It wasn’t long ago when Clark Ensz can remember the half-marathon race being considered an oddity.
The 10-kilometer was the race of the time and the marathon still had a strong pull on runners. The half marathon was a race without a purpose. Few races even offered it, and if they did, it was solely for marathon runners in between races in search of training.
So it will be quite the sight for Ensz, a local race director for the last 35 years, this Sunday when as many as 1,800 runners compete in the half-marathon race, making it by far the most popular race offered in the Prairie Fire marathon series this spring.
“To me, it makes total sense,” Ensz said. “It doesn’t really surprise me that the half has become the new distance. It makes perfect sense. It actually surprises me that people didn’t think about it sooner.”
Ensz estimates the half-marathon craze began about a decade ago, and can be explained by a variety of reasons.
The most obvious answer in the increased participation is a simple result of running’s booming popularity. More total runners has led to more races, which has led to more half marathons.
Another has to do with the manageable distance – 13.1 miles – to go along with a more reasonable training schedule. Most runners don’t have to push themselves to their outer boundaries to be able to complete a half-marathon.
“It doesn’t take up your time like training for a full marathon does,” Wichita runner Lacy Hansen said. “It’s still a very, very big accomplishment, and it’s not going to take up your entire life.”
The race also offers the allure of completing a marathon, albeit a half, but a marathon nonetheless. Some people even include it on their bucket list.
“The half marathon is kind of the stepping stone race for a lot of people,” said Kevin Swinicki, owner of GoRun Wichita, a local running store. “It’s only a half marathon, so they do it because they’re only half-crazy. People still view it as a tremendous accomplishment.”
As running has become more popular, so have training groups.
Barb Perry, a local runner who will be running in her first half marathon this Sunday at age 52, said a reason training for the race was doable was because of the friendships developed with her training group.
“I wanted to wake up every Saturday morning at 7:30 a.m.,” Perry said. “No matter how cold or how rainy it was, I wanted to be with that group of people who encouraged me.”
For the last 13 years, Perry has dedicated her nights to teaching jazzercise classes at the YMCA and helping others achieve their fitness goals.
Like many others on Sunday, Perry will be running with a purpose.
“I’m going to cross that finish line and I’m going to cry,” Perry said. “I’m going to be totally elated because this is something that I’m doing for myself. To be able to achieve this goal after not being able to run a full 5K before, it’s just going to be...’wow.’”
Runners like Perry are what made the half marathon so popular and will keep it so popular.
Ensz doesn’t think the recent trend is a fad, as he believes the half-marathon race is here to stay. No longer is it the oddity that it was once. Half marathons have carved out a niche and have become a staple to distance races everywhere.
It took runners more than 20 years to figure it out, and now that they have, Ensz thinks the half marathon’s popularity is only going to keep increasing.
“It is a legitimate challenge, but doesn’t take the enormous demands and change in lifestyle that a full marathon really takes,” Ensz said. “That’s what made it become so popular, and I don’t think that’s going to change. It’s terrific to see how much it has grown.”