How to Walk a Marathon

Get to the Finish Line in 6 to 8 Hours

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You don't have to be a runner to complete a marathon (26.2 miles). Many people can walk a marathon in six to eight hours. While walking a marathon may not be as laborious as running one, dedicating yourself to proper training is essential to achieving this goal.

People have many reasons for walking instead of running a marathon. For example, former runners who experience joint pain often switch to walking because it puts less stress on joints. Others just prefer walking to running and seek out marathons for the challenge.

Whatever your reason, make sure you're ready before race day.

Before You Decide to Walk a Marathon

The marathon is a tough distance. Most healthy people can do it if they dedicate themselves to a strategic training schedule and give themselves at least nine months to prepare.

Before you register for your first marathon, check to make sure this is a realistic goal for you at this time. Prior to starting your marathon training, you should already be able to comfortably walk at a fast pace for at least one hour.

Make sure you have the time to devote to training. You can expect to have to complete three one-hour walks and a longer walk (lasting two to six hours) every week.

During training, you will build your stamina by walking four days a week, starting with 20 miles in a week and increasing each week to up to 38 miles a few weeks before the race. This is broken down into three 4-mile walks and one distance-building walk each week.

You may also consider consulting with a healthcare provider to make sure you are healthy enough to train for a marathon. Some marathons, like those in France and Italy, require a medical certificate from your doctor to participate.

If you're ready to make a commitment, start by finding a walker-friendly marathon.​​

How Many Steps Are in a Marathon?

A marathon is about 55,000 steps if you have a stride length of 30 inches (average for men), and about 63,000 steps if you have a stride length of 26.5 inches (average for men). This will be different depending on your personal stride length.

Prepare for Marathon Training

Once you've set your goal and carved out time in your schedule to train, there are a few more things you will need to do to get ready.

Get Proper Gear

Good footwear is essential for making it through training and to the finish line. You may need more cushioning to lessen fatigue and the impact of long-distance training, so you need to ensure you have the right shoes.

Many people prefer running shoes, but walking shoes provide cushioning specifically for walkers. Your first stop should be a dedicated running or walking shoe store to be fitted for shoes to use in training and on race day.

What you wear for long-distance walking isn't the same as what you'd wear for a shorter stroll. You'll need clothes that help prevent chafing and layers that are appropriate for the season. With many months of training ahead of you, you will likely need winter, summer, and rainy weather gear.

You may also want to invest in a running belt to hold keys and water, a fitness tracker or smartwatch, an arm-strap phone holder, earbuds that twist into place, and other running gear.

You won't have a choice to avoid rain or snow or wind on race day. So try to train in all weather conditions. Learn how to use your gear to prepare for any conditions on race day.

Build Base Mileage

You'll need a solid walking foundation before starting an official marathon mileage building schedule. First, work up to walk comfortably at a brisk pace for one hour.

Do three-hour-long brisk walks and one long walk a week from that point. Gradually build your mileage, increasing 10% per week for the long walk until you can walk comfortably for 8 miles.

Prevent Common Injuries

Blisters and chafing are the biggest banes of long-distance walkers. Whether they occur on your feet, armpits, crotch, or chest, there are different strategies for preventing these painful skin issues throughout training and on race day, including wearing proper-fitting shoes and wicking clothing, and using lubricants.

Other injuries include cramps, strains, sprains, and stomach issues. Be sure to fuel adequately and hydrate effectively. Warm up with some light stretching and cool down after your walks.

When walking for hours, you need to use energy snacks, water, and electrolyte-replacement drinks to keep going. Learn what to eat to fuel your marathon training and how to hydrate, and practice on your long training walks so that you know what works for you in time for race day.

Train to Walk a Marathon

Once you have the right gear and have built up your base mileage, you are ready to start officially training for the marathon. Here's a timeline of what you'll need to do to be ready for race day.

Five Months Out

Now is the time to start building mileage to prepare for the 26.2-mile race. Find and commit to a training schedule that will help you increase your long-distance mileage and develop your speed and aerobic capacity.

One Month Out

The final month of training includes your longest walk. Use it to make adjustments to what you'll be wearing and fine-tune how to eat and drink throughout a long walk. You'll know what works best for you to prevent blisters and other discomforts.

Two Weeks Out

After your longest training walk, you will begin tapering by scaling back on mileage during your walks for the two weeks before the race. Tapering will give your body time to restore itself after your longest training day and be at its peak on race day.

For example, after reaching a peak of 38 miles, you will taper down to 30 miles the next week and 22 miles in the final week of training. Research shows this tapering period replenishes the body's stores of muscle glycogen, enzymes, antioxidants, and hormones and improves race-day performance by about 3%.

The Week Before

It's almost go time! You'll need to eat right, stay hydrated, get proper sleep, and ensure you have all of your gear ready for the race day.

If you are traveling to a marathon in a different city, pay extra attention to making sure you have what you need to be prepared for the race and any weather. You will also pick up your bib and timing chip in the days leading up to the race.

The Day Before

You have likely heard that you should load up on carbohydrates immediately before the marathon. The newest thinking is that you shouldn't overdo carbohydrates before a race. You don't want to eat anything new or different right before the race.

If you haven't already, now is the time to study the route map and know where the aid stations, water stations, and restrooms are along the course.

Race and Recover

You've trained for months, and the race day is finally here. Keep in mind that the race will be different from a training walk. Wake up a few hours before the race, so you have time to prepare. Two hours before the marathon, drink 16 ounces of water to ensure your body is hydrated.

Check the Weather

You've trained in all weather conditions. Now is your chance to choose gear and apparel for race day. Bring several options if there is a chance for varied conditions.

After you've completed your first marathon, be sure to celebrate. Wear your medal and race shirt with pride. You have joined the community of marathoners. After the race is over, you may experience some soreness.

Between blisters, black toenails, and overall muscle aches from walking 26.2 miles, the aftermath of the race may not be pretty. You may also be exhausted and have mixed emotions.

After achieving the goal you've focused on for months, many racers experience post-race blues coupled with extreme tiredness. This usually passes after a few days, and many marathoners then start planning their next race.

A Word From Verywell

Walking a marathon is an admirable feat. Although you are not running, you are still expending a lot of energy. It's critical to prepare with proper gear, nutrition, and a training plan. A walking or marathon coach may be able to help if you have any concerns. If you have been previously sedentary, get medical clearance from a healthcare provider before training.

2 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Luden N, Hayes E, Galpin A, et al. Myocellular basis for tapering in competitive distance runners. J Appl Physiol. 2010;108(6):1501-9. doi:10.1152/japplphysiol.00045.2010

  2. Mata F, Valenzuela PL, Gimenez J, et al. Carbohydrate availability and physical performance: Physiological overview and practical recommendations. Nutrients. 2019;11(5). doi:10.3390%2Fnu11051084

Additional Reading

By Wendy Bumgardner
Wendy Bumgardner is a freelance writer covering walking and other health and fitness topics and has competed in more than 1,000 walking events.