I recently had the opportunity to travel to Orlando, Florida, to participate in the Walt Disney World Marathon races.
Although runDisney has a variety of running events throughout the year at Disney World, Disneyland, and even virtually, the runDisney Walt Disney World Marathon is the only full-distance marathon offered in the suite of Disney races.
One thing that intrigued me most about this marathon was the generous cut-off time.
The Disney Marathon is open to walkers who are unable to or don’t want to run a single step of the marathon but still want to finish a full marathon on their own two feet.
So, how do you train to walk a marathon? What are the best walker family marathons in the United States? What does a training schedule or a marathon training plan for walking a marathon look like? How long does it take to walk a marathon?
In this guide, we will discuss how to train for walking a marathon, how long it takes to walk a marathon, how to build up your fitness level for long-distance walking, and the best walker-friendly marathon options in the US.
Let’s jump in!
Can I Walk a Marathon?
Runners are often bewildered by the fact that someone would walk a marathon since even running a marathon takes quite a long time.
However, because walking is a low-impact exercise, for people who have a high risk of injury or joint pain, or simply prefer power walking instead of long runs, training for a long-distance walk can be a safer, healthier, and more appealing fitness goal.1Swain, D. P., Kelleran, K. J., Graves, M. S., & Morrison, S. (2016). Impact Forces of Walking and Running at the Same Intensity. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 30(4), 1042–1049. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000001185
Ultimately, walking a marathon is the epitome of a long walk.
Even though walking is less intense than jogging or running, you still need to build up your cardiovascular endurance, leg strength, and certainly your mental endurance for marathon walking in order to get to the finish line healthy.
However, you will need to be more deliberate in choosing your marathon if you are a slow runner or want to walk the distance on race day.
Thus, the logistics of walking a marathon are even more complicated than jogging or running your first marathon.
Because a walking pace is slower than running, you need to choose a walker-friendly marathon that has a generous cut-off time so that there is enough time for you to get to the finish line at your anticipated walking marathon pace.
For most people, a brisk walk pace is about four mph or a 14-minute mile pace.
Because a marathon is 26.2 miles, this walking pace would result in a finishing time of about 6.5 hours.
If you are not able to power walk the whole distance and will be walking at a slower pace, you will need to choose a walker-friendly marathon.
Good marathons for walkers have a cut-off time of upwards of seven hours or more so that you have enough time to officially finish the race at your anticipated marathon pace.
How Long Does It Take to Walk a Marathon?
Olympic race walkers can maintain a faster walking pace than many experienced runners.
Although there isn’t an Olympic marathon distance for race walkers, these walkers can finish the marathon distance in under 3.5 hours.2World Athletics. (n.d.). Worldathletics.org. https://worldathletics.org/records/by-category/world-records
What is the average time to walk a marathon for a beginner?
Beginners usually walk between 15-16 minutes per mile pace, so it will take the average first-time marathon walker between 6.5-7 hours to walk a marathon.
What Are the Best Walker-Friendly Marathons In the US?
The best marathons for walkers in the US either have no cut-off time or have a cut-off time of seven hours or more.
- Honolulu Marathon, Honolulu, HI: No cut-off time!
- Maui Marathon, Maui, HI: The marathon course has a cut-off of 8 hours (about 20 minutes per mile pace)
- New York City Marathon, New York, NY: Difficult to get into, but has an 8.5 hour cut-off time (fairly slow walking pace of 20:40 per mile)
- Anchorage Mayor’s Marathon, Anchorage, AK: Separate start for marathon walkers with a 7.5 hour cut-off time.
- Philadelphia Marathon, Philadelphia, PA: 7-hour marathon cut-off time (16 min per mile pace)
- Walt Disney World Marathon, Orlando, FL: Most participants have enough time to walk, given the 7-hour time limit, but you have to maintain an average 16 min/mile pace the whole way, or you’ll be shuttled to the finish line around mile 18.
- Green Bay Marathon, Green Bay, WI: 7-hour marathon finish time limit (16 min per mile pace)
- Rock n’ Roll Marathons: Several Rock n’ Roll Marathons are walker-friendly marathons. For example, Rock n’ Roll Arizona, San Antonio, and San Diego marathons have a 7-hour marathon time limit.
- Los Angeles Marathon, Los Angeles, CA: 6.5 hour marathon cut-off time (slightly faster than 15 minutes per mile pace). You can keep walking, but the course closes (walkers are moved to sidewalks), the aid stations close, and you won’t earn a finisher’s medal after the cut-off time limit.
- Portland Marathon, Portland, OR: 6.5 hour marathon cut-off time (slightly faster than 15 minutes per mile pace), but you can keep walking on the sidewalk (aid stations close). But, you will get a medal if you cross the finish line after 6.5 hours!
How Do You Train to Walk a Marathon?
Here are some of the best tips for first-time marathon training whether you hope to use a run/walk approach (the Jeff Galloway Marathon Training Method), brisk walk or power walking pace, or a slower walking pace based on your fitness level:
#1: Walk a Half Marathon First
As a running coach, I recommend that all of my runners follow a half marathon training plan before following a marathon training schedule.
This will get your body used to the routine of following a training schedule and putting in some longer walks.
Of course, it is possible to finish a marathon as a first-time walker or use the run/walk approach for your first time at the marathon distance, but having some familiarity with a 13.1 mile walk will help you feel more confident and prepared for taking on a marathon training program.
#2: Get the Right Gear
Even if you plan to maintain a moderate walking pace rather than use a run/walk approach or a brisk walk pace, you should get a good pair of running shoes for your training and the big day.
Running shoes are more flexible, lightweight, and conducive to the heel-to-toe transition than walking shoes.
Therefore, running shoes may decrease the risk of injury caused by wearing stiff, clunky walking shoes, especially if you are trying to do power walking workouts.
Moreover, as you build up to 10 and 20-mile walks in training, the flexibility and lightweight nature of running shoes will put less strain on your feet and legs.
However, you should still go to a running store and get fitted with running shoes that provide the proper cushioning and support for your foot type.
Make sure you have worn the running shoes for some of your longer walks and don’t just pull them out of the box on race day and hope to not get blisters or chafing.
Even the best running shoes often need to be broken in to reduce the risk of blisters, so you should practice with whatever running or walking shoes you want to use on your long-distance walks in training.
You should also consider getting a hydration pack so that you can carry fluid and fuel.
Even if you choose a walker-friendly marathon with a slow cut-off time, you should not rely on the aid stations to have water, sports drinks, snacks, or other sources of carbs on race day by the time you get to the aid stations.
Carrying your own hydration and fueling rather than relying on the aid stations will ensure that you will have the nutrition and hydration you need to prevent bonking or dehydration.
#3: Don’t Neglect the Warm Up and Cool Down
Your walking workout should include a warm-up and cool-down at an easier pace.
The warm-up can reduce the risk of injury by increasing circulation as you transition from sitting to a faster walking pace.
The cool-down will help guide your heart rate back down to resting levels and can potentially reduce muscle soreness after long-distance walking workouts.
#4: Follow a Walking A Marathon Training Plan
Even if you are planning to just walk the entire marathon, you will still need to build up your endurance with longer walks so that you can get through the entire distance on the big day.
A full marathon is 26.2 miles, so most people can’t jump into a marathon race and expect to get to the finish line without any training, especially if you plan to use a run/walk approach.
Your marathon walking training plan will be similar to a marathon training plan for running, and should include a weekly long walk, cross-training workouts, power walking intervals to build up your fitness level, easy walks, and rest days for recovery.
You should also have some longer walks throughout the week that include some marathon walking pace work to get your body used to your target marathon pace for the big day.
Marathon Handbook offers a whole library of free marathon training plans, including plans that will help you walk a marathon or do a run-walk marathon, as well as walking guides to train for long walks including thru-hiking and ultramarathon distances.
#5: Practice Fueling
Long-distance walking takes a long time, especially for your longer walk workouts. For example, if you are doing a 15-mile walk, you might be walking for four hours or more in training.
This means you need to practice fueling and carrying hydration while you walk.
Even at a brisk walk or power walking pace, the body is generally able to use a mixture of carbs and fat for fuel rather than predominantly carbs as is the case with running.3Burke, L. M., Cox, G. R., Cummings, N. K., & Desbrow, B. (2001). Guidelines for Daily Carbohydrate Intake. Sports Medicine, 31(4), 267–299. https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200131040-00003
This gives a few more options for fueling during long walk workouts and for race day.
Hydration is also essential. You can generally drink plain water, although it is important to take in electrolytes or some carbohydrates so that you do not put your body at risk of hyponatremia.
Studies have found that slower marathon finishers are generally at the greatest risk of hyponatremia, which is dangerously low sodium levels due to drinking too much water without replacing electrolytes.4Klingert, M., Nikolaidis, P. T., Weiss, K., Thuany, M., Chlíbková, D., & Knechtle, B. (2022). Exercise-Associated Hyponatremia in Marathon Runners. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 11(22), 6775. https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm11226775
#6: Consider a Running Coach
A running coach or walking coach can help you develop an approach training schedule for your marathon build up and can provide strength training exercises, cross-training workouts, and tips for walking a marathon.
#7: Be Realistic
Training to walk a marathon is time-intensive even when you are using a brisk walking speed.
A 4 mile walk generally takes a minimum of an hour and your marathon training schedule will likely have at least one 8-10 mile walk or a longer walk in the middle of the week as well as a 10 to 20 mile walk as the long walk on the weekends.
Therefore, the number of hours per week you will need to dedicate to your training schedule will be significant.
These training walks will be important for you to practice your hydration, work out the kinks in your pace for race day, break in your outfit and shoes to avoid chafing or blisters, and build up your endurance and fitness level to support finishing 26.2 miles on the big day.
Remember, even if you cross the finish line with a 7+ hour marathon time, you are a marathoner!
Be proud of yourself and enjoy the journey.
If you are thinking you may be able to run your marathon, check out our Couch to Marathon guide:
- 1Swain, D. P., Kelleran, K. J., Graves, M. S., & Morrison, S. (2016). Impact Forces of Walking and Running at the Same Intensity. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 30(4), 1042–1049. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000001185
- 2World Athletics. (n.d.). Worldathletics.org. https://worldathletics.org/records/by-category/world-records
- 3Burke, L. M., Cox, G. R., Cummings, N. K., & Desbrow, B. (2001). Guidelines for Daily Carbohydrate Intake. Sports Medicine, 31(4), 267–299. https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200131040-00003
- 4Klingert, M., Nikolaidis, P. T., Weiss, K., Thuany, M., Chlíbková, D., & Knechtle, B. (2022). Exercise-Associated Hyponatremia in Marathon Runners. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 11(22), 6775. https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm11226775