One of the best signs I have ever seen being held up on a race course read "Stop saying 'It's just a half.' A half marathon is: 13.1 miles; 23,056 yards; 69,168 feet; 830,016 inches; Amazing!" and I will tell you why.
The other day I was chatting with the receptionist at an office where I had an appointment. She has been training for a marathon but her training has been thrown off by the wildfire smoke in the air and she is considering switching to the half marathon instead. I said something along the lines of "that sounds good, then you can run faster instead of longer." She seemed surprised and a little puzzled. When I explained what I meant—that when a race is shorter you ideally would run it that much harder and faster—her expression changed. When I went on to admit that for years I was afraid to participate in a 5k race because I feared how much "suffering it would involve," her eyes lit up with understanding. She got it!
It’s not half a race, it’s a shorter race.
The crux of this notion comes down to the difference between finishing and racing. Or as I like to think of it, completing or mastering.
It is unfortunate that the race is even called a Half Marathon because it is not half a race. It is a whole race that consists of running 21.1 km or 13.1 miles. We don’t say that Kenenisa Bekele holds the world record for the “quarter marathon” or that Usain Bolt is the fastest man to ever run the “fraction of a marathon.” And yet, outside of the Olympics, that is how we often think of those distances.
I can’t even count how many times I have heard a runner say, in a sheepish and apologetic voice, “I am only doing the half,” as if it is no big deal. This makes my coach blood boil. Racing, and I mean truly racing, for 21.1 km (or 13.1 miles) is intense, difficult, and a real feat. It is not less than the marathon nor is it a cop-out if you are truly there to do your best, to master the distance to the best of your abilities. If you are there to simply complete the distance, then sure, I guess it is half a race, but that is on you. Don’t pin your outcome on the race distance.
But that is on you. Don’t pin your outcome on the race distance.
So next time you are choosing your race distance, remember that mastering any distance of a race, whether it be running, cycling, rowing, skating, or jumping needs no apology. Digging deep to use your entire being to cover the distance in the fastest time that is possible for you, on that day, on that course, is what it is all about. The distance may dictate the speed you choose (the longer the race, the slower the pace, generally speaking) but it is the difference between completing and mastering which determines the amount of effort and grit that you will put into it.
Also remember, next time you hear someone say “Meh, I am just doing the 10k” make sure you look them right in the eye and tell them that you hope they "give it their all." Otherwise, they are doing both themselves and the race a disservice. Always striving to do your absolute best is what racing is all about. Sure, most of us will never win a race but that isn't the point. The point is to perform better than you have before or at least be able to say that you tried your absolute hardest.
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