ST. PETERSBURG — Costa Rican 2008 Olympian Gabriela Traña ran the marathon in Beijing, but she wished the distance would have been a tad shorter — by half, to be exact.
"A full marathon is very tough," said Traña, 29, who hopes to establish a hard-to-equal course record at Sunday's inaugural Women's Running magazine Women's Half Marathon. "This distance is fast, fun, easier to train for."
Traña, who won the 2007 Walt Disney World Marathon, is so keen on the 13.1-mile distance that she has been targeting races around the country.
"I think you will see more and more half-marathons in coming years," said Traña, who set a course record at the Frederick (Md.) Half Marathon in May. "And I think you will see more women running these races as well."
Dawna Stone, publisher of Women's Running, said she knew a "halfathon" would be the right race for St. Petersburg.
"It is the hot distance," said Stone, a 41-year-old mother of two. "Half-marathons are exploding in popularity all around the country."
A realistic challenge
The number of half-marathons in Pinellas County has doubled in the past year. The 2008-09 season had three 13.1-mile races. This running season — a season typically runs from late October through April — has six.
"Nationally, the single biggest growth area is the half-marathon," said St. Petersburg's Chris Lauber, who produces three local half-marathons.
"We get runners on their way up as they train for a marathon, and then we get runners on their way back down as they back off the high mileage required to complete a full 26.2-mile race."
Though many runners aspire to run a marathon, only a small percentage can continue to run marathons year after year.
"I think the half-marathon is a more doable distance," said Lauber, who also organizes the Gulf Beaches Marathon each January.
"It is long enough to give you a real feeling of accomplishment, yet not too long that you have to deal with chronic overuse injuries."
Ryan Lamppa, media director of Running USA, a group that promotes road racing, said he expects the number of half-marathons in the United States to continue to grow.
"A lot of people use the half-marathon as a training run," Lamppa said. "Most organized training programs specifically state that you should complete at least one organized half-marathon before attempting a marathon.
"It is a fitness test. If you are planning to do a marathon in four to six weeks, it is a great way to know if you are ready."
But the half-marathon has become the ultimate goal for many runners.
Team in Training, the fundraising arm of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, will have more than 400 runners in Sunday's field, which may number more than 4,000.
Many are first-timers who hope to raise more than $1 million for research.