The first person to run a marathon died immediately on completion.
At least, that's how the legend goes: Around 500 B.C., a Greek soldier was sent from Marathon, Greece, to Athens to announce the Athenian victory over Persia in the Battle of Marathon. He ran the 26.2 miles (42.2 kilometers), delivered his message, and promptly died of exhaustion. He may have been better served to walk it.
That's exactly what many people are doing these days. Most of us still think of marathons as pure running events, but an increasing number of participants are walking the long haul, choosing a low-impact, heart-healthy and slower route to the finish line.
Walking a marathon isn't always easy, though, and not just because of the distance; there's also the issue of all those hardcore runners breezing by and, sometimes, time limits that cater only to their faster finishes. But some marathons welcome walkers with open arms -- and open time limits. For those looking to walk a 26.2-mile course to the cheers of onlookers, there are plenty of great options.
Some even have a racewalk category for competitive speed walkers.
In this article, we'll look at five of the most walker-friendly marathons out there, whether you speed walk or stroll. We'll find out what makes them great for walkers and how you can take part. We'll begin with the best-known marathon in the United States: the Boston Marathon. Well, not exactly the Boston Marathon.
When: Sept. 12, 2010
Where: Boston, Mass.
More Info: The Jimmy Fund Walk
The Boston Marathon is a big one. It's been around for more than a century. Tens of thousands of people finish it every year, and lots of those people are walking.
You can certainly walk in the main Boston Marathon, but there's an even better option -- especially if you like putting some good work into your workout. This Boston Marathon event, called the Jimmy Fund Walk, takes place in September rather than April, goes the full 26.2 miles (or shorter, if your prefer), and follows the same route as the Boston Marathon, but it's just for walkers. It has a 2-hour start window, so participants can arrive and start walking at their leisure, and there are lots of refreshments along the route for re-energizing.
Jimmy Fund Walk proceeds go to cancer research.
Up next, if you're going to walk a marathon, you might as well do it here.
Where: Honolulu, Hawaii
When: Dec. 12, 2010
More Info: Honolulu Marathon
Hawaii. As far as places to go for a walk, it's a tough one to top. Walking a marathon in Hawaii can be a vacation unto itself, and the Honolulu Marathon is one of the most walker-friendly races out there. It hosts the largest number of walkers of any U.S. marathon: About 7,000 out of 20,000 finishers and participants [source: MarathonGuide].
The Honolulu Marathon has no time limit, and it offers awards in the racewalk category. There's no limit to the number of people who can walk (or run) it, so you don't have to worry about not getting in once you've already booked your fitness vacation.
The pre-marathon luau alone can make it worth the trip.
Up next, another great place for a very long walk.
Where: Los Angeles, Calif.
When: March 20, 2011
More Info: L.A. Marathon
The City of Los Angeles Marathon began in 1986 and now boasts more than 20,000 finishers, thousands of them walkers.
MarathonGuide lists the L.A. Marathon as No. 2 in the "most walkers" category. That, along with the sunshine and a generous 8-hour time limit, make it a perfect choice for a long, long walk on the West Coast.
If you're looking for a shorter walk, there's also a 5K division in the event.
Even the official training program accommodates walking. The L.A. Roadrunners has a pace group for walkers averaging up to a 16.5-minute mile, which would mean a 7.25-hour marathon finish -- a time that will earn you a medal. (Medals for everybody!)
Up next, if you're up for walking half-naked…
Where: London, England
When: May 14, 2011
More Info: Walk the Walk
All over London, women are going shirtless for the cure -- to breast cancer, of course.
If you're looking for an edgy, charitable marathon, a walker might seriously consider the Moon Walk. It's only for walkers, it's all about supporting breast-cancer causes, and everyone -- women and men alike -- wear only bras on top. Really crazy bras.
The event boasts about 15,000 walkers and also offers a half marathon (13.1 miles) category. For those of us in the U.S., it can be a great reason to finally visit Europe. With some girlfriends.
Up next: walking the Pacific Northwest…
Where: Portland, Ore.
When: Oct. 10, 2010
More Info: Portland Marathon
While the Portland Marathon may not have quite as many walkers as the Honolulu trek, it boasts a hefty percentage, fully a quarter of its participants, according to the official Web site.
Runner's World magazine ranked it the most walker-friendly marathon in 2004, and it's considered one of the best marathons for novices in general, not just walkers. It has a lengthy 8-hour time limit and beautiful weather for a long walk: 55 degrees and sunny for almost every one of its 28 years (in fact, according to the organizers, it has only rained once on marathon day).
And for competitive walkers, there's a racewalk division with medals.
These are five of the best walking marathons, but there are dozens more available. For more information, look over the links on the next page.
U.S. runners are taking longer than ever to cross the finish line. HowStuffWorks details a study that attempts to explain why.
- America's Walking: 18-Week Walk a Marathon Program. PBS.http://www.pbs.org/americaswalking/health/health18week.html
- The Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walkhttp://www.jimmyfund.org/eve/event/boston-marathon-jimmy-fund-walk/
- Kandel, Erin. Walker-Friendly Marathons. Marathon Guide.http://www.marathonguide.com/news/exclusives/WalkerFriendlyMarathons.cfm
- Marathon Calendar for Walkers. Marathon Walking.http://www.marathonwalking.com/calendar_marathons.html
- The Moon Walk.http://www.walkthewalk.org/Home
- Portland Marathonhttp://www.portlandmarathon.org/
- Walking Events. The Walking Site.http://www.thewalkingsite.com/events.html
- Walking Events. Yoga Health Benefits. Aug. 4, 2010.http://www.yogawiz.com/blog/walking/race-walking-running-events-charity-walks-marathons.html