marathon before running my first half marathon.  The reason—there were hardly any half marathons being hosted back then.  And the few 13.1 races that were around seemed like afterthoughts for the “also runners” not yet in shape for 26.2 miles.

Now the half marathon enjoys a hugely popular reputation, with full respect, excitement, and a racing experience that challenges the beginner as well as the most competitive runner.

The half marathon isn’t a diminished version of anything.  We don’t have to compare it to “the full” marathon to give it credibility.  We often try to talk up the half marathon by rationalizing that it doesn’t require as much training, it’s over in half the time, and it doesn’t take as much time to recover so we can race the distance more often without breaking down.   Those are all great points—but the merits of the half marathon can stand alone without comparing it to the full. 

I love the half marathon. The training is demanding and often whips us into our best fitness levels ever.  The distance is hard, the field of runners includes every level of talent and passion, and the sense of accomplishment is euphoric. To run the half marathon well requires immense effort, concentration, determination and perhaps even more strategy than any other race.  There is a feeling of excitement and challenge every step of the way. 

Unfortunately, the name we’ve given to 13.1 miles is probably with us forever.  It’s a quick, handy reference to the official distance, and it’s become part of our running culture.

We’re looking forward to learning from everyone’s advice, tips and half marathon experiences this week at Take It and Run Thursday.  Your collective wisdom won't make us better partial marathoners--it will make us better runners!

Half Marathon Ornament on Google Images


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Laurel (aka Lily)

The Half Marathon most definitely needs to be respected for its distance. Training responsibly is very important for the half, I've known some runners who haven't respected the distance and have sidelined themselves for a long period of time because of it.

Not wanting to correct you Tom, but there is a Half Iron Man distance in Triathlons, which again is a difficult venue.

The "halfs" are at least "doable" for runners who want to challenge themselves with a distance greater than what they have ever experienced, without jeopardising family time and even facing injury.

Any distance is a challenge, but truly the Half Marathon is a really fun distance to do, whether you race it or run it. Everyone should try it at least once.


I was just reading something from PETA about renaming fish "sea kittens". Its the same idea. For some reason, some words (like fish or half-marathon) seem to speak differently than the actual object. For example, fish are icky, scaly creatures ... and the half-marathon is some sort of lesser distance :)

I think we need to come up with a new name for it all together. Like "21 and then some kilometers"


I am training for my first Half Marathon. This weekend!!! I am all kinds of nervous and excited at the same time!!!

Great post Tom!!! Thanks!!!


I'm telling you: trisko. Time to rebrand it!


I loved this article.

A few years ago I ran in the PF Changs Arizona Rock 'n' Roll half marathon, which also coincides with a 5k and the marathon. (I had a blast, by the way, even though that year temperatures were in the mid 20s!) While there, we met with a long time friend who now resides in that area, who isn't a runner. She made a snide comment that we ONLY ran the half marathon, kind of like the glass is half empty, that we weren't runners enough to run a whole marathon. To that I replied: "when was the last time you ran 13.1 miles?" End of discussion.

13.1 miles does deserve some major respect. It's distance enough to be a challenge but very doable. I also ran my first half marathon after I had run in a marathon. I loved it. My half marathon glass is always full. :)


Great post for sure. I always feel that when I tell people I'm running a half marathon, they're like "Oh, not a full one."


Thanks Tom for shining a positive light on the Half-Marathon. Last year at a pre-race expo for the Eugene Marathon, a lady at one of the displays said, “How far are you running?” I said, “ Just the half- marathon.” She yelled up at me, “ Never say just!
This year - I’m training for the half and proud of it!


I ran my second "half" at the PF Changs this weekend and bettered my time by 2:40. The training is a good way to keep in shape. I enjoy halfs and they are a good learning experience. It seems miles 10-13 are the mental challenge for me.

David H.

I like all this attention to the half marathon - my favorite distance. I've mistakenly said, "I'm just running the half" with events that have both the half and full marathon. There's nothing wrong with "only" doing a half -- I'm still putting 100 percent effort into it.

Mike G

I think it should be called "The 21k" - 21 is a magical number in our culture, and it would catch on quickly. As in I'm running a 21k at Phoenix this weekend.

You're right, there's too much baggage that comes with the "half" moniker.


It should only be called a "13.1" mile event and not a "half-marathon." Otherwise, some people shall think that they could run a marathon with only twice the fatigue.....wrong! Let's not do a dis-service to the marathon by calling this the half-marathon. By the way, this shall only be understood by those of us who have gone the full 26.2 miles.


How true! Saying it is half of something else makes it seem so insignificant when in reality running 13.1 miles is a great accomplishment! Good luck lifestudent, enjoy the run!


I agree, Tom, we really need to think more of this distance. It is quickly becoming one of my favorites, and I'm liking training for it through the winter. It's keeping me motivated to get out there and keep running those long runs on the weekends.

Does it still count if we only get our post up on a Friday?!

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I love running in the hot weather as long as I'm hydrated properly and have Sharkies with me. I may have to slow down my pace a little if it is a really long run, other than that keep your fluids up and wear a hat!

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it was very informative. I look forward in reading more of your work.

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