In Praise of the Hemithon

There’s a real cachet to the Marathon – that Greek history, all the great runners who’ve made a name for themselves by winning in New York, Boston, Chicago, London, or the Olympics, the sheer absurdity of any normal mortal actually choosing to run that far.  But 26.2 miles is a long way to go, and an even longer distance to train for.

The half marathon has a lot in common with the full. It’s long enough that you must train, so there’s a real sense of achievement, and it draws on many of the same skills – goal-setting, proper pacing, hydration and nutrition, developing an efficient and non-injurious stride.  And, there’s much the same camaraderie stepping up to the start and at the finish, plus there seem to be a lot more ‘halfs’ around (maybe because they can accommodate more runners with less traffic-management and fewer volunteers/staff).

The only thing holding back this otherwise very appealing event is that name – half­- marathon.  Like being half-asleep, or half-qualified (or half-pregnant!) it just doesn’t sound very satisfying.  I mean, where’s the sense of accomplishment in completing half of anything!

The 13.1 mile run deserves its own full name, and my modest suggestion is to call this event the Hemithon – as in hemisphere, hemihydrates, or the ubiquitous hemidomaphobia (fear of half a house).    It’s got the same punch as its longer sibling, and sufficient semantic resemblance to connect to that grand heritage, but rolls quickly enough off the tongue to sound casual and confident. And even thought we all know ‘hemi’ really means the same thing as ‘half,’ that Latinate construction obscures things just enough to sound like a whole of its self (and a lot more credible than ‘Halfathon.’)

13.1 miles, I hereby christen thee, the Hemithon.

P.S. – The folks in Green River, Utah used to put on a wonderful small event in scenic Goblin Valley, which offered an Ultramarathon (anything over 26.2 qualifies; this one was 50k or about 30 miles) and a 25 k event (about 15 miles).  I did the latter, and ever since have struggled to figure out how to explain my Goblin Valley Ultramarathon t-shirt:  did I run a half-ultra-marathon, or an ultra-half-marathon, or half an ultramarathon – or maybe not an ultra-anything-at-all?   There’s just no way to combine ‘half’ and ‘ultra’ in the same language that doesn’t sound like you’re trying to get away with something, but if my plan gets enough traction, maybe I can finally be proud to claim my Ultrahemithon completion.

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