Long-distance training isn’t just for runners; more and more races are offering 21-kilometre walk options. It’s no wonder: Training to walk a half-marathon keeps you motivated and boosts your fitness level and self-esteem. Lise Warick, a human resource officer at the University of Alberta who runs clinics for the Running Room in Edmonton, got hooked after she walked her first half-marathon in 2004. “Crossing the finish line for the first time was very emotional for me,” says Warick.
You don’t need to be an athlete to walk a half-marathon, but you do need to be committed. “Walkers are just as serious about their training as runners are,” says Warick. “New walkers often don’t realize that training for a half-marathon is a significant time commitment.” The good news: Train properly, and you’ll be race-ready in as little as 18 weeks.
The first six weeks
Focus on endurance first to build a fitness base, says Warick. Walk four times a week for 45 to 60 minutes a day. On the weekends, add one walk that’s longer than the rest to build your endurance: If you can, start with a long, slow distance walk of seven kilometres.
Weeks six to 12
Walk an hour or two every day, and increase your muscular and cardiovascular strength with hill climbs: After warming up, hoof it up and down a hill two times (working up to nine times by week 12) before cooling down. On the weekend, continue to do one long slow walk, but make it a bit longer every week. If you’re getting sick of walking, that’s okay: “You don’t need to walk all five days per week,” says Warick. Just substitute cross training, like cycling, to maintain and improve your fitness level.
Weeks 12 to 18
Your once-a-week endurance walk should be at around 20 kilometres by the time you’re finished. Also, do some interval training to improve your walking speed: Alternate 30- to 90-second bouts of walking fast with walking at a moderate pace for the same amount of time or up to twice as long.
The process might sound daunting, but you’ll be rewarded come race day. “Most of us underestimate our abilities,” says Warick. “If training for an event is something you really want to do, you will get there.”