Delaware and Lehigh Heritage Half Marathon Goes Walker-Friendly

Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor Trail
Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor Trail. Michele Stanten ©

The Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor began hosting a fundraising marathon/half marathon in 2011. Their time cut-off of a 14 minutes per mile pace was too challenging for most pure walkers. Walking coach Michele Stanten is working with the race director to create a truly walker-friendly half marathon experience for 2014.

The Delaware and Lehigh Heritage Half Marathon Run/Walk has a new 4.5 hour time limit.

  Walkers have only to maintain a pace of 20.6 minutes per mile over the 13.1 mile course. Walkers will have their own pace groups and awards for the fastest walkers in each age category.

The event starts in Northampton, Pennsylvania and follows the trail alongside the Lehigh River to the Lehigh Gap. The 1000-foot-tall natural water gap towers over the finish line. It promises to be a scenic and flat half marathon surrounded by natural beauty. The 2014 event will be held Sunday, November 2.

“Not only are we welcoming walkers, we’re making this what I call a five-star, walker-friendly event,” says Michele Stanten, author of Walk Off Weight and creator of Stanten is an ACE-certified fitness instructor and has trained thousands of walkers when she ran Prevention magazine’s marathon walking programs.

Stanten has created half marathon training programs for walkers to prepare for the D&L Half, and can be used for any half marathon.

Awards for Walkers

"Walking a half marathon is no less of a feat than running one and walkers should be treated equally," Stanten said. "That's why we will be awarding the fastest walkers, including awards in age groups just like for runners. We are using the honor system, so we need to educate all participants that they should only enter the walking division if they will ONLY be walking--and we need to remind them frequently.

We will also be alerting volunteers to this so they can remind walkers to walk if they have a walker bib on. I hope this will also discourage volunteers and spectators from telling walkers to run. We will also be encouraging participants to report any walkers who are running, probably by taking a photo/video on their phone."

Making a Race Walker-Friendly

I've been walking many half marathons in the Pacific Northwest that have walker-friendly time limits, usually four hours. That is less common for races in the eastern USA, according to Stanten. Even when I'm on a pace that will bring me in 30 minutes before the time limit, I've had things go bad. I list these in 10 Ways Races Fail Walkers. I asked Stanten about how the D&L Half would avoid these problems. The race director has no previous experience with accommodating walkers.

Stanten says she will make sure that announcers acknowledge walkers along with runners. That will help eliminate my #7 on my list of things not to say to a walker.

The pace groups for walkers could be especially helpful for the 4:30 finishers. That should ensure that nobody gets left behind, and give encouragement to those at the tail end of the race.

As most of the route is on a trail, there isn't a need to worry about streets and intersections being opened to traffic or route markings being picked up before the final walkers go through.

"The more walkers you have the more support and camaraderie they will have along the course. We are aiming to have 300 walkers and working really hard to promote the event to hit our goal," said Stanten.

As an event director myself, I saw a potential snag with their event design -- that shuttle buses will return the racers from the finish line to the start. I've been stuck waiting on a bus for an hour before the final one departed back to where my car was parked. I've also missed the final shuttle and had to hoof it back on my own (luckily the parking lot was only an extra mile away). I've also (horrors!) had the bus company just forget they were being paid to supply us buses, and none showed up. We had to completely redesign the route immediately as an out-and-back!

I look forward to hearing how the 2014 L&H Half Run/Walk goes and I may put it on my calendar for 2015.

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