Can You Walk A Marathon?


Almost every serious runner has a marathon on their bucket list. But it can sometimes seem like an impossible task.

What if you’re a new runner who doesn’t want to wait years before finishing a marathon? Maybe you’re a walker who still has aspirations of getting that marathon medal. Or perhaps you’ve been injured and can’t give it your all.

Is all hope lost, or can you walk a marathon?

Let’s find out!

How Long Does It Take to Walk a Marathon?

If you’re an accomplished walker with a decent fitness level, you can finish a full marathon in 6 to 8 hours.

Most walkers will finish closer to 8 hours. If you can keep up a fast walking pace for the full race, you can finish in closer to 6 hours. But this is generally a small percentage of walkers.

Is It OK to Walk a Marathon?

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with walking a marathon! In fact, many marathon race directors have made their races walker-friendly by offering a walking-specific cut-off time.

That said, it’s wise to check beforehand if the marathon you have your eye on is walker-friendly. Not all of them are!

Is Walking a Marathon Harder Than Running?

Not at all. Walking a marathon is easier on the body than running. There’s less impact on the joints and your body doesn’t fatigue as quickly.

Many runners end up doing a mixture of running and walking throughout their marathon.

Is It OK to Walk a Marathon Without Training?

You can walk a marathon without training as long as you’re physically fit enough to do so. You should also be sure that you have no underlying medical conditions or injuries.

But, we recommend at least some training before leaping in. 26 miles is a long way! Just a bit of training can improve your performance vastly and also reduce the chance of injuries on the road.

Can I Walk a Marathon in Running Shoes?

If you walk a lot, you may wear a pair of walking shoes. These are specifically made for walkers and not runners. They typically have less cushion, as the impact on the joints isn’t as great as it is when running. They’re also usually more flexible.

You can wear normal walking shoes. But running shoes are likely to be more comfortable and provide better protection over a long distance like a marathon!

Marathon Walking Tips

Know the Cut-Off Times

The usual cut-off time for big marathons is six hours for the finish. If you haven’t reached the half-marathon point by three hours in, you may be disqualified.

It may be wise to double-check the cut-off times before starting. That will give you an indication of what pace you should be maintaining in order to stay in the race.

Monitor the Sweeper

The sweeper is a runner or vehicle that follows the runners around the course. They usually stick to the minimum pace required to make it within the cut-off times.

If you fall behind the sweeper, that means that you’re not likely to make the cut-off time (unless you have quite a burst of energy and speed).

Make sure to stay ahead of the sweeper in order to avoid being disqualified.

Keep Right for the First 2 to 3 Miles

Just like on the road (in the US, anyway), the right-hand side of the course is the “slow lane”. Keep right unless you’re passing slower runners.

This is courteous and also prevents runners from getting stuck in a crowd and not being able to move!

Do Not Walk More Than 2 People Side-by-Side

For the first few miles, try to stay in single file (on the right). This makes it easier for others to pass you if they’re running faster.

When the crowd thins out, it’s okay to walk next to each other. Be mindful of others on the road, though. Don’t obstruct their way and be considerate!

Pre-Marathon Diet

While training for a marathon, you’ll most likely be sticking to a specific diet. Don’t do anything different on race day! Stick to a meal that you know won’t cause digestive troubles.

Don’t overeat, either. It can be tempting to have a larger meal than usual, thinking that you’ll have more fuel for the race ahead. But that’s what energy chews are for! Eat a moderate meal so you don’t feel weighed down.

If you decided to attempt a marathon without training, this point still applies! Choose a moderate meal that you know won’t upset your stomach.

Don’t Try Out New Gear on Race Day

It’s best to use gear you’ve trained in before and your body has adjusted to.

Trying new gear on race day can lead to chafing and blisters! Stick with what you know and are comfortable in.

Don’t Head Into the Event Under-Trained

Although we’ve mentioned that you can walk a marathon untrained, we don’t advise it! Walking 26.2 miles is quite an undertaking. Some training is a good idea to make sure that you’ll be able to do it in time and without overexerting yourself.

Attempting a marathon untrained or under-trained can lead to injury or sheer exhaustion if your body isn’t used to it!

Don’t Neglect Your Technique

You should pay as much attention to your form when you’re walking as you do running.

Using the correct form not only reduces the chance of injury, but it also conserves energy and improves your efficiency. It could be the difference between hitting a PB and missing it, or missing the cut-off time!

Don’t Start Too Fast

Using some kind of pacing device (you can find them on some sports watches) can help you keep a good pace from the start.

It can be easy to start off too fast, especially when others are running and you’re walking. Starting too fast can lead to running out of steam halfway through!

Train In All Conditions

You never know what the conditions may be on race day! Try to get in at least one training session (but preferably more) in all kinds of weather.

Rain and wind are two of the most likely adverse weather conditions to find on race day. If you wake up and see it’s raining, don’t go back to sleep! Take the opportunity to get in a training session so you know how to handle it if it happens on race day.

Learn About Nutrition and Hydration

Whether you’re training or not, don’t neglect hydration and nutrition! Take some time to learn about how best to fuel and hydrate yourself through your marathon.

You need to have enough water for the distance. You’ll also need some kind of nutrition to fuel yourself through those miles.

In the weeks and months leading up to the marathon, experiment with different energy chews, energy gels, and carb-rich sports drinks. Find what works for you and make sure you have a stash in your running belt on race day!

Also, make sure you have an electrolyte supplement or a sports drink containing electrolytes so that you don’t conk out halfway due to an electrolyte imbalance.

Take Chafing Precautions!

Even if you’re just walking, chafing happens! Don’t neglect chafing precautions – it could be the difference between finishing strong and giving up halfway, in pain.

Use an anti-chafing balm or roll-on in spots that may be a problem. Wherever your clothing may rub against the skin should be coated before you begin.

Wearing the right size shoes also helps to prevent blisters. Wear moisture-wicking, quick-drying socks. You can also put cornstarch in your shoes to absorb moisture!

Walking a Marathon Training Plan Tips

You’ll know by now that we recommend training for a marathon, even if you’re going to walk instead of run!

For a complete newbie, you should start training 4 or 5 months before the marathon. You should be aiming for at least 3 training sessions per week.

This is an effective way to structure your training:

  • Two to three walks of between 45 and 60 minutes during the week
  • A longer walk on the weekend

For your longer walk start with an hour. Every week, add 15 to 20 to your total time. Yes, this means that you’ll eventually be taking a 6+ hour walk on the weekend!

You should monitor your distance as well as your time, although this is only for planning purposes. Three weeks before your marathon, you should hit 18 to 20 miles on your long weekend walk.

You may need to plan extra carefully in advance to make sure you hit this mark exactly three weeks before your race! Any sooner and you may be overexerting yourself. If you aren’t there yet at this point, you may not be sufficiently trained.

When you hit this distance, you should begin to reduce your distance by about 25% per week. This is called tapering! It gives your body some space to recover before your big race day.

Don’t worry if you miss the occasional day’s training. But we recommend making up for it the next day if possible. Don’t let it become a habit.

We also recommend training outdoors in the real world as much as possible. But you can train effectively for a marathon on a treadmill too.

Above all, have fun and challenge yourself. Walking a marathon is a great achievement but a large part of it should be about having fun!

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Shanna is a writer who runs... And cycles, jumps rope, and lifts weights. She lives in beautiful South Africa and enjoys sharing her knowledge and experience with other avid athletes.