If the idea of covering 26 miles on foot in a single outing is appealing but you don't like to run, going the distance at a walking pace is an option. Marathons cover 26.2 miles and often have a bank of runners and one of walkers. The fastest runners typically finish in just over two hours, while the average time is closer to four hours. For walkers, a few more hours are needed.
Everyone's walking pace is different. It depends partly on your fitness level, but other factors, such as your leg and stride length, weigh in. At a brisk pace, you might walk one mile in 20 minutes. This would take you just over 8.5 hours to walk 26 miles. Walking a 15-minute mile you would finish 26 miles in 6.5 hours, and walking a 13-minute mile would let you finish in a little over 5.5 hours. Your ideal pace is one you can keep up for the entire distance, not just the first few miles.
Best Pace vs. Marathon Pace
To find your best pace, walk for a mile and check your heart rate to make sure it's at the top end of your target zone. Push yourself to walk as fast as possible without running or getting so winded that you can't carry on a conversation. You might be impressed by how fast you can walk one mile, but don't get too excited; long-distance walkers tend to walk one to two minutes slower per mile to make sure they retain the energy to finish. So after you find your best pace, slow your pace slightly when training for a 26-mile walk.
Training for a marathon walk means taking at least three to four months of long, paced walks. After finding your marathon pace, walk at that speed -- or slightly slower -- for about 10 miles to start. Take a couple of days off training to let your body recover, then walk six miles two times during the first week, taking at least a day off in between. Start increasing the distance you walk on the first training day of each week, going up to 12 miles. Add to your other walking days as well, going up to eight miles. Building in additional days of walking can help increase your endurance, but keep these shorter, such as three miles, so you don't overtax your muscles. Taking at least one or two days off from training each week gives your muscles time to recover as you continue adding distance until you're walking 20 miles on the first training day, eight miles on secondary days and three to four miles on short days. Cutting those distances in half for the two weeks prior to the race lets your body store some carbohydrates you'll need for marathon day.
To keep up your personal best marathon pace for 26 miles, you must give your body the right kind of fuel. During the week before the race, eat meals high in protein and carbohydrates to help your body build up a reserve. On the morning of your 26-mile walk, eat a big breakfast of simple carbohydrates with a little bit of protein at least two hours before you start the walk. Think fruit, bagels, cereal, low-fat cheese, peanut butter or a fruit smoothie. Stay away from fatty foods that can upset your stomach. After breakfast, drink plenty of water and sports beverages, and plan to drink at least 8 ounces of fluid for every mile you walk during the marathon.