Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Popularity of half marathons is growing rapidly

Brom Hoban

For some competitive runners, the long weekend ahead will offer some time off. For others, it will mark the beginning of preparations for the San Antonio Rock ‘n' Roll Half Marathon set for November.

Make no mistake, many runners will be planning to run in that event. Perhaps more than the field can accommodate.

Since 2003, the half-marathon has been the fastest growing road race distance in the U.S., and half-marathon events in Austin have mirrored the trend. In January, the 3M Half Marathon sold out for the first time in its 16-year history, starting 5,500 runners. Similarly, Austin Half Marathon sold out in both 2009 and 2010. Last year, the half marathon drew a record 9,000 entrants; the marathon attracted 4,500.

The popularity of the distance is increasing demand for training programs such as Gilbert's Gazelles, USA Fit Austin and the Team Rogue Half Marathon program.

"The half marathon is a great distance for those who want to prepare for and enjoy an endurance event, but don't or can't commit to a full marathon program," says John Schrup, who coaches the Rogue group.

"The social aspect of training groups is a huge attraction," he says. "Almost anyone who wishes to can wake up in the morning and run a 5K or 10K, but a half marathon requires a bit more attention.

"And the distance is not so great -- like a marathon -- that it doesn't require an extended recovery period. You don't have to take a day off from work after a half marathon. You can be a part of something big and fun without having to make a huge commitment."

The half marathon also is at an intersection where novice runners who are trying longer distances cross paths with experienced runners cutting back on distance.

"Lately we are seeing many seasoned marathoners taking a step down, to give themselves a mental or physical break, perhaps," says Schrup.

The aggressive marketing of half marathon races is having an impact on their popularity as well. The Rock ‘n' Roll Series, which boasts seven of the 10 largest U.S. half-marathons and has races in Dallas and San Antonio, is an example. The races, which feature rock bands at every aid station target "destination" type cities like Las Vegas and Nashville and rally the masses with their huge advertising campaigns.

Schrup says he coaches runners targeting the San Antonio Rock ‘n' Roll Half Marathon set for November 14, 2010, as well as the 3M Half Marathon (January 30, 2011); Livestrong Austin Half (February 20, 2011), and Aramco Houston Half Marathon (January 30, 2011).

"Most half marathon programs range anywhere from 12-20 weeks, depending on the focus," he said. "We prepare from 500-800 people each year to run half marathons."

————————————————————————————————————————————

Upcoming Races

Wednesday, June 30

7:00 p.m., Sunstroke Summer Stampede Race #8 at Lady Bird Lake Trail (I-35 / Riverside Parking Lot). Visit www.summerstampede.com

Thursday, July 1

7:30 p.m. Firecracker 5K Evening Run at the River Ridge Business Park in San Marcos. Visit www.runtex.com

Saturday, July 3

7:30 a.m. The Nelson Scholarship 5K at Berry Creek Racquet Club, Georgetown. Visit www.nelsontennisfoundation.net/5k

8:00 a.m- Lago Vista Firecracker 5k at Heather Park, Lago Vista. Visit www.lagovistajuly4.org

Sunday, July 4

8:00 a.m- Freedom 5000 at the Austin State School. Visit www.runtex.com