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're thinking about to signing up for a 5K, a 10K or even a half marathon, you may wonder whether you are allowed to walk during the race. And what if you prefer to walk the entire course? Does participation in a running event require you to run the whole time?

The good news is that no race disqualifies participants for walking at some point. It is not uncommon for participants in longer races to take a short walking break. And shorter races often draw people of many different fitness levels so walking is not unusual in those events either. But it is helpful to consider the pros and cons of taking a walking break as well as safety considerations to keep your experience enjoyable.

If you need to walk during your running event, almost every event allows you to do so. However, there are benefits and drawbacks to consider before race day to make the best decision.

Benefits of Walking

There are different reasons for walking during a running race. You might take a short break to walk through a water stop or you might choose to walk up a hill. Some people also plan ahead to use a run/walk strategy to complete the course.

Walking in each of these situations offers benefits to you as a race participant.

Relief for Muscles

Taking a walk break during a race can be beneficial for runners because it gives your running muscles and joints a chance to rest and recover. If you feel that you can no longer run because of muscle fatigue, taking a short break to give your legs a break is a better option than stopping completely or quitting the event.

Helps With Hydration

Less experienced runners may be less comfortable running through water stops. If you've never run while drinking out of a cup, you might find that this is a challenging skill. Since hydration is key for maintaining your energy through running events (especially in the heat) it is far better to walk through a water stop than to run and not get the fluids that you need.

Disrupts Monotony

A short walking 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. This benefit is especially helpful for people who are doing longer distance events (such as a half or full marathon) for the first time.

May Increase Fat Burning

Your heart rate is lower when you're walking, which means your body will use fat for energy rather than primarily fast-burning carbs. As a result, you won't run out of energy as quickly.

Drawbacks to Walking

Of course, walking during a running event also presents a few substantial pitfalls. Consider these drawbacks before your event so that when you are tempted to walk, you can make an informed choice.

Prolongs the Effort

Any time you stop to walk, you slow your speed. Almost every running pace is slower than almost every walking pace. For this reason, you'll need to expect to be on the race course longer if you incorporate walking breaks.

May Decrease Motivation

Running alongside your fellow race participants creates a certain camaraderie that can help you to stay motivated during your event. It feels good to be part of the pack. While you're still participating even if you're walking, getting passed can be a hit on your ego or motivation.

Can Create an Obstacle

Depending on where you are on the course (and the number of runners taking part in the event), stopping to walk may create an obstacle for the runners around you, especially behind you.

Goal Time Disappointment

If you set a goal time for completion of your event, it is likely that walking during the race will stand in the way of reaching that goal. This is one more way that walking may mess with your race motivation. It can be hard to keep going when you know that you won't reach your goal. However, finishing the event is (almost) always better than not finishing and if you need to walk to finish, then taking a break makes sense.

Stopping to walk during a running race can decrease your motivation and may even mean that you don't reach your desired finish time, but slowing down to walk is usually better than not finishing at all.

Learn what pace you can expect using our calculator.

Etiquette and Safety

Make sure that you're a courteous and safe race participant if and when you choose to take a walking break.

At water stops, be sure to grab your cup while still jogging at a good pace. Squeeze the top of your cup so that water or other liquids don't spill while you're running or walking through the hydration area. Once clear of the water area, pull to the side before slowing down, out of the way of other racers.

At other times, move over to the side while running and make sure no one is running behind you before slowing to a walk. Some runners also signal that they are stopping by raising their hand.

Also, don't pass a slower racer and then suddenly slow to a crawl right in front of them. They may 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.

Lastly, if you are running around a corner, jog to the outside of the turn before walking to allow faster runners to run the tangent (the inside of the corner). These small moves can make a big difference to a competitive runner. It's best to allow these runners to hug the curve to reach their goals.

Choose the Right Race

If your running pace is on the slower side 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.

When you scan the race instructions, you will often see, "participants must maintain a 15:00 minutes per mile pace," or similar wording. If you don't maintain that pace, 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.

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.

Alternatives to Walking During a Race

If you consider the pros and cons of walking during a race and have decided that walking is not an option for you, there are alternatives that can help you maintain a running pace at your event.

Focus on Shorter Distances

The idea of "running" a marathon sounds like an impressive accomplishment. But if you have never completed a similar distance, your body may not be up for the challenge.

Instead, focus on shorter distance races and build from there. Start with a 5K and gradually move up to a 10K event. Once you've got a few 10Ks under your belt, take on the challenge of a half marathon. See how you feel during your half before taking on the full marathon challenge.

Take More Time to Train

Some marathon training programs get you race-ready in three months or less. But you may need more time—especially if you are new to the distance. Take several months to build a strong base. You may need six months or even a year to feel strong while running longer distances. But patience may be the key to having a good race experience.

Run Slower

If your legs are aching and your body is telling you to quit, you don't have to walk. You can simply slow to a jog and decrease your pace. Slow down a bit and see how your body feels. It may give your body and your brain the break it needs to keep going and reach your goal.

A Word From Verywell

If you choose to incorporate walking into your runs, make sure to maintain good form. Keep your elbows at a 90-degree angle (not at your side) and take quick steps. This will make the transition back to running much easier.

Also, don't wait until you're exhausted and sore to take a walk break—it's much harder to start running again if you walk when you can't run anymore.

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