A growing number of novice athletes are training for and successfully completing marathons. And many are realizing that walking is the best way to go. There's much less risk of the impact-related injuries experienced by runners, and there are many participation-oriented (as opposed to competitive) marathons available.
This 18-week program is designed to prepare you to safely and successfully walk a marathon with a relative handful of long weekend training walks. The goal is to avoid having to spend every waking minute out on the road training. This program assumes you have a real life, and other obligations.
Before you begin this program, you should be able to complete a sustained 60-minute walk, and several days a week you should be taking 45-minute walks. The trick is progressively longer workouts on alternate weekends combined with short but challenging fitness building workouts on weekdays. The midweek workouts boost your maximum speed, which makes walking at marathon pace feel that much easier, while the weekend efforts are enough to build endurance.
Once you know the race date, write it down on a calendar. Then begin counting backward, filling in the key workouts from this program for each week. The program is built on six days per week of walking: two easy 45-minute walks, plus each of the following key workouts spread over the week. Tuesday and Thursday Workouts are shorter mid-week walks concentrating on speed and strength. Weekend Workouts will require a longer effort. You can swap days to accommodate your schedule, as long as you spread the harder efforts out over the week. The program should help most walkers to finish a marathon in under seven hours. (If you'd like to finish a marathon in under six hours and have more training time, check out the 22-Week Fast-Walking Marathon Program.)
The goal: Improve your ability to maintain target pace.
How: These short but sweet workouts consist of walking as fast as you can maintain for a designated time. Always begin with a 10-minute warm-up and 5-minute cool down.
Weeks 1-5: Start with 10 minutes easy, crank up to a swift pace for 15 minutes (using a high exertion level where you could talk if necessary, but not keep up a sustained conversation), and finish with 5 minutes to cool down, for a 30-minute total.
Weeks 6-11: Increase to 30 minutes of sustained effort after warming up, for a 45-minute total.
Weeks 12-15: Bump up to 45 minutes of high speed, and a 60-minute total.
Weeks 16-18: Drop back to 30-minute walks with just 15 minutes fast.
The Goal: Increase power in your legs; especially important on a hilly course.
How: During a non-stop 60-minute walk insert several bursts of either brisk uphill or extremely fast level walking, or both. Begin and end by walking easily for 10 minutes to warm up and cool down.
Week 1: After you've done your 10 minutes of warm-up walking, work a total of 5 minutes worth of intense effort-hard enough to induce heavy breathing-over the course of your walk. For instance, walk with intense effort for 1 minute, rest with moderate walking for another minute or so, then 3 minutes of hard walking. Follow with another minute of moderate effort, followed by 1 minute of intense effort, then back to moderate walking. You can choose exactly how you'd like to break up these 5 minutes of intense effort over the course of your walk. End with 10 minutes of cool down.
Weeks 2-17: Build up your effort by adding one minute of blistering speed each week: 6 minutes in week 2; 7 minutes in week 3; and so on. By week 17, your one-hour walk should include 21 minutes worth of very hard effort sprinkled throughout.
Week 18: Skip this workout entirely in the final week before the race.
The goal: Build endurance, reduce injury risk.
How: Each weekend take progressively longer walks. Occasionally they're broken into two medium-long walks at a quicker pace: one on Saturday afternoon, the other on Sunday morning. The short recovery time enhances the conditioning effect by giving your body less time to repair and re-energize muscles. Be sure to drink water frequently on any effort over an hour; nibble snacks on the walks over two hours.
If you'd like to go faster and have more training time, check out the 22-Week Fast-Walking Marathon Program.
Adapted from "The Complete Guide to Walking for Health, Weight Loss, and Fitness," by Mark Fenton (Lyons Press, 2001).