Long Distance Walking Opens a Wide World of Endless Possibilities and Better Health

Once you’re bitten by the walking bug, you’ll want to expand your range and enter the wide, wide world of long distance walking. The benefits, both physical and spiritual, are limited only by your imagination and willingness for fitness adventure.

People colonized every continent by walking long before they rode animals or cars. Roman legions, each soldier carrying 70 to 100 pounds of equipment, considered a 20-mile march a good day. But you can define long distance walking any way you wish. Many popular races cover 5- or 10-kilometer distances and make great outings for long distance walkers. Walking a marathon is another popular long distance walking goal. Some walking races cover even longer distances.

If you walk regularly—at least 5 days per week—you should consider adding long distance walking to your exercise program. With a little preparation and a lot of imagination, you can walk around the world, literally or virtually.

Fun Fact: If you walked 20 miles every Saturday, it would take you almost 28 years to walk around the world!

Powerful Benefits of Long Distance Walking Include Better Stamina and Fitness

Obviously, walking 20 miles takes more time than your routine 5-mile daily walk, so one long distance walk per week is a practical way to start. But for most beginning walkers, the transition from walking for an hour to walking for two is a natural one as your physical strength slowly improves and you build up strong walking habits.

Better stamina means you will burn calories more efficiently, increasing your physical fitness and well-being. An experienced walker who weighs 150 pounds burns up to 100 calories per mile with long distance walking. Imagine how fit you will look once your metabolism is running like a finely tuned engine!

Looking great isn’t the only benefit of long distance walking, either. Many long distance walking and running events are tied to charity fundraising, giving you loads of opportunities to help good causes. Imagine how great you’ll feel when you reach your mileage goal for your favorite charities!

But to get the full benefits of long distance walking, you need to build up a strong physical base with a regular walking routine.

Long Distance Walking Quick Start Guide for Beginners

Walking 20 miles isn’t something you should attempt without preparation. Beginning walkers should slowly walk at an increasing pace and distance to avoid losing interest, or worse, suffering painful injuries. Before attempting a marathon walk—26.2 miles—most long distance walking experts agree that you should be walking at least 15 miles per week, walking at least 4 or 5 days per week. You should also have been walking for exercise for at least 3 months before you begin training for a marathon distance.

Once you can walk 4 miles several days per week without much difficulty, you’re ready to start building your mileage base. Setting up a daily schedule is vital to your success. Below is a 12 week plan for beginner to intermediate walkers:

Mondays – Rest day
Tuesdays and Thursdays – Moderate walks of at least 4 miles
Wednesdays – Comfortable walks of at least 3 miles
Fridays – Cross-training for 1 hour
Saturdays – Endurance walking, slowly building up to 80% of goal distance
Sundays – Recovery day with at least 30 minutes of cross-training or comfortable walking

A typical distance training walk should include periods of comfortable walking, periods of stretching, and periods of peak walking. Start your walk at a comfortable, natural walking pace for the first 10 minutes. Stop for your usual stretching exercises for about 5 minutes. Then resume walking fast enough so that you maintain your heart rate at 65–80% of your maximum heart rate (MHR). At this walking pace, you should be able to speak only in short sentences, barely passing the talking test. Walk at this pace for most of your distance goal before ending your training walk with cool down exercises.

Long Distance Walking Training Tips for Intermediate Walkers

More seasoned walkers can begin a more demanding training schedule. If you walk 6 to 8 miles 5 times per week, you can consider yourself an intermediate walker. This popular training plan is similar to the beginner’s plan:

Mondays – Rest day
Tuesdays – Interval walks of varied pacing for at least 4 miles
Wednesdays – Comfortable walks of at least 3 miles for better technique
Thursdays – Tempo or power walking for 5 to 6 miles
Fridays – Cross-training for 2 hours
Saturdays – Endurance walking, sometimes called a long distance day, slowly building up to 80% of goal distance
Sundays – Recovery day with at least 45 minutes of cross-training or comfortable walking

  • Interval walking means walking at a fast pace for a short time, then walking at a normal pace. Untimed interval walking is sometimes called “doing fartleks.”
  • Tempo walking means pushing yourself, but not so much that you’re spent before you finish your walk.
  • On long distance days, you should walk at a steady pace that is slightly faster than your normal pace. Aim for reaching your distance goal in the final 2 weeks of your training schedule.
  • Cross-training—other exercises such as cycling, push-ups, weight training, or swimming—are vital to long distance walking, so always schedule 2 days of cross-training per week.
  • Begin each workout with a 10- to 15-minute warm-up period and end each session with a 5 to 10 minute cool down.
  • As your training goal approaches, include a taper period in which you slow down the pace of your training to allow your body to prepare for the event.
  • Carrying enough water for a long distance walk is nearly impossible, so it’s a good idea to plan your routes around water sources such as public water fountains, vending machines, or grocery stores.