Training Tips For Nordic Walking a 26.2 Mile Marathon

Nordic Walkers in Denmark
Nordic Walkers in Denmark. © jeancliclac / Depositphotos.com

Preparing to go the distance in a marathon is similar for runners, skiers and Nordic Walkers. Technique, equipment prep, miles of long slow distance, pacing, speed work/intervals, diet and hydration are all important parts of the planning and preparation process.

Nordic Walking Marathons

It can be a challenge to find a marathon that is not only walker-friendly but also allows walking poles. One step further is the Portland Marathon in Oregon has a Nordic Walking category and a walker-friendly time limit.

The We Walk! Marathon, Half & 50K in Minnesota also has a Nordic Walking category. If you choose a different walker-friendly event, check with the rules and race director to ensure walking poles are allowed. 

Nordic Walking Basics

From personal marathon participation and coaching nordic walkers, I have developed a successful Nordic Walking teaching system based around user-friendly, economical and dependable equipment. The following is a quick intro to the USA Nordic Walking Technique.

Remember the basics - chin up, fingers loose and relaxed, poles slightly angled back and NEVER plant the poles in front of the lead foot! Every heel strike gets a pole plant. The left pole plants in sync with the right foot's.

Level 1 Nordic Walking

Burns about 20 more calories than regular walking. Most Americans prefer Nordic Walking in Level 1 casually walking with the poles slightly angled backed while they automatically benefit from the use of correct length poles.

Correct length poles help us to automatically walk with a super straight back - better walking posture is biomechanically a good thing.

This improved walking posture when combined with the unique 4-Wheel-Drive type action of walking with poles radically reduces the stress to the shins, knees, hips and back.

Nordic Walking is low impact and yet provides a highly effective workout - burning more calories and working more muscle groups than regular walking.

* Perfect length poles put the elbow at 90 degrees when you are strapped in and standing tall.

Level 2 Nordic Walking

Burns up to 30 more calories than regular walking. Level 2 includes a full arm extension forward and slightly down (poles slightly angled back). Similar to reaching out to shake a hand or hurdlers as they fly over a hurdle: reach forward, grab the doorknob and pull back. The arm extension of Level 2 automatically increases your walking tempo and stride length.

* There is no twisting in Level 2 and there is no additional stress to the back when done correctly and with correct fitting poles. Poles that are too short will add unwanted stress to the lower back.

Level 3 Nordic Walking

Burns up to 40 more calories than regular walking. Level 3 includes the full arm extension of Level 2 plus constant force through the heel of the hand into the Nordic Walking straps - from pole plant to hip.

Remember to keep your fingers loose and relaxed - no white knuckling of the pole and NO death grip.

Level 3 requires the use of real Nordic Walking poles with comfortable fingerless glove type straps. Poles with old fashion loop straps or no straps are not as comfortable and effective. Skiers know the secret of these new wonder straps and ALL of the Olympic skiers use this fingerless glove type strap for added speed, comfort and just plain good physics.

What is so great about Nordic Walking is that regardless of what level we train, we ALWAYS benefit from automatically having our backs so perfectly straight (biomechanically correct) as long as we use the perfect length poles and good technique and keep that chin up.

Poles for Nordic Walking a Marathon

Nordic Walking equipment that is safe, dependable and sized correctly is important for Nordic Walkers. That said, the benefits of Nordic Walking have been partially achieved by folks walking with two sticks, two broom handles and even two bamboo rods – no kidding! The goodness of Nordic Walking can be partially achieved with almost any device or pole. My suggestions to follow are not just my own, but also backed by professionals in Scandinavia -- the Nordic Capital of the World -- rather than by any manufacturer.

Rubber Tips:

Poles that come with thin plastic "travel caps" are not real Nordic Walking Poles and those tips aren't designed for walking. There are two types of rubber tips out on the market – the lower profile round tips and the beefier boot-shaped tips. The low profile tips are mandatory on marathon day. They are lighter and they don't affect swing weight. The boot shaped tips last a little longer, are heavier and unfortunately do affect the swing weight of the poles.

Nordic Walking Poles

The truth about Nordic Walking poles is simple and backed-up by thousands of folks who have participated in my Nordic Walking Clinics – folks that chose durable one-piece poles over adjustable poles and poles with comfortable fingerless glove type straps over poles with loop straps or no straps at all.

Adjustable or Single Piece Poles

I have never seen a cross country or downhill skier use adjustable poles in a race – they are heavier, they have a goofy swing-weight, make clunky noises at the twist lock joints and they have plastic clips in the twist lock system that don't last.

Adjustable poles are NOT user friendly and I would never sell adjustable poles to seniors! For pilots and extreme travelers I do sell an expensive adjustable pole on my website, but when non-pilots or extreme travelers order them by mistake I honestly tell them that the one-piece poles at ½ the price are safer and more dependable.

SWIX and Leki make the best adjustable poles, but I don't recommend them for seniors, for everyday use or a marathon. Look for user-friendly one-piece poles and be sure to get a correct fit.

Aluminum vs. Carbon

The manufactures would have you believe that Carbon Poles provide more shock absorption, a better swing weight and other benefits. The reality is that in a blind test it is almost impossible to tell the difference between quality one-piece aluminum poles and 1-piece carbon poles. However, there is a huge noticeable difference between the 1-piece poles and adjustable poles – the adjustables are heavier, noisy, clunky, sometimes collapse unexpectedly and have a goofy swing weight. My ski racers demand carbon poles and pay up to $350 per pair at the Junior National Level. For Nordic Walking the weight issue is not as big a factor. A reputable company will offer you choices between aluminum and carbon poles, but will not give you a lot of hype just to sell you the more expensive carbon poles.

If the company doesn't offer options be cautious. For casual Nordic Walking a quality pair of lightweight aluminum alloy poles is wonderful.

Nordic Walking Shoes

My favorite shoes for coaching and Nordic Walking are New Balance Trail Running Shoe. The least expensive shoes typically fit my feet the best – don't think that $100+ are necessarily the best shoes for you. Find the model that fits your feet best! Wear shoes that are comfortable and that you trust to go the distance.

I do NOT suggest wearing a racing flat in your first Nordic Walking Marathon.

In the last 26-mile marathon that I ran I wore my training shoes, took first overall and broke the course record. I opted for support and comfort and my choice prevented injury and minimized potential stress to the shins, knees, hips and back – a concern because my training mileage was about 50% of what is typically recommended.

Be sure to use comfortable shoes that are broken in – don't attempt a marathon in something you haven't tested and trust. Also, if you have hundreds of miles on your favorite shoes it may be time to pick up a back-up pair. It is also a good idea to alternate shoes and to always have a back up.

Nordic Walking Gloves

Real Nordic Walking Poles come with super comfortable straps that are like a fingerless glove. You don't need or want special gloves if you are using real Nordic Walking poles. In the colder months the straps adjust to make more room for mittens or gloves and because Nordic Walking gloves are fingerless, they won't be the right choice than either.

Nordic Walking Marathon Training Schedule

Long Slow Distance (LSD): The foundation for all endurance sports is LSD – long slow distance. If you are focusing on a marathon, be sure to gradually build up your miles and be sure to toss in less intense recovery days and a recovery week once in a while.

Please note that there is little you can do the week or two prior to "crash course" for a marathon. The foundation needs to be thoughtfully planned out weeks in advance.

Below is a simple 10-week road map for building up your mileage, without tearing you down:

Mon - 3-4 miles
Tues - 3-4 miles
Wed - 3-4 miles
Thurs - 3-4 miles
Friday - 1-2 miles
Sat - 5-6 miles
Sun - bike, swim, run

Mon - 5-6 miles
Tues - 5-6 miles
Wed - 3-4 miles
Thurs - 5-6 miles
Fri - 1-2 miles
Sat - 7-8 miles
Sun - bike, swim, run

Mon - 3-4 miles
Tues - 3-4 miles
Wed - 5-6 miles
Thurs - 3-4 miles
Friday - 1-2 miles
Sat - 5-6 miles
Sun - bike, swim, run

Mon - 5-6 miles
Tues - 5-6 miles
Wed - 3-4 miles
Thurs - 5-6 miles
Fri - 1-2 miles
Sat - 7-8 miles
Sun - bike, swim, run

Mon - 5-6 miles
Tues - 5-6 miles
Wed - 5-6 miles
Thurs - 3-4 miles
Fri - 5-6 miles
Sat - 5-6 miles
Sun - bike, swim, run

Mon - 5-6 miles
Tues - 5-6 miles
Wed - 5-6 miles
Thurs - 9-10 miles
Friday - 5-6 miles
Sat - 5-6 miles
Sun - bike, swim, run

Mon - 5-6 miles
Tues - 5-6 miles
Wed - 5-6 miles
Thurs - 10-15 miles
Fri - 3-4 miles
Sat - 5-6 miles
Sun - bike, swim, run

Mon - 5-6 miles
Tues - 5-6 miles
Wed - 3-4 miles
Thurs - 5-6 miles
Fri - 1-2 miles
Sat - 7-8 miles
Sun - hike,bike,swim

Mon - 5-6 miles
Tues - 5-6 miles
Wed - 5-6 miles
Thurs - 3-4 miles
Fri - 5-6 miles
Sat - 5-6 miles
Sun - hike,bike,swim

Mon - 3-4 miles
Tues - 3-4 miles
Wed - 3-4 miles
Thurs - 3-4 miles
Fri - 1-2 miles
Sat - Marathon

Note from Wendy Bumgardner: Pete Edwards designed this schedule because Nordic Walking is more of a workout than regular walking. For regular walking, I recommend a full 19-week training course rather than this 10 week course, working up to 18-22 mile long days. See my schedule:
19 Week Marathon Training Schedule

Pacing

Depending how serious you are about preparing for your Nordic Walking Marathon, you may want to consider adding some "pacing" sessions into your workout plans. A runner for example may want to hit a race pace of 7-minute miles during his/her marathon, but trains at a more comfortable 8 eight minutes per mile.

It is recommended to do some mile or around the block "pacing" workouts to assimilate the effort needed and coordination required to maintain that 7-minute mile running goal. These pacing sessions are NOT sprints or All-Out, just a little quicker than typical Nordic Walking pace. Toss in 3 –4 mile repeats or 3-4 times around the block at a slightly quicker pace with a short rest in between.

If you Nordic Walk at an average of 10 minute miles you may want to shoot for 9 minute miles during your pacing sessions.

Intervals/Speed Work

Intervals and speed work are a great way to help jump-start the metabolism. Please note that too much speed is NOT a good thing. The goal is to get the body accustomed to speed and develop the coordination that goes along with it. If you improve your coordination at faster speeds your form and technique will become much more efficient at your normal Nordic Walking pace.

It is sometimes recommended toward the end of a workout to toss in a couple speed bursts of 100 yards or so and then settle back into your regular pace. Even jogging with good poling action for 50-100 intervals is an extremely effective activity. Your ability to maintain perfect form during these 50-100 yard intervals will pay off during a marathon.

Ready to Get Started?

As with any exercise program be sure to consult your physician first.

Good luck! I hope this info helps you to establish a personal record in your next Nordic Walking 5K or Full Marathon. Stay relaxed and have FUN Nordic Walking!

Pete Edwards developed the American Nordic Walking System to provide instruction for all ages and fitness levels including people with balance issues. His web site, Skiwalking.com, features Nordic Walking poles and instructional videos. 

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