Are You Allowed to Walk During a Running Race?

Walking woman during marathon

Peter van der Sluijs/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

If you want to sign up for a race such as a half marathon, but you don’t know if you can run the entire distance, you may wonder whether you are allowed to walk during the race. This is also a question you may have if you are purely a walker. Do runs require you to run?

The good news is that no race disqualifies participants for walking at some point, so you're certainly not required to run the entire distance. In longer races especially, many participants take a short walking break at some point, whether they're walking through a water stop or up a hill, or using a planned race strategy of run and walk intervals.

Taking Walk Breaks

Taking a walk break during a race can be beneficial for runners since it gives your running muscles and joints a chance to rest and recover. A short walk interval can also break up the monotony during a race, which can help you deal with the mental challenges and any discomfort you may be feeling.

If you plan to take some walk breaks during a race, just make sure that you still maintain good form and don't take it as an opportunity to really slow down and rest. You should keep your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle (not at your side) and take quick steps. That will make the transition back to running much easier.

Etiquette and Safety

Make sure that you're a courteous and safe race participant. If you are going to make your walk breaks coincide with water stops, be sure to grab the water while still jogging at a good pace. Once clear of the water area, then pull to the side before slowing down, out of the way of other racers.

At other times, move over to the side and make sure no one is running behind you before slowing to a walk. Don't pass a slower racer and then suddenly slow to a crawl right in front of them. They are liable to now find you an annoying and dangerous obstacle in their path. Even if they are walking, it is likely their pace is faster than your walking pace.

Staying on the Course Pace

If you are a slow runner or you plan to walk the majority of your race, you should make sure that the race you sign up for is walker-friendly. There are some races, from 5Ks to marathons, that have cut-off times, a time limit by which all participants must have crossed the finish line. You should be sure to factor walk breaks into your predicted finish time.

You may need to maintain a certain overall pace on the course. Check the course instructions and rules to see what the cutoff time is for finishers and whether there points on the course you need to reach on a certain pace. You will often see, "participants must maintain a 15:00 minutes per mile pace," or similar wording. Otherwise, you may be moved to the sidewalk and the streets opened to vehicle traffic, requiring you to stop at all crossings and use the crosswalks, etc. You are likely to encounter the race markings and water stops being removed if you continue on the sidewalks. Or, they may even remove you from the course in the dreaded "sag wagon." In both instances, you may not receive your finisher medal or other race rewards.

You can walk, but be sure you are courteous to other racers and remain within the course time limits.

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