First-time Marathon Walking
The Portland Marathon is described in the Ultimate Guide to Marathons as "The best organized marathon in North America" and "One of the top 3 marathons to do as a first marathon." It is also one of the most walker-friendly run/walk marathons. For these reasons (and because I live in the area) I chose the Portland Marathon for my first marathon walk on Oct. 3, 1999.
First some words and links on how to prepare for a marathon, then on to Wendy's First Marathon.
I am a 10K (6.2 miles) walker. A marathon is 42K/26.2 miles. Most 10K walkers cannot simply go out and walk a marathon without major blisters and/or injury. Training is the key to finishing without misery. I set about increasing my mileage throughout August and September in preparation for the October marathon. I participated mostly in AVA 10K walking events in my area.
What to wear? What to carry with me?
* Nothing New on marathon day. You should be wearing regularly on your walks any clothing, shoes, socks, gear pack, headwear, etc. that you plan to wear on the marathon. If you have an old race number, pin that on also while you practice so you will know where you want to place it on race day.
* Think sweat and synthetics. Cotton kills - it doesn't wick the sweat and you could end up with thermal problems on such a long, strenuous event. Dress in CoolMax or other synthetics from head to toe. Know the climate you will be walking in and be prepared for five to eight hours out on the course.
* What I chose: New Balance 827 shoes and New Balance CoolMax short sleeved shirt whose sleeves covered most of my upper arm - light but protected against sunburn. InSport CoolMax split shorts and warm up jacket. Adidas warm-up pants. Sweatitout CoolMax sports bra. Asics CoolMax socks. Large hip pack in which to carry my warm-up, a Platypus collapsible water container, Gu and Powergel energy gels, BodyGlide anti-chafing stick, Mary Kay sunscreen, and my About.com cotton hat (normally I'd have worn my CoolMax New Balance hat, but I was there to represent my Walking site), Yashica camera, and ibuprofen.
What to Wear on a Marathon or Ultra
Clothing and Gear Net Links
* Broken in but not broken down: You should have put some miles on your shoes - at least a month's worth, and worn then on your longer training days. No OLD shoes either - if you've had that pair for a year they should be retired. The foam in the soles is gone and you are setting yourself up for an injury.
* Enough support but enough flex: Walkers on the long distance European walking events seem to favor hiking boots. In the USA, however, marathon walkers prefer to wear running shoes. Your best bet is to go to a running specialty store (not just a shoe department of a store) and tell them you are going to walk a marathon.
Walking Shoe Guide
Before You Buy Walking Shoes - Tips and Top Picks
Fuel and Fluid
A big factor in a successful marathon is getting enough fluids and the right foods. Start ahead of time with good nutrition and keep hydrated well the week before the event. Check your event carefully - will there be water and sports drink on the course, and if so - how often? You will need to decide whether to carry your own water or sports drink. I was happy I brought my platypus container with me as one checkpoint had run out of cups - and it was the 19 mile mark after a long uphill. Also check to see what snacks might be provided on the course. Test these products beforehand - find out whether GU or Powergel upset your stomach on a long walk.
Fueling for a Marathon or Ultra
Sports Nutrition Articles A good number of articles on fluids, sports drinks, energy bars and gels and eating for performance.
Know Your Event
Research the event as thoroughly as you can. Talk to others who have done it and find the event's website to gleam as many facts as possible.
What is the course like? Drive it or walk it in sections ahead of time.
What is provided on the course as far as water, sports drink, snacks?
How friendly is the event to walkers? Be sure to ask other walkers as well as the race contacts. Many marathons have recently expanded their walking divisions as it brings in many more participants, but as runners they may have not thought through what walkers want or may treat walkers as inferior to runners.
When does the course and finish close? Some events allow slower runners/walkers but they are moved to the sidewalk or finish with no fanfare, and water stops may be closed down earlier. Knowing this ahead of time prepares you.
Marathon Event Listings
Top Picks for Walk-Run Marathons
Top Picks for Walking-only Marathons
Misery loves company, er, it's great to do things with friends. At a minimum, make some online friends to discuss your marathon training and plans. I created the About.com Marathon Team to help me prepare for the Portland Marathon. It was great to share ideas with these long-distance friends.
Join a walking club or form your own group
Join a marathon training clinic. Look at your local running specialty store for flyers.
Join a charity marathon program Not only will you get training help and advice and make new walking friends, you also get a free trip to the marathon you choose in return for fund-raising.
Top Picks for Charity Marathon Programs
Read All About It
The Complete Guide to Marathon Walking
by Dave McGovern
THE book for marathon walkers. Dave has it all - training schedules, exercise, race day tips, techniques, oriented for walkers rather than runners.
Marathon : The Ultimate Training Guide
by Hal Higdon
Marathon training for everyone from first-timer to expert, includes building your base, nutrition, injury prevention, race strategy. Paperback
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