Most runners have the ambition to complete a marathon. It’s a great milestone to reach and something to tick off the bucket list.
But if you’re new to running, have health problems, or can’t run quite like you used to, you might assume that your marathon goal is far away or may never even happen.
There’s good news, though. Walking a marathon has become an easily achievable goal that many race organizers encourage. If running a marathon is a goal that seems far out of your reach, then walking a marathon is your best first step.
Here’s everything you need to know to help you prepare for a walkathon!
Is It Okay to Walk a Marathon?
Yes! It’s absolutely okay to walk a marathon. Walking a marathon has become more popular in recent years, making it more common to have people walk the distance and have fun doing it.
There’s an ever-growing list of marathons that welcome walkers. These include:
- Portland Marathon
- TCS New York City Marathon
- Rock n’ Roll Marathon
- Avenue of the Giants Marathon
- Honolulu Marathon
- Mardi Gras Marathon
But with that being said, you should always double-check on a marathon’s website or with the race organizer before assuming that you can walk a marathon.
The biggest concern is that you will run out of time. Many marathons have a cut-off time that you must finish by. This is usually dictated by volunteer and police constraints, road closures, and other issues that make a hard cut-off necessary for marathons.
Make sure to check before you enter to avoid disappointment—a cut-off time of 8 hours or so should be adequate.
Who Should Walk a Marathon?
If running a marathon seems too much for you, choosing a walking marathon is a great idea. If even that seems like quite a task, aim for walking a 5k, then walking a 10k, then walking a half-marathon!
Why would you walk a marathon instead of running it, though? There are many reasons behind walking a marathon, all of which are valid.
If your fitness is not yet at the level that you can run a marathon, then walking a marathon is an excellent way to begin.
Those who have problems with their knees or ankles and can’t run because of the impact should be able to walk a marathon instead. This means you can still reach new, exciting goals even if you can no longer run.
People with lung problems, breathing troubles, mobility issues, or other health conditions preventing them from running can walk a marathon.
However, it’s wise to confirm with your doctor before walking a marathon to ensure that you are cleared to do that level of exercise.
So How Long Will It Take?
The average time to walk a marathon is between 6 and 8 hours. If you walk the entire time and it’s your first or second marathon, you can expect your finishing time to be closer to 8 hours.
If you are walking your third or fourth marathon, your time should improve. Those who choose to run/walk—which we only advise doing if your joints and your body can handle it—you can finish in 5 to 7 hours.
How Long Will It Take by Pace?
The average marathon walker who finishes in 8 hours will need to keep a pace of about 18 minutes per mile. To increase that to a finishing time of 7 hours, you will need to walk at a pace of 16 minutes per mile.
How Long Should You Train to Walk a Marathon?
Although walking a marathon needs less training than running one, don’t assume you can walk one without any training. You still need to put in the effort to build your body up for the marathon so it can handle the challenge.
Your optimal training load depends on your schedule. If you can walk 4 to 5 times a week—with three or four 30 to 60-minute walks and one 2-hour or more walk—then you can train effectively in 3 to 4 months.
However, if you can only walk 2 to 3 times a week, then you should expect 6 months of training before you’re ready to walk a marathon.
If you’re a beginner, we advise taking your training slowly to build up a base of strength and pace. 6 months should be more than enough time.
Tips for Training to Walk a Marathon
Although walking a marathon is not as strenuous as running one, you still need to put effort into training to achieve a great time and stay safe.
Here are our tips for training to walk a marathon, with a sample training plan.
Train By Time, Not Distance
Trying to train according to the distance of a marathon can be intimidating. It’s easier and more manageable to train by time and pace instead.
We recommend starting with 30 minutes for your short walks and an hour for your long walks. Remember, when planning your route, you need to plan for half your time one way and half your time coming back!
Aim to keep a pace of 18 minutes per mile, which is about 3 ½ miles per hour. As you increase your time throughout your training and your pace starts to improve, you’ll also find that your distance naturally increases.
You should add 5 minutes to your short walks each week and 15 to 20 minutes to your long walks.
Train for 3 to 5 Days a Week
This will depend on your fitness level, time goal for the week, and daily schedule. At least one of your sessions should be a long walk—ideally over the weekend—and the others should be shorter walks.
You may need to add your walks between daily tasks like work and family time. For many, getting up earlier to walk is the best way to fit it into their daily routine.
You can also do training walks on a treadmill if you need to, although we do recommend getting as much training done on the road or trail as possible.
Vary The Terrain
Try to vary the terrain you train on. Not only will this help prevent boredom, but it also allows your body to adapt to different terrain and not become complacent.
You can include a treadmill walk as one of your different “terrains.” Try to do some training walks on the road, some on trails, and include hills in at least one walk every week to increase your strength.
Add Recovery Weeks
Every 4th week, do a recovery week to allow your body some time to rest. On these weeks, decrease your mileage or your time by 40 percent of what it was the previous week. Try to take it easy and avoid faster training walks.
The following week, you can get right back into your regular training schedule from where you left off. Your body will feel refreshed, and you may notice the week went better than you were expecting.
Don’t Forget to Taper
Don’t forget to taper even if you’re planning on walking a marathon instead of running. For 2 weeks before your event, decrease your mileage and your time down to 60 percent of your goal marathon time.
Pay Attention to Your Nutrition
You want to eat whole foods as much as possible during your training. These are packed with easy-to-digest nutrients that your body can convert into energy quickly.
You should avoid processed foods, high-sugar foods, and alcohol. Also, make sure to stay well-hydrated throughout the training process.
You may want to consider carbo-loading before your marathon to help boost your performance on the day.
Sample Training Plan
Start with a few 30-minute walks during the week. Do a 2-hour slower walk on the weekend. If you wish, you can do your long walk during the week, but try to stay consistent.
Increase every short walk by 5 minutes this week and your long walk by 15 to 20 minutes. You should be doing two to four 35-minute walks during the week and a 2-hour and 15-minute walk on the weekend.
This week, increase each walk again the same amount of time. You should now be doing a few 40-minute walks during the week and one 2-hour and 30-minute walk on the weekend.
This week will be your first recovery week. Your short walks should be reduced by 40 percent, so you will do a few 24-minute walks during the week. Your long run will also be reduced by 40 percent, so you will do a 90-minute walk.
This week, you will continue from week 3’s times but add 5 minutes to each short run again and 15 minutes to the long run. So you will be doing a few 45-minute short, fast walks and one 2-hour and 45-minute long walk.
Continue with this pattern each week, remembering to have a recovery week with a 40 percent reduction every 4th week—4, 8, 12, 16, etc.
You can stop increasing your time when you have reached 90 minutes for your short walks. When you have reached 80% of your marathon time goal on your long run, stop increasing your time and stick to that time.
Additional Marathon Walking Tips
Pay Attention to Your Form
If you want to power through walking a marathon, learn how to power walk! But make sure you pay attention to your form and ensure that you keep your form throughout your walk.
This can be difficult when you begin to fatigue, but it will help you to perform at your best throughout the walk.
It’s worthwhile to do cross-training activities on days you aren’t walking. You can add one day—45 minutes to an hour—of strength training in the gym or using your own body weight or resistance bands at home where you focus on strengthening your glutes, hips, and abs.
On other days, you can add a sport like cycling, rowing, or swimming. These can count as “active rest days”. Have at least one full day of no exercise per week to help your body recover.
Add Mobility Sessions
Mobility and flexibility training are important parts of recovery. We highly recommend adding a day or two of mobility training focusing on the hips and legs. You can use a foam roller and incorporate dynamic stretches.
Wear Good Shoes
It’s essential to wear a good pair of shoes to help you perform at your best, both during training and on race day.
We highly recommend choosing a pair of running shoes that are good for walking rather than walking shoes, due to the distance you’ll be walking.
Make sure the arch support in the shoe is right for your foot. If you overpronate, you will need a stability shoe.
Train in your marathon shoes a few times in the weeks leading up to the marathon, so your feet are used to how they feel.