Walking is one of the easiest, most effective exercises to improve physical and mental health. In fact, walking can even beat running for heart health. If you’re just starting a walking routine, it’s a great way to build fitness. However, walking long distances like a half-marathon or a marathon is no small feat and requires dedicated training. If you’re already doing those distances and looking to take on another challenge, the ultramarathon distance (anything further than 26.2 miles) can be a great way to push yourself.
Here, a guide to the various distance options, tips for training and more:
You’ll have a few options for ultra walking events:
These ultra walks require participants to complete a specific distance, usually within a cutoff time. Common ultra distances are 50K, 50 miles, 100K, 100 miles and 200 miles.
Try it: The Salsa Walk in Texas offers participants the choice of completing a 50K, 100K, 150K or 200K ultra.
A timed event varies in distance, challenging walkers to see how many miles they can walk within a specific amount of time. Common examples are 24- and 48-hour events.
Try it: The Thom Shea Unbreakable 24-hour Challenge in Greenville, South Carolina, covers different trail loops and provides a training program upon registration.
These events are usually more casual and not as focused on finishing times; instead, there’s usually a set distance to complete each day.
Try it: The Avon Breast Cancer Crusade, which offers walks across the U.S., requires participants to complete 15–22 miles per day for three days, totaling about 60 miles. Or, check out EverWalk, where participants walk from Los Angeles to San Diego in seven days.
These walks hold historical (and often spiritual or religious) significance and can be a great way to plan an active vacation. They can last several days or weeks and cover hundreds of miles.
Try it: La Via Francigena is a historic medieval route that takes walkers from Canterbury, England, across the channel to France and Switzerland before crossing Italy to end in Rome. The full route covers more than 2,000K but you can also walk a shorter portion.
Assuming you’ve walked distances up to the marathon in the past and can currently walk between 6–10 miles a few times per week, training for an ultrawalking event should begin about 4–6 months before your race.
Like any other endurance training, you’ll want to slowly ramp up your mileage each week until you’re within reach of your goal distance. While there are several ways you can go about accomplishing this, one way to do it is the 3:1 method. This requires you to increase the distance of your long walk each week by 2–3 miles for three weeks, followed by one recovery week of shorter distance walks.
Continue to increase your distance from where you left off, building for the entire 4–6 months. Begin to taper mileage to focus on rest and recovery about two weeks out from your race or event.
In addition to building mileage, you’ll need to keep these factors in mind when training:
- Gear: Make sure to invest in a good pair of walking shoes and consider whether your event might require other accessories such as a water bottle or hiking poles.
- Terrain: If you signed up for a trail walk but train primarily on the road, this could be a problem. Try to match the terrain of your event during training so your body has time to adapt. If you live near the race course, spend some time each week training where the race will be held.
- Speed: Not all of your walks have to be long. While you’ll want one or two weekly sessions that focus on long, slow mileage, including shorter sessions that focus on speed works your muscles in a different way. The power and strength you get from these workouts helps you during your long sessions, too. If your race has lots of climbs, try hill repeats.
- Cross-Training: Solely logging miles can lead to overuse injuries if you’re not careful. One or two days per week, work other muscle groups by strength training, taking a yoga class or any other activity you enjoy. Mixing things up keeps you mentally fresh and allows you to build your fitness and endurance in a different way.
- Back-to-Backs: If your event requires you to walk long-distances on back-to-back days, mimic this effort in your training routine. Completing sessions that include long walks on consecutive days at least once a month gets your body used to the challenge you’ll be faced with during the event.
- Recovery: One of the most overlooked aspects of training for a long-distance walk is recovery. Taking care of your body with proper nutrition and stretching is vital. This allows you to stay consistent and fee good as your mileage increases. Make sure you incorporate rest days and aim to get high-quality sleep.