A Four-month Plan to Walking Your First Marathon

"How often do you feel like queen of the world and mistress of all you survey?" asks Sherron Meinert, 36, recalling the joy and sense of empowerment she felt after walking her first marathon. "I was a pool of tears."

Impressive as her pace was (she finished in 6 1/2 hours, at an average of 4 mph), her time wasn't what brought on the emotional outpouring. "I'd never done anything like that in my life. It was an incredible feeling."

If you think your chances of running a marathon are slim, then consider walking one and let us be your trainer. All across the country, race directors are responding to growing interest from walkers, extending their hospitality as well as the times courses remain open to give walkers a chance for a timed finish. The trend has been fueled by increased interest in fitness, not just competition.

T-shirts and medals are fun, but they aren't the most important motivators, says Ellie Hodder, leader of Women Walk the Marathon, a coed training group. "Women go from thinking, 'Maybe I can walk a marathon,' to knowing they can. There's lots of self-appreciation that comes from committing to a long-term goal." For many, that commitment to fitness continues long after race day.

"Walkers start out motivated by weight-loss goals or turning an age with a '0' in it," Hodder adds. "Then many get hooked, returning year after year my repeat offenders."

A repeat offender herself, Meinert walked the Portland Marathon. She says her first event was about getting back to a fitness routine she'd all but abandoned. In training for Portland, her goals were even bigger. "I have more focus," she says. "Even when it's raining, I get up and walk. My goal is to keep on getting up and walking when I'm 80."

Though 26.2 miles may seem a daunting distance, the trick is to gradually build your body's endurance and strength for the effort. Our four-month training program is built around four key workouts each week.

The first step? Enter a race, write it down in a calendar, then count backward, filling in key workouts for each week. That way, you'll be prepared when it's time to plan a full-day hike in September or a walk of over four hours in October.

For maximum training benefit, aim for six days of walking per week, including two easy 45-minute walks, plus each of the following key workouts spread over the week. And since rest is essential, take one day off each week.

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