For better than two decades, Nancy Zoeller rode her bicycle from Wichita over the entire country.
She had achieved happiness and was certain she would continue biking until the day came she no longer could.
Three years ago, a friend persuaded Zoeller to give running a try. She reluctantly agreed to run a 5-kilometer race, if only to appease her friend. Much to her surprise, she enjoyed it so much she signed up for another one. And then another.
Zoeller, now 54, hasn’t stopped running since that day, as she will run in her fourth half marathon this Sunday in part of the Prairie Fire Marathon series.
“I haven’t touched my bike since then,” Zoeller said. “I thought I was pretty addicted to riding my bike. But once I started running, it changed my mind pretty quick. It’s a whole different addiction.”
Zoeller’s addiction is one that many runners can relate to, as the growing trend is for runners to graduate from running 5Ks and 10Ks and make the leap to the half-marathon.
GoRun Wichita owner Kevin Swinicki said at his store, more than 170 runners completed a 16-week training program in preparation for Sunday’s half marathon.
Of that number, the large majority are novice runners. The program offers five levels of training, each one offering tailored workouts for specific ability levels.
“The key thing is that we bring them along conservatively,” Swinicki said. “A lot of people try to take on a little bit too much when they don’t have the experience and it doesn’t last because they get hurt. We want to help people enjoy running without overdoing it and getting injured.”
For novices, overcoming the fear of the increase in mileage – from either a 5K (3.1 miles) or 10K (6.2 miles) to a half marathon (13.1 miles) – is the first obstacle.
GoRun’s training plans begin with manageable runs, such as two or three miles. Weekends are when the mileage amps up, but even then, Swinicki says it’s important to bring runners along slowly.
“You have to build their aerobic system, so their ability to run longer and process oxygen become stronger,” Swinicki said. “We add on slowly each week, so the body can handle it and build up slowly. They didn’t think they could run four miles at the start, but by the end of it they’re running 10.”
For more experienced runners, such as Lacy Hansen, a veteran in the Wichita running community, a half marathon offers a break from the grind of a 5K and 10K, where speed work is more prevalent.
Hansen, who will be running in Sunday’s half marathon, said she has found her rather toned-down training program of 30 miles per week refreshing.
“I’m used to running those shorter races, where you’re just in complete pain because you’re running at such a heavy pace,” Hansen said. “With the longer miles, it’s still relatively fast but you ease yourself into the pain. You can find an easier pace and find a rhythm.”
More and more runners are deciding to tackle the half marathon.
Regardless of experience, runners such as Zoeller, who never thought completing a half-marathon was attainable, can vouch for the idea.
“Sometimes you’re running and you wonder, ‘Why am I doing this?’ ” Zoeller said. “Then you finish and, believe me, you feel so great. A lot of people can say they ran a 5K or a 10K, but a half marathon? That’s a big accomplishment. A really, really big accomplishment.”