At 26.2 miles, marathons are a challenge for even the most experienced long-distance runner. That might explain why a number of new "half-marathons" are becoming popular with those who aren't quite ready to go the long haul. Last year the number of registered half-marathons jumped to 290 from 213 only three years earlier. Early this month, the second annual Nike NYC Half-Marathon (nyrr.org) filled the streets of Manhattan with 10,000 runners, chosen by a random lottery system because there were so many applicants. Next year the Marine Corps Marathon, the nation's fourth largest marathon with 30,000 runners, will debut a half-marathon event in Fredericksburg, Va., on May 18 with 5,000 spots (marinemarathon.com). The new event came purely from runners' demand, says Beth Johnson, the event's public-relations coordinator. Those who need a little entertainment to get through the 13.1 miles need look no further than Las Vegas. A half-marathon debuted there last year; it begins with a four-mile stretch on the Strip. And in the spirit of the town, the race features running Elvis impersonators and even a run through a wedding chapel. About 15 couples have already registered to say "I do" in the middle of their half-marathon. Register for the Dec. 2 race at lvmarathon.com. Capped at 25,000, you should have no problem snagging a spot.
If Mickey and Minnie are more your speed, the Disneyland Half Marathon runs through Disneyland and California Adventure amusement parks for the first four miles and then on to Angels Stadium, where runners' names appear on the JumboTron when they cross home plate. In its second year, the Sept. 3 race already has 13,000 registered runners (disneyworldsports.disney.go.com). Run enough half-marathons, and soon you'll be ready for the real thing.