I love the half marathon distance.
It is long enough to capitalize on my endurance, but not so long that I'm unable to use any speed. The half marathon lets you get rolling and into a fast rhythm, but then bust out a few quicker miles at the end (or anywhere else) that might be needed to hit your time. In this regard, the half marathon can be a little more gratifying than the marathon—in my experience at least, during a marathon, I’m really just happy to be hitting a somewhat similar pace to what I was hitting at mile 12 when I’ve finally made it to 24. I’m not exactly negative-splitting that last 5 miles or so of the marathon. Alternatively, in the half, I’ve had some of my fastest miles at the very end of the race. For at least two halfs I’ve run in the past year, I’ve run in the 5:50s for the last mile, which is nearly a respectable mile during a 5k or 10k for me! Yes, you could argue that a marathon, run appropriately, can be negative-split too, but this is more rare—there’s a reason why all that talk about “the wall” is reserved for the 26.2—and the marathon itself is definitely more unpredictable in terms of what might happen, how you might feel, how your nutrition/hydration hits you in the last 10 miles. Marathon pace is just a little slow, whereas half marathon pace still feels like it can be speedy!
The half has additional advantages over the full; recovery takes far less time. I don’t really enjoy the necessary time off after a marathon where your whole body just hurts and weird aches and pains come and go. (I try to do all my marathons in early winter so I’m out of commission at a time when road racing takes a break anyhow, haha.) Most people can only really race 1-2 marathons per year, which doesn’t exactly give you a lot of chances at a great race. A benefit of racing more often is that you are more accustomed to racing (instead of experiencing the amplified nervousness of doing only a couple races per year). You also have more chances to do well or to race quickly again in order to “redo” a race with which you may have not been satisfied. I ran a full marathon last October which was just frankly a rough experience—I would not wish quad cramps at mile 13 on anyone—but it was more annoying to know I had not run as fast as I was able AND that I’d have to wait a while to try again. For many runners, the half is right around their typical long run distance, so jumping into a half marathon for a long run workout also works really well! Some halfs I’ve raced harder than others, but even the easier ones made me a stronger runner and allowed me to get a great workout which also included hydration stops, a finishline medal, and probably a few other goodies too.
At the end of 2015, I ran two full marathons eight weeks apart. In the first, I was highly unsatisfied with a highly painful 3:03 over a deceivingly difficult course. In the second, I was much happier with a more relaxed, conservative, but still challenging (as I was probably not entirely recovered) 2:57:17. I got the sub-3:00 which I knew I could do, but I had had my fill of marathons for a while. Past January of this year, there was no qualifying for any sort of Olympic Trials marathon, so I was in no rush to attempt another one…Somewhere along the way, 2016 became the year of the half marathon. I’ve run 6 halfs this year alone, and will probably add a few more to the count by the time I race the Richmond Half on November 12.
The Richmond Half was one of my very first halfs back in 2011, and I also ran it again in 2012 and 2013 (less intensely those years due to grad school). In 2014, I also had a great experience racing the 8k, racing 28:51 in what was and still is my 8k PR. Since I actually have starting thinking of 2016 as the “Year of the Half Marathon,” I think we all know what I’m running at Richmond this fall!
Above: before and after the 2014 Richmond 8k, a super fun race and PR....also one of the coldest races I've ever run at somewhere around 20 degrees. Come November, you have to be ready for the cold! Richmond is usually not quite this freezing; November 2015 was the coldest month of racing that I've had yet.
I am happy that I’ll be familiar with this course, and that I’ve gone through the routine of going to this specific (very good!) Expo, and that I’ll know where to go on race day and at what points of the course I’ll have to be more alert to my pace, etc. But rest assured, newbies to Richmond! Even if you have not run the marathon, half, or 8k before, you are in good hands. The Richmond Marathon/Half/8k events are extremely well organized. As an added benefit to me at least, Richmond is quite conveniently located near Charlottesville. For those elsewhere , RVA is also close to DC (2 hrs.), Baltimore (2.5hrs.), and Raleigh, NC (2.5 hrs.). While this course is more challenging (tips forthcoming in a subsequent post!), the crowd support is fabulous, the air tends to be ideally cool, and the water stops are well stationed. If you need a great fall half in VA, look no further! I enjoy running in Richmond as a little escape from Charlottesville (I love Cville but a change of scenery is sometimes nice), and to use this as an excuse to go to one of the many good brunch spots there or to visit Short Pump. Besides being a fun race opportunity with a variety of distances, Richmond is a welcome pre-Thanksgiving getaway—the timing seems just right before the more hectic holidays commence!
This is probably a good time to tell you that I’m an official blogger for the race, so expect more race tips, thoughts on why I think the half marathon is the most fabulous distance ever (WHY is it not in the Olympics, by the way? The jump from 10k to marathon never made sense to me), and of course, come November 13 or thereabouts, a hopefully very happy PR-filled race recap! And should you want to run too, here's a referral code so you stay up to date on special events/promotions leading up to the race: AnnRunsRVA.
Until then, off I go, running into this 86 degree summer day! November’s coolness sounds comparatively like very refreshing running weather right about now.