Can I Walk During A Half Marathon? 11 Reasons To Walk Instead of Run!

Let’s face it, a half marathon is no easy feat. We spend week after week in the trenches training for a half marathon race. On race day sometimes (quite often) things just don’t go according to plan. You might have tossed the question around in your head, and want to know the answer to it – Can I Walk During A Half Marathon?

Yes. Most racecourses encourage walkers to partake in the race. However, most racecourses are strict about race cut-off times ranging anywhere from 3 to 5 hours for half marathons (4 hours being the average).

11 Reasons to enjoy the walk instead of despising the run

I want to encourage you to attempt to run most of your half marathon race, but I totally understand if you need to walk some of the race. Many beginning runners start off with a walk/run interval strategy. This strategy is one of the best ways for new runners to slowly acclimate their bodies to the sport of running. Here are 11 reasons why it might make sense to take a walk break during a half marathon race:

1. You would describe the course as “more hills than I can count”

Half marathon distances of 13.1 miles are daunting enough for first-timers. If you didn’t look at the elevation gain of your race prior to signing up or running the race, you might be in for a rollercoaster of a race.

My first half marathon race was in a small town in Texas known for its hilly terrain. I didn’t look up the elevation gain prior to signing up because I was desperate to find a local half marathon race because I had to bail on my original plans. Low and behold I received 11 extreme hills during my first half marathon race.

What did I do, I sped up my pace and charged each upcoming hill and then slowly moved into a brisk walk up the remainder of the hill. If I wouldn’t have been using this “hill charging” strategy, my time would have suffered greatly.

Having some sort of backup plan during a race is a must especially during a longer race. Check out this post I wrote about half marathon backup plans.

2. The sun feels like its sitting on your head (HOT)

When you slow down to a walk everything gets to cool down for a few minutes. Heat and high humidities will sap you clean of water and energy, leaving you struggling to catch your breath. Take a break and walk in the sun and then run while you are in the shade.

If you’re running your race along a street with convenient stores, hop in and buy a hat to help shade the sun. True story: I’ve actually seen someone run out of the store with a brand new hat during a race. The more races you run the more crazy stuff you’ll see.

3. You dodged some training sessions during your training cycle

At times, runners feel like we need to log every single required or we feel like failures. As we become more experienced and seasoned at running we realize that it’s ok to have a little wiggle room in your running volume.

During your half marathon race, you may have to slow down a little bit and take some walk breaks especially if you’ve missed weeks of training. If you’re feeling the urge to walk, try to slow your pace down substantially. If this doesn’t work walk for a few minutes or a quarter of a mile.

Training schedules are designed to make sure that you stay on track. I wrote a post that shows you 3 important things that your half marathon training schedule DOES NOT show you.

4. Refueling and hydrating during a race feels like a juggling act

If you’ve never attempted to drink from a cup when while running, it’s not easy at all. Drinking from a cup while running requires you to fold the cup long ways and then drink slowly while running. If you don’t fold the cup then your chances of the water sloshing out of the cup are multiplied.

To dodge this unnecessary dousing of water, slow down to a walk and drink the water. The same goes for fueling. It’s much easier to consume your fuel such as gels while walking. Don’t forget to eat the gel first and then wash it down with water, not a sports drink.

I have put together an extensive review of energy gels. Check out the energy gel review or my recommendations page for gels I recommend.

5. You need your running legs for the last part of the race

You can break up the monotony of running by walking for a few minutes every mile or at intervals such as a run 9 minutes – walk 1 minute. By taking timed or distance walking breaks earlier in the race, you can save some energy for the last couple of miles.

When you have some extra fuel in the tank during the last part of your half marathon race, you can push yourself to finish the last few miles stronger.

6. Your legs start to cramp, and you have no choice.

If your legs start cramping the best thing to do is slow down. Most of the time if your legs cramps are severe enough, you’re not going to have a choice. If you’ve never experienced exercised-associated muscle cramps (EAMC), your lucky or smarter than the rest of us!

The reason why your muscles get cramps was primarily focused on one of two reasons. Lack of electrolytes and inadequate running volume. Guess what? Recent studies are now refocusing on the underlying reasons your muscles cramp. The studies have not ruled out electrolyte deficits as a reason for cramping. However, the studies are now pointing at “an imbalance between muscle spindles and GOLGI tendon organs that drive alpha motor neurons. This imbalance is believed to be caused by neuromuscular overload and fatigue.”, 2016 – study)

Basically you’re trying to run further and/or at a faster pace than your body was trained to do. To avoid muscle cramps slow down or next time put it more running volume during your training.

7. Your mind is sneak attacking you telling you to slow down

Quelling your mind during the middle of an intense half marathon race is difficult to do. Your body is pushing you onwards but your mind is telling you that you can’t stand another minute of running. Mind tricks sabotage all runners of all levels quite frequently, the more you get to battle with your mind the easier it becomes to push out your inner critic.

When I mean easier, I don’t mean the running will always get easier. The act of recognizing your mind sneaking up on you comes easier to you. Also, your reactions will tend to be a little bit faster when you’ve dealt with your mind on many long runs.

One way to help you trick your mind is to simply slow your pace down for a few minutes. If slowing your pace down doesn’t help, try walking for a few minutes. Sometimes your mind and body just need a little break to reset your nagging mind.

For more ways to subdue your “inner running critic”, check out this post about tricking your mind into running.

8. Relieves your muscles from the high impact of running

Your muscles are working overtime when you run your half marathon. When you slow down your pace or slow down to a walk for just a minute or so, you are relieving your muscles and legs, knees, and ankles from the constant impact from running.

When we run, both of our feet are off the ground at the same time for the slightest of moments. What goes up must come down. When we come down, our weight is amplified by 2 to 3 times which gets transferred to our landing foot. It’s no wonder why runners have such nice looking legs right?

Unless you’re going for a PR, take a short walk break for a few minutes, your legs will be happy.

9. Photos and conversations are much easier.

When you’re walking it’s much easier to take that photo without your phone bouncing up and down. You can hold conversations with other friends if you walk part of the half marathon. Not only are photos much easier to snap and conversations easier to hold. You get to meet a lot of cool people along the way while you walk, whereas if you are running it’s really hard to meet and talk with new people.

10. You have no shame of telling people you walked during your half marathon

Finishing your half marathon by either walking or running is no easy feat. Whether you run it, walk it, or walk/run it it’s a huge accomplishment. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that if you walked part of the half marathon that you “really didn’t complete a half marathon.” Those days are long gone. In fact, hardcore runners that say that should actually not care at all. It makes their running statistics look better.

If you want to walk an entire half marathon, make sure you know the race cut-off time and what paces you’ll need to keep so you can finish. I have written the exact post including walking pacing tables for half marathon walkers. You can check it out here – can I walk a half marathon in 4 hours?

Check out this post as well that tells you average racecourse cutoff times for half marathons and marathon races – how long do marathons stay open for runners?

11. You’re in pain.

This should be a no brainer, but quite often runners will bulldoze through their pain in order to not slow down and walk. This is in the simplest terms – stupid! I’m not talking about a little irritation or slight burning in the thighs, I’m talking about agonizing, stabbing pain that is stealing all joyous feelings of finishing your race. Pain happens for a reason – it’s a warning signal to your mind and body that something isn’t right. Don’t ignore agonizing and severe pain.

The way that I look at this is if my mind is fixated on a nagging issue, I try to reset my mind by doing a rinse and flush through my mind. To do this picture yourself standing on a trap door in a dark dark room. Make a sound, it can be any sound, such as a whoosh or a boom and then imagine yourself dropping through a floor and escaping the current feelings your having. In an unconscious sense, you’re giving your mind permission to reset what you’re thinking about.

Can I use Trekking poles to walk during a half marathon?

During my most recent half marathon race (#13), I saw an individual using trekking poles. As long a the race doesn’t strictly forbid them, you’re free to use them! And yes I did slow down to a walk to snap this photo!

Can I Walk During a Half Marathon - Trekking poles


Coach Scott is a published author and RRCA certified running coach (Level 2). He has published over 20 books including, Beginner's Guide to Half Marathons: A Simple Step-By-Step Solution to Get You to the Finish Line in 12 Weeks! (Beginner To Finisher Book 3), which has become an Amazon International #1 bestseller. Scott specializes in helping new runners become injury-free race finishers. He recently completed his 14th half marathon race. 

 To sign up for a FREE half marathon training schedule, log sheet, and pace predictor CLICK HERE.

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