Sitting amongst rows of neon and Spandex are clusters of people also dressed in neon and Spandex—stretching, drinking (hydrating) from handy little squeeze bottles, and discussing upcoming races. Others are waiting for access to one of the two bathrooms to change from work attire into thermal gear or to blow their noses one last time, while yet others are debating whether to layer on one more tech shirt, and whether or not they really need a wooly headband to warm their ears.
The staff of Fleet Feet Sports Louisville, answer questions about nutrition, shoe fit and running form; all while keeping an eye on the clock. At 6:30pm, the runners start moving to the parking lot of the store sitting at the intersection of Bardstown and Taylorsville. They wait among the cars, many of which have oval stickers featuring numbers that are seemingly meaningless to most non-runners, hopping like boxers until they're given the official go-ahead from a staff member, and the group sprints, jogs or walks towards Cherokee Park.
Once the lot is clear of runners, I glance again at the bumper stickers and magnets. 3.1, 6.2, 13.1, 26.2. The exact stickers Chad Stafko rants about in his latest Wall Street Journal article “Ok, You’re a Runner. Get Over It”; or more locally, the stickers that Leland Conway of WHAS cited on November 15 when expressing his annoyance with the runners displaying the 13.1 stickers and going on to state that he doesn’t understand why they would brag on only making half the goal.
Really? Only half the goal? The half marathon is the fastest growing distance race. In fact, the number of people who have raced 13.1 miles has nearly doubled in the past decade – in 2012, there were 1.85 million finishers, an impressive 14 percent jump from the last year.
But guess what, with a global population of 7.046 billion that is still a marginal subpopulation of approximately .03%
With an average finishing time of 2 hours and 30 minutes, it’s no small feat to keep your body moving for that amount of time. And let’s face it – collectively, Americans are not the healthiest of global citizens, making it even more of a challenge. So why do people do it? Why do people train to run a distance roughly equivalent to running from Slugger Field to the Mall St. Matthews and back?
The answers differ from runner to runner – but Stafko and Conway would be shocked to know that none of them involved wanting a sticker to lord one’s active lifestyle over the slovenly couch potatoes littering the streets of traffic.
Vicki Marchand, a member of the Fleet Feet Sports running group said, “I did my first Derby Mini, in 1994, before they offered a full. After a long break in running and walking, I did the 2010 Triple Crown. In 2011, I wanted to set a higher goal than the 10 miler. The Derby is one of the few half marathons called ‘mini marathon’, not half. I didn't think of it as half in ‘94 or 2011. I thought of it as huge!”
Similarly, Christian Hoard Fegett, who met her husband through the Fleet Feet Running group, said, “I first trained for a half to run the Derby Mini in 2005. It felt like a big race to me.” Also bringing up the point that the Kentucky Derby Mini is one of two races that uses the term “mini” marathon, rather than half marathon, a term that rubs some runners wrong as they feel it takes away from the difficulty of running 13.1 miles. (I personally like the idea of running a Pikermi. It’s the town halfway between Marathon and Athens—which is the route Pheidippides apparently ran to deliver news of the Greek victory against the Persians).
“When I started ‘No Boundaries’ (Fleet Feet’s Couch to 5k Program), one minute of running was an accomplishment. I want to do a marathon next year, but that won't detract from any half marathons that I've done or plan to do in the future. Heck, it doesn't detract from any 5k's or 10k's,” said Anne London, another Louisville runner.
Beth Bynum decided to train for a half so as to have a distance goal that would keep her accountable for exercising 3-4 times a week. She ran her first half marathon with her husband and other training partners and loved it; but when they decided to do a full, she decided that it would be too much to train for the marathon. Instead she decided to run her second half-marathon and bested her time by 8 minutes. In the spring of 2013, she ran her third half-marathon, besting her time in the fall by another 7 minutes.
“I again seriously consider signing up for a full marathon for the fall of 2013. I had conquered the half-marathon distance, I was healthy, and I had time to put in to training. What I came to realize is that I just don’t want to run a marathon. If I had to think that hard about whether to do it or not, I knew it just wasn’t in my heart. If I didn’t really want to do it, then it wasn’t going to fun. What I decided is that running a marathon is just not something I need to do or feel like I am a failure for not doing. I decided I would get much more personal satisfaction in running a faster half-marathon then running a full marathon. In the fall of 2013, I ran my fourth half-marathon at sub 8-minute miles, besting my previous time by 4 minutes,” she said.
Bynum continued, “When I’ve talked to other runners about marathons, I have often been asked, ‘But you’ve done a marathon, right?’ There is certainly a presumption that if you’ve run for long enough or if you are fast enough, then the next step is the marathon. Maybe it will be for me one day, but I don’t need it right now. I feel good about being a half-marathon runner, and a damn good one. I feel like I can accomplish just as much running faster half marathons as I could running a full.”
So I propose a new bumper sticker. One that says “I’m part of the .03%.”
And there’s nothing half satisfying about that.
Photography courtesy of Shutterstock