Training and Planning for Long Distance Walks

A Camino Peregrino Crosses Bridge to Hospital de Orbigo
Wendy Bumgardner

Training is critical for comfort and success at a long-distance walking event. Your training should concentrate on building a base of walking, then increasing your mileage in a systematic fashion. You should also train to wear the gear you will be wearing during your long distance walk.

To reduce your risk of training injuries, increase your total mileage per week or the distance of your longest walk per week by no more than 10%. This means you will likely spend a few months training. By being methodical, you give your body time to build new muscle, blood supply, and endurance.

How Long Does It Take to Train for a Long-Distance Walk?

For multi-day walks and treks such as the Camino de Santiago, follow a marathon training plan for mileage building and for determining the proper hydration, nutrition, and gear. But you also need to build some back-to-back long days into your training so you can assess any problems that crop up from walking long distances on successive days. You can use these training plans:

  • Training Schedule for the Camino de Santiago (21 kilometers/13 miles per day): Use this plan for the Camino or any other multi-day walk that will include hills and natural surfaces and carrying a backpack.
  • Training to Walk a Marathon (42 kilometers/26.2 miles): This walking marathon primer will get you into condition to go longer distances. Besides training, you will learn about nutrition, hydration, and gear.

When training for distances of 50 to 161 kilometers (31 to 100 miles), the longest distance to train should not need to exceed 20 to 25 miles, which you should perform at least twice in the two months prior to the event. Then taper during the month before the event down to a 20-kilometer (12.4-mile) distance.

Ultrarunners have much in common with ultra walkers and indeed they usually mix stretches of walking into longer distance events. Training schedules derived from ultrarunning are good for walkers as well.

How Fast Do You Need to Go?

Forget training for any speed faster than a 15-minute mile. You will need endurance, not speed, and you want to build mental stamina for walking for hours and hours at a steady pace.

Gear Up for a Long Walk

All clothing, shoes, sunscreen, packs, etc., need to be road-tested on your longer training days well in advance of the event. Now is the time to experiment; you don't want anything that is new to you at the event itself. Plan for the layers you will need to wear, and possibly shed, given the climate and terrain. Choose wicking fabrics that will allow your skin to breathe and cool itself.

You will want to wear gear similar to that of marathon walkers if your walk will mostly be on pavement or asphalt. You will need to modify that if your route is more off-road or in different seasons. 

Find out what other long-distance walkers have worn on the same route or at the same event. You may be able to connect with fellow walkers via a Facebook page, or find answers to frequently asked questions on the event's or destination's website. You can also contact the event director (usually via the website or Facebook).

Choose your shoes or boots and wear them on your long training days to ensure they will work over a long distance. Packs should be tested on your longer training days to ensure you can carry them comfortably over long distances and that they have the capacity needed. From head to toe, test your gear, including your shoes/boots, socks, underwear, bra, shirt, pants, hat, jacket, and rain gear.

Walkers who are going to cover a long-distance route carrying a pack and using trekking poles need to walk with their gear in the three months before the walk. You want to know how it will perform on the long walk and still have time to replace it if it doesn't. Then you'll need to make sure to test the replacement gear.

Training Nutrition for a Long Walk

Proper sports nutrition will prepare you for endurance events. As an endurance athlete, you should stick with a diet that is a mix of 70% carbohydrates, 20% protein, and 10% fat. Avoid high-protein diets, as they can cause problems with hydration and can strain your kidneys under endurance walking conditions.

Train with the water, sports drink, food, and snacks you will be using at the event and do not deviate from it during the event. Water is all that is needed for events of 20 kilometers and under, but for longer events, an electrolyte replacement sports drink may be better. Diluting it or leaving out some of the sugar can make it easier on the stomach, but you need to take care to get enough salt as well as water when walking long distances.

Have your snacks pre-packaged and perhaps labeled by time to be eaten. On ultramarathon distances, you need to eat fat and protein in addition to the carbohydrates provided by sports gels or energy bars. You can get those from candy bars with nuts, trail mix, and peanut butter sandwiches.

Avoid products formulated for shorter distances and power sports. These can cause digestive problems over longer distances.

Planning a Long Distance Walk

Planning begins by setting an event as a goal. Considerations include the time of year, distance, transportation to the event, event pace requirements, altitude and hill profile, and climate. If you are going to "do it yourself" (walk a long distance without a supporting event), prepare by researching routes and trails and contacting those who have conquered similar feats.

Study the course maps to know what services are provided along the way and what you must bring with you. Know the terrain and at what point there are hills, pavement, natural trail, shade, and full sun. If possible, drive the course ahead of time to familiarize yourself with it. You may also be able to find apps that are designed for your route, such as the apps available for the Camino de Santiago.

Rest Breaks

The conventional wisdom is that any breaks you take should be short—to use the bathroom, eat a snack and drink without choking, tie your shoes, or doctor blisters. The body stiffens up pretty fast during breaks and it can take several minutes to get back into the swing of walking after a long break. Take walking breaks instead—keep walking, but at a very slow pace.

Take Care of Your Feet

Your feet are your most important piece of equipment. On long training days, you should have been experimenting with preparations, socks, etc. to prevent blisters. What works best is specific to the individual.

Try several of the seven strategies to prevent blisters, which include lubricants, wicking and/or double-layered socks, moleskin, sports tape or blister block pads over areas prone to blister. Along the walk, stop at the first sign of hot spots and doctor your foot with tape, blister block bandages, or whatever method works best for you.

There are other hazards you should prepare for as well, as many of them are preventable with the proper food, hydration, and clothing.

More Training Resources 

  • UltRunR: Kevin Sayers has a great variety of advice compiled from an email discussion group dedicated to ultrarunning. Most of the advice is transferable to walking the same distance. Many runners give their training schedules for a variety of distance events from 50 kilometers to over 100 miles.
  • Ultrarunning Magazine: Browse online articles or subscribe. You'll see advice about every aspect of long distance events.
  • Camino de Santiago advice: Learn from other pilgrim walkers at the American Pilgrims on the Camino site and Facebook page, as well as an active forum and apps.

A Word From Verywell

You were built for walking, but you need to plan and train fully before you tackle a long-distance, multi-day walk. If you steadily build your walking time, you can work to avoid injury. If you are physically prepared for your walk, you will be able to enjoy and savor it.

3 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.
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  2. Frequently asked questions: Getting ready. American Pilgrims on the Camino.

  3. Cuenca-Sánchez M, Navas-Carrillo D, Orenes-Piñero E. Controversies surrounding high-protein diet intake: satiating effect and kidney and bone health. Adv Nutr. 2015;6(3):260-6. doi:10.3945/an.114.007716

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.