Plan a Walking Marathon

by : Jacob Mabille

A marathon sounds intimidating, but that only makes the possibility of completing one all the more attractive, and impressive. You don't have to be an athlete to train for, and complete, a marathon. You can even be overweight, out-of-shape, and an all-around couch potato. All you need is determination and the will to stick to your training program.

A marathon is 26.2 miles, and often are reserved for runners. However, many marathons and half-marathons (13 miles) are beginning to welcome walkers as well. Check for events in your area that allow walkers to participate.

  • First Steps
    You probably heard you should check with your doctor before starting a fitness program, and that advice is especially important when training for such a long distance event. Walking long distances can put enormous amounts of strain on your body, particularly if you're relatively out-of shape. It's important to talk with your doctor about your exercise program and any health concerns you have before beginning.

    After getting your doctor's approval, you'll need comfortable shoes and clothes. Don't skimp on shoes – this is not the time to pick up a pair at your local discount store. You need a shoe that fits well and that provides good support and that is designed for walking. Try the shoe on in the afternoon, when your feet are probably their largest of the day, and wear the same types of socks you'll be walking in.

    When you're still walking short distances, you should be able to wear sports socks and clothing for your walks. As your distance increases, however, you'll want to invest in some socks designed to prevent blisters. On your long walk days, you may want to carry blister tape along with you just in case. Many walkers have good results with lubricants designed for runners. Keeping areas of your feet that are prone to blisters lubricated will help prevent blistering.

    As for clothing, if you walk in particularly hot or cold weather, you'll need to take care not to overheat or get too cold. Visit a sporting goods store to purchase moisture wicking clothing that is suitable for your climate.

    Finally, you'll need a pedometer. You can get a simple one that only counts steps for around $5-10, or you can pay as much as $50 or more for a more complex model. Regardless of the one you choose, you'll need to track your distance each walking day.

  • How Far is Too Far?
    Even if you're out-of-shape, you'll be able to follow a marathon training program if you allow yourself time to work up to the longer distances. For your first walking week, plan on walking five days at a comfortable distance each day. Many walkers plan on resting one weekend day and one week day. Your weekend walking day will eventually become your long-distance walking day.

    Let's say you're able to do only one mile comfortably for the first week. Your second week might look like this - Monday: 1 mile, Tuesday: 1 mile, Wednesday: 1 mile, Thursday: Rest, Friday: 1 mile, Saturday: 1.5 to 2 miles and Sunday: Rest

    You'll gradually increase your weekday walks and your weekend walk until you're walking approximately three to six miles on weekdays and up to 18 to 20 miles on your long distance day.

  • Avoiding Injury
    The most important thing you can do to avoid injury is to increase your distance gradually. Once you've established what distance you're initially comfortable walking, you should increase your weekly distance by no more than 10 percent at a time. So if you complete five miles your first week, on your second week you should complete no more than five and a half miles. The next week, you'll complete no more than six miles, and so on.

    Gradually increase your distance until you're walking about thirty miles per week. If you experience any physical discomfort, you should decrease your distance temporarily and visit your doctor if it continues.

    Another technique for avoiding injury is allowing yourself time to stretch, warm up, and cool down. Stretching your muscles will prevent injury, as will beginning your walks at a slower pace and slowly increasing your speed until you've reached your walking pace. Slowing at the end of your walk will help your body adjust to the reduction in effort and aid in reducing muscle soreness.

  • Other Tips for Success

    Stay well hydrated while walking. This is especially important in warm weather and on your long distance days, but you should develop a habit of carrying some water with you. On your long distance days, take a high-quality snack along. Nuts and raisins are easy to carry and provide a quick energy boost for those long walks.

    Consider walking a half-marathon (about thirteen miles) when you're able to walk ten miles relatively easily on your long distance days. Most marathons and half-marathons have time limits, so later in your training you'll need to consider your speed as well as your distance to ensure that you can finish within the time allotted. It will give you an opportunity to see how your body reacts to the demands of a marathon, and you'll have the experience and success to continue to motivate you through your training.

The Big Day
Reduce the length of your walks two to three weeks before the date of the marathon or half-marathon. Your weekday walks should fall to three or four miles each, and your weekend walks should be reduced to twelve miles or so each for a full marathon. Your body will need time to rest before attempting the full distance.

Don't eat anything unusual the day before or the day of the marathon. You run the risk of having something 'disagree' with you, and stomach problems will almost certainly prevent your finishing the event. Instead, eat a healthy meal that includes protein and complex carbohydrates. Chicken, fish, and whole grains are good choices.

If the race offers sports drinks and water, try alternating between the two at hydrating stations. Too much of the sports drinks can cause stomach upset, but a little will help to keep your energy up.

Carry some snacks, runner's lubricant and blister tape along with you. Don't buy brand new shoes for the event – this is not the time to break them in. Your shoes should be relatively new, but you should have walked two or three weeks in them to ensure that they'll be comfortable and not cause any chafing. Remember that you've trained and planned for this day for weeks, or even months. The marathon will be a challenge, but it's one that you can overcome.