How to Find Walker-Friendly Marathons and Half Marathons

Walkers Right - Runners Left on Half Marathon
Walkers Right - Runners Left at Foot Traffic Flat Half Marathon. Wendy Bumgardner ©

How do you find a marathon or half marathon that is walker-friendly? It takes some detective work to find out whether a race is the right one for someone who will walk the course rather than run.

Even events that bill themselves as being for both runners and walkers may have time limits for longer distances that won't accommodate walkers, who may be limited to the 5K. Here's how to research an event.

1. Know What Your Finish Time Will Likely Be: You don't want the indignity of being swept off the course by the sag wagon and not even allowed to finish. You need to know what your finish time will be so you don't register for a race you can't complete in their time limit. If it is your first time, use these race finish time prediction tools.

2. Check Race Listings for Events that Interest You: I often start my exploration with race and event calendar sites to look for events that will fit into my schedule. You can use our Walk Finder pages by state to search popular event calendars. I also use HalfMarathons.net to look for half marathons by state, although you will have to research each one to see if it is walker-friendly.

MarathonGuide.com has a excellent list of walker-friendly marathons, and Dave McGovern at Racewalking.org has a list of marathons, half marathons and other events that welcome walkers and racewalkers.

3. Search the Race Web Site for Time Limits: This important detail can be hard to find or entirely missing. You may have to go through most of the pages on their web site to find it buried in an FAQ, race day details, course details, rules, etc. The Rock 'n' Roll race series from Competitor makes it easy by placing all of their time limits, dates and deadlines on one page.

Not only do some races have overall time limits, some have minimum pace requirements even for early sections of the race. Some races with long time limits or no time limits will nevertheless open the course to traffic and take down aid stations. Look for those details in the rules and course instructions.

4. Check the Finish Results for Previous Years for the Event: Look at the finish results for prior years posted on their web site. This will tell you whether others of your speed have completed it before, and how many. This can give you a good picture as to whether you can enter it or not, but don't trust that the rules haven't changed for the current year. You need official confirmation from the race director.

5. Check the Course Maps: The time limit may be in the detail of the map itself, although you need to ensure it is the current year's map (routes often change). If you want to register for a half marathon held with a full marathon, the course maps and start time for each distance can give you a clue about finish times.

If they finish on the same course, the half marathon may have the a long finish time as they keep it open for the marathoners. But you will still need a definite answer from the race director.

6. Contact the Race Director: If you can't find the time limits, look for email, Facebook and phone links to the race director. Don't expect a quick answer, it could take a day or more to get a response. My email to a race director goes like this, "Hello, I am a pure walker rather than a runner and I typically complete a half marathon in 3:30 to 3:45. I would like to register for your (insert event name and date) half marathon but I couldn't find the time limit on your web site. What is the time limit and is it an event a walker of my speed could complete?"

7. Work With the Race Director: I never ask for special accommodation, but I've had it offered by race directors. If it is a smaller event, they may offer to let you do an early start so you can complete the course before the cutoff time. Be aware that this means a competitive herd of runners will pass you at some point, which can be unpleasant. Water stops and aid stations may not yet be set up if you start early. For both early starts and late finishes, a walker should be prepared with their own water and energy snacks. Big events are often less lenient about bending rules.

8. Never Register for a Race You Can't Finish in the Time Limit: Just let it go. Race Directors often set a time limit for safety and for local permit requirements. If they have blocked off a street for the race, they are required to open it to traffic. They may only have a permit for the finish area for a certain number of hours. Their race volunteers and crews are only in position for specific shifts. If  people take an extra hour to finish, this endangers the event from being held in future years.

Next: How to Encourage Walker-Friendly Events

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