Can I Walk a Marathon Without Training?
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Marathons often show up on bucket lists. They’re a big achievement and can be really exciting to train for and complete. But, what if you want to skip the training part? Maybe it’s possible to leave the training behind if you decide to walk instead of run.
Even if you’re walking, attempting a marathon without training isn’t a good idea. Walking a marathon means that you’ll be spending 6+ hours on your feet, which can take a big toll on your body. It’s a good idea to train for any race, no matter the distance and no matter if you walk or run.
Before you throw your dreams of a marathon out the window, let’s talk about why it’s important to train and what you should keep in mind if you’re planning to walk and want to keep your training time down. Marathons are really amazing events. This is why they’ve become such a phenomenon, even with how painful they are. Training or not, it’s a worthy adventure to undertake. Let’s get you prepared to walk across that finish line.
First, let’s look at some stats about how long it will probably take you to finish a marathon at an average walking pace.
How Many Minutes Does It Take the Average Person to Walk a Mile?
On average, it takes adults 15 to 20 minutes to walk 1 mile, which adds up to 3 miles an hour.
This number can fluctuate depending on age, with younger walkers walking faster than their older counterparts. Research shows that the median speed of walkers in a sample of participants of all ages is 1.25 m/s, which is 2.7 miles an hour. Walkers under 30 showed speeds closer to 1.4 m/s, while those over 60 showed speeds at 1.2 m/s and under (source).
It also can fluctuate with fitness level. Individuals who are accustomed to exercise and have built up some stamina will likely walk faster than those who are using walking as introduction to fitness.
So, use 15 to 20 minutes per mile as a benchmark, but skew towards with the 15 or the 20 depending on your age and current fitness level.
If you want to get an accurate reading, go outside and walk a mile at a brisk pace. Do not use a treadmill. Walking on a treadmill is easier than walking on the road and you’ll likely end up with a faster pace. Since you’ll be completing your marathon on the roads, do your practice mile on the roads. Also, keep in mind that you’ll be more tired at mile 20 than you will be at mile 1. Your practice mile will likely represent your fastest mile since you’re doing it when you’re fresh. Use your practice mile as the fast end of your pace spectrum and assume that in the actual marathon you’ll be walking slower as you approach the end of the race.
How Long Will It Take to Walk a Marathon?
Now that we know that it takes 15 to 20 minutes to walk each mile, let’s do the math to figure out how long it will take to complete a full marathon at this pace.
Let’s start with the low end of the spectrum and say that each mile takes 15 minutes.
15×26=390 minutes=6.5 hours from start to finish
Now, let’s look at the high end of the spectrum and say that each mile takes 20 minutes.
20×26=520 minutes=8.6 hours from start to finish
So, it will take the average person 6 to 9 hours to walk a marathon. These numbers are important to keep in mind as we talk about what you need to keep in mind about completing a marathon without training.
1) Walking a Marathon Puts a Lot of Hours on Your Feet
When saying that walking a marathon takes 6-9 hours, this is 6-9 continuous hours without stopping. Basically, imagine walking for the entirety of your work day at a brisk pace and you’ll understand just how long that is. And yes, a marathon will feel longer than even your worst day at work. Marathons are amazing, but they do have a magical ability to make time seem to stretch.
This is A LOT of time on your feet. If you haven’t walked for 7 hours before, you’ll be in for a rude awakening. The closest comparison is probably a day sightseeing in a new city or a day at Disneyland chasing your kids from ride to ride. We already know how exhausting this can be.
But, even on the craziest day of scurrying around a new city or Disneyland, you probably didn’t clock in at 26 miles. For a marathon, those 26.2 miles are nonnegotiable. It isn’t a marathon otherwise. No matter how long it takes you, a marathon isn’t a marathon unless you finish a full 26.2 miles. If you haven’t walked this far before, it will be a challenge. I promise, it will be a challenge.
2) Walking Isn’t Necessarily Easier Than Running
When people ask if they should walk a marathon, there’s often an assumption that walking is easier than running. I mean, this assumption is obviously true. Walking, by default, requires less energy than running. Walking is also something that we do everyday. If we were to make a list of basic skills, walking would be at the top of the list. So, what’s so hard about keeping it going for 26.2 miles then?
Let me share my personal experience here. It might not be true for every runner, but I’ve met a lot of runners for whom it is. I SUCK at walking. Like, really suck. I’ve gotten more shin splints from walking than I ever have from running. I’ve also tweaked my back more often during a walk than during a run. I don’t know how it happened, but I have awful walking form. When asked, many runners I know would say the same.
Here’s the thing: we all care about running form. We read books, watch videos, and listen to podcasts about how to have the perfect stride, gait, and posture. Let me just say that Your Best Stride from Runner’s World is absolutely amazing! Like, a complete game changer for your running form.
Very few of us take the time to make sure that our walking form is as flawless as our running form. Even those of us who care about form don’t take the time to care about walking form, which is crazy if you think about it. We walk all day every day, yet only run for a number of hours a week at most. Yet, we ditch walking and think only about running. Believe me, I’ve spent many more hours trying to improve my running form than my walking form even though I know my walking form sucks.
Walking 26.2 miles isn’t the same type of walking that you do from your couch to the refrigerator. No, marathon walking needs to be treated like a sport. In order to prevent injury and actually finish the race, you want to make sure that you’re walking properly in such a way that you can sustain for 9 hours if needed.
3) Marathons Have Cut Off Times
There’s a big difference between crossing the finish line of a race when the crowds are cheering and the announcers are blaring and crossing the finish line as they are tearing it down and opening the streets to traffic. If you’re going to complete a marathon, you better get the epic finish line experience at the end!
The cutoff time for many marathons is 6 to 6.5 hours. This means that you need to strictly adhere to the fast 15 minute mile pace in order to stay ahead of the clean up crew and street sweeper. This is a big bummer to say the least. Once you pass a marathon’s cutoff time, streets start to open and you need to battle with cars and adhere to streetlights; onlookers fade away and you’re left without a cheering squad; the afterparty starts and finishes without you. It’s not fun. If you’re going to miss the cutoff time, you might as well save the money and do a marathon on your own.
Don’t despair though! There are races with longer cutoff times. If you’re planning to walk a marathon, it’s really important that you find a race that allows participants to finish after the standard 6 hours. MarathonGuide.com has a great list of marathons with longer cutoff times. Check it out and see if there’s one nearby. Or, in a place you’ve always wanted to visit! There are even a few marathons that have no cutoff times at all.
Even if you find a race with a longer cutoff time, you don’t want to pace yourself to finish right on the race’s deadline. A lot of things can happen during a race and you may be happy to have some buffer time should you need it. It’s also less fun to finish at the very end of a race, as many of the crowds and excitement have died down.
If you haven’t trained to walk a marathon, it will be hard to maintain a 15 minute pace for the entirety of the race. This makes longer cutoff times really important. That said, some of these longer cutoff times peak at 7 or 8 hours. This still requires a pretty quick clip, especially if you haven’t trained for it. Believe me, you don’t want to make friends with the street sweeping crew.
4) Doing Anything Without Training is Setting Yourself Up for Surprises, Possibly Bad Ones
Even seasoned runners know that there is only so much that your hours of training can prepare you for. Bad weather, injuries, grumpy moods, wardrobe malfunctions, technology disasters – they can all turn a great run into a disaster. Training won’t prepare you for everything. But, there are a lot of things that training WILL prepare you for.
Maybe you learn during training that you can’t eat a certain type of gel or else you’ll get the runs. Maybe you find out that a certain pair of shorts make you chafe so badly that you’d rather run naked. Maybe you realize that you actually don’t like listening to your favorite podcast for hours on end while you’re in pain.
Training isn’t just about building up physical stamina, it’s also about learning. Completing a marathon without training is like showing up for a final exam without having done any of the homework. There’s a reason why the homework exists. You don’t want to be caught off guard at mile 17 by things you didn’t know you needed to know.
5) Mental Training is Just as Important as Physical Training
Runners are really good at being bored. Even better, being bored and being in pain. There’s nothing quite like being at mile 13 of your run, already tired of your playlist and dreaming of a stack of waffles, knowing that you’re only halfway done.
Mentally, a marathon is challenging, whether you’re walking or running. In fact, it might be harder if you’re walking given the sheer amount of time you’re out on the course moving your feet. This is a lot of monotony. And, as the monotony grows, so does the physical discomfort. Pretty fun, right?
It’s really important to understand what hours of walking feels like from a mental standpoint. What mental games do you have at the ready for when you get bored? What podcasts or music playlists are the best to get you through those toughest miles? What milestones will keep you motivated? All of this stuff may not sound important now, but it really really is.
Make sure that you’re mentally ready to complete a 6-9 hour long physical feat.
6) Without Training, You’re Increasing Your Risk of Injury
As we’ve talked about way too much now, 26.2 miles is no joke. Whether you’re running, walking, crawling, biking, or even hoverboarding, this is a long distance. Heck, 26.2 miles is a lot of ground to cover in my Honda.
For me, I’ve gotten awful shin splints after walking a 10k. I can’t imagine what that would have turned into after walking a marathon. Blisters, muscle strains, exhaustion, dehydration, on and on and on. There are a lot of things that can go wrong if you haven’t prepared for them.
Walking at a brisk pace for such a long period of time is something that your body may not be used to. Unlike you daily walks around town, marathon walking will strain muscles in ways they haven’t been strained before. You’ll need to engage your muscles with more intensity for longer than ever before.
And, we’re not just talking about your legs. Running and walking is a full body experience. In fact, you may find your back or arms to be the first things to become sore during a race. The reason for this is because we often put all of our energy into our legs without realizing that our backs, cores, and arms also do quite a bit of heavy lifting.
If you’re attempting to walk a marathon without training, my guess is that you’ll end up with an injury or two.
Personally, Would I Walk a Marathon Without Training?
Nope! I have run a number of marathons and am very familiar with all of the physical and mental pain that’s involved. Even so, I wouldn’t decide to walk a marathon tomorrow without any training. I’m simply not prepared for all of the mental and physical ramifications. Walking a marathon in 7 hours is a completely different beast than running one in 3. It’s a beast I haven’t prepared to tame yet.
If I wanted to walk a marathon, I would allow myself a few months of training. I would map out a number of weekly walks, including a long walk. I would also factor in a few days of cross training. Physically, I would want to make sure that my body was ready for the sheer volume of hours that I would be spending on my feet.
Mentally, I would need to figure out new tricks to get me from the start line to the finish line. I’m assuming these would need to be different tricks since a 7 hour marathon and a 3 hour marathon are in completely different mental territories. Given how mentally restless I get, I would need to build bigger mental reinforcements to walk a marathon instead of run one.
If you’re planning to walk a marathon, it’s best to take some time to train. When conquering 26.2 miles, there’s just too much that can go wrong to leave it up to chance. Walking a marathon can be an amazing experience though! Get some training under your belt and start walking towards that finish line.
Hey, I’m Diana! I’m an occupational therapist and a long distance runner. I’ve run more races than I can count from 5ks through full marathons, including the Boston Marathon. Right now, my PR for the marathon is 3:09 and 1:26 for the half. I’m a bit obsessed with running and sharing what I’ve learned along the way. Let’s crush some running goals together!