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Training for Marathons and Ultra Walks

Advice from Long Distance Walkers


Updated August 01, 2012

Most people in good health can enjoy a 5K or 10K (3 mile and 6 mile) walk without preparation other than putting on a comfy pair of shoes. But when it comes to distances such as the marathon 42K (26.2 miles) and above, training and preparation are the key to being able to complete the distance and recover from the experience.

Patti Finke, M.S. Co-director Portland Marathon Clinic & Portland Marathon Walk Clinic advises that walkers can add about 10% per week to their mileage and stay healthy. So begin your preparation well in advance of the event.

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Advice From Long Distance Walkers

I asked my long distance walking experts how they trained for these distances, what they wore and what they ate and drank along the way.


So you've decided to do a 40 or a 50 km walk?
So you want to be alive the night and day after that event?
So you'd better get prepared.

Four Months in Advance:If you know the date of the big event, start about four months in advance. If you have never done any exercise that took longer than two hours, you may need more time. Several ball games may go on for hours, but quite often it involves short outbursts of exercise, with short rests too. Walking is a different game: it goes on and on and on. Allow your body some time to get used to that.

Ideally one should walk about 8 to 10 kilometers in one go three times a week within one and a half hour. Try this for four weeks. If one day you or your feet feel uncomfy, try bicycling for an hour, just for a change. Maybe you can walk to your job or park your car only halfway and walk the rest, or walk when going for groceries etc. Be inventive in choosing economical walking moments. Do some stretching and proper warming up and cooling down. Have warm (not hot) showers and try to do some "moving about" during your work, if you can. Drink plenty, don't eat a lot extras in terms of candy bars, better have some fruit or yogurt or an extra spoonful of pasta or an extra potato with your meal.

Build Your Mileage: Then turn one of the 10 km. walks into a 15 km. walk, for two to four weeks. Be your own judge. Walking is for fun, not for punishment. Try to join organized walks. Go out on walks, don't stay inside, try to 'enjoy' every kind of weather. Smell the spring in the air, hear birds sing, look at the flowers, the trees and the silly people in their cars making unnecessary fuss. Step out of every day life, step into walking life.

Write a diary: write down what you did, when you did it, how you felt during and after the walk. If you feel you overdo it, walk a shorter distance for a change, don't slow down too much. Keep going for another few weeks.

By now you should be ready to do a 25 km. It is best done as an organized event. If there is nothing like that nearby, organize your own event. Make it special. Prepare a route like a figure of 8, with your house or your car in the center point, so you can have a rest (maximum half an hour) half way. This will take four and a half to five hours. Try to keep up the speed. No need to rush the first bit, just to collapse in the end.

Don't forget to reward yourself if this is a self made event. For the next day do some stretches, move (gently) about. The day after that you might do just 5 km., but then it is time for the 10 km. ( and 15) again.

Still enjoying yourself?
No?: Be happy with 10 and 15 km. walks, don't worry. Long distances are not everybody's favorite.
Yes?: Don't stop now, but don't overdo it either.
Share your experiences with others, like 'Down Under' Melanie Jonker does. Sometimes you feel your are either the only silly walker around or the only person who has seen the light.

Easy Weeks: Have two easy weeks (10 km, maybe a 15 if you feel like it). Then try another 25 km. Distances of 20 to 25 km. get your body ready for the next step. This will take more than three hours. To me that seems to be a critical breakpoint. Now it starts getting serious. It is not just a stroll in the park anymore. You will feel tired. Part of you wants to stop, but if there is nothing hurting you and you still know your name, know where you live etc., there is no reason at all to stop. So keep going.

Take it easy for one week after you did that 25 km. Maybe you need an extra two/ three week session of 10, 15 and 25 km. Now you can choose between two 20 km. in two days in succession or you can do a 30 to 35 km. in one go.

Personally I feel there is more gain in walking a slightly shorter distance for two or three days in succession then in one longer distance. Always have two relatively quiet days after you "broke your personal record."

Drink, drink, drink, eat a sandwich and some fruit during walks longer than 15 or 20 km (be your own judge again!).

Have a break of at least 10 minutes and no longer than half an hour (you tend to stiffen up if you sit for a long time). If the weather is foul, take only very short rests, eat and drink while you walk (slowly).

Try to walk faster on one of those 10 km. walks you do in between (like one hour an twenty minutes, one hour and a quarter).

Don't worry when you feel tired one day, don't worry when one day you walked slower. It's no problem if you can't do one of those 10 km. walks because there are other things you have to do. Don't try to make it up by doing double the next day. Don't create stress by walking: get rid of it. Continued Page 2

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