Should You Try Walking a Race in 2024?

Spoiler alert: the answer is YES.

So you’ve thought about races.  You’ve heard runners share stories about last weekend’s 5k, and it sounded like so much fun.  But you’re not a runner, so they’re not for you, right?  Well…no.

I always felt the same way.  I always saw posts on social media from big races, and I was always a little bit jealous.  All of those people lining up together, making their way through the streets, getting cheered on along the way, and ending with a medal and a celebration.  It always sounded like so much fun.  But, alas, I don’t run.  And the thought of entering a race and being the last person across the finish line, while all of the runners had packed up and gone home (or, worse, stuck around to laugh at me) was the thing of nightmares for my poor little anxiety-ridden brain.

As it turns out, though, you don’t have to be a runner to participate in a race.  In fact, you don’t have to run a single step.  You don’t even have to be a speed racer, who strides right along with the runners.  You can walk the whole way and get yourself that shiny medal in the end.  And you won’t even be alone.

Start Virtual

After I’d been walking for a while and felt pretty comfortable about completing a 5k, I decided that maybe, if I had some friends who were willing to give it a try with me, I’d sign up for the race.  That was still in the early days of the pandemic, when we were all at home, trying to figure out what to do with ourselves, so there weren’t any in-person races to sign up for—and that was just fine.  I wasn’t quite ready to take that step anyway.  Instead, I went online and signed up for a virtual race.  There are some great sites out there for virtual races, but I went with some from  A couple of friends and I signed up for the same race, and then we did the race on the same day and shared selfies.  I was so stinkin’ proud of that first medal—because it felt like a big accomplishment.

Virtual races are a great way to go if you feel like you could use a little extra motivation to put in the miles—or if you just feel like you need a little extra practice before trying a race in person.  Then you can get yourself a medal rack to remind you of all of the hard work that you’ve put in.  As an added bonus, a lot of these races donate a part of the proceeds to charity—so you’re doing some good out in the world while you’re doing some good for your own health.

Joining the Party in the Back

A couple of years—and soooooo many virtual races later—the world had opened back up again, and I was ready to give an in-person race a try.  So I talked a couple of walking friends into signing up for Gourdy’s Pumpkin Run.  It’s a fun fall race that comes with a Jack-o-lantern-themed hoodie and a medal—along with a free pumpkin and cider at the finish line. 

Themed races (or “fun runs”) like this one are a great way to start because you’re guaranteed to be out there with a bunch of other walkers.  While there will be serious runners at the front of the pack, racing for their own personal record, there will also be casual runners in the middle and plenty of walkers in the back.  Most of the people who do races like these are there for fun—not to win—and it just adds to the festive (and less competitive) atmosphere.

I found that the Pumpkin Run was the perfect way to get started.  It was a 5k with some fun swag (for you beginners…that’s what we call the goodies you get before and after the race) and a great big group of people of all ages and abilities participating.  And guess what—I didn’t feel intimidated or out of place or…slow…at any point during the race.  It was a great first race experience—which is probably why I’m now addicted to races. 

Take it from me: there is nothing here to be afraid of.

Plan for Race Week

Once you’ve decided to try an in-person race—once you’ve chosen your race, gotten signed up, and trained for the big day—there are just a few steps left.  Keep in mind that you’ll most likely need to show up (or have someone else show up for you) for packet pickup.  This is where you’ll get your race swag and your bib, which you’ll need to pin to your race day shirt (or pants…whatever).  This can be at a local running store, the race location, or even at a separate expo.  But no matter where this takes place, there’s a pretty good chance that it will make you so very excited for the big day.

The night before the race, get ready!  Figure out your morning: when and where you need to be, when you need to leave home, and how you’ll get ready in the morning.  We all have our race morning routines, and you’ll come up with yours, too.  I recommend setting your clothes and gear out the night before (because if you’re not a morning person—as I’m not—you will forget stuff in the morning).  Try to get a good night’s sleep (though I always find that I’m too excited to sleep).  And, in the morning, get to your corral (which will be the one allllllllll the way at the back of the pack) at a decent time, so you’re not racing to get to the start of the race. 

Then…enjoy!  To me, race day isn’t as much about hitting a personal record as it is about celebrating the journey.  I’ve worked hard.  I’ve gotten up when I didn’t want to and put in miles that I didn’t feel like walking.  And I’m healthier and happier for it.  So race day is a time to celebrate the hard work and get rewarded with a fun walk, a medal, and a party.  So get out there and enjoy it!  Enjoy the atmosphere.  Enjoy the exercise.  Enjoy spending time with your friends—and a bunch of other people who got up at a ridiculous time in the morning to tackle those miles.  Enjoy the scenery.  Enjoy the water and banana and granola bar at the after party.  And then…celebrate!  What you did is, in fact, a big deal.  Be proud of yourself! 

And then, when you get home, put your feet up for a bit…and search for your next race. Because once you do one, you’ll want to sign up for them all.

Things to Keep in Mind

Before you head out for your first race, there are a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Do your homework!  Before you sign up for your race, do a little bit of research.  Are walkers welcome?  Check to see if walkers are mentioned—and if there’s a time limit listed.  5ks rarely have a time limit, but it’s good to check just in case.
  • Bring some friends!  Especially when you’re just starting out, it’s more fun to participate in a race if you’re walking with friends.  Sure, there’s a chance that you’ll make some new friends along the way, but it’s nice to have some walking buddies with you.  You’ll be able to chat and enjoy the day together.  It’ll make the race fly by.  And you’ll have someone to celebrate with (and take selfies with) when you finish.  Just keep in mind that you don’t all walk at the same pace, so you’ll want to figure out a good pace to walk together.
  • Come prepared!  Keep an eye on the weather for the big day.  You’ll want to dress appropriately for the weather.  And keep in mind that you’ll be hanging around before and after the race.  Layers are always good.  I usually just wear an extra layer that I can tie around my waist when I get warm—and put back on for the after party.  But for some more serious races, runners will wear throwaway layers that they’ll then toss along the side of the road when they get warm (no, really!), so that’s an option for longer races, too.  I recommend getting yourself a good pack for carrying your keys, tissues and other necessities, and maybe water and snacks.  Also…if you’re planning on going it alone, pack some headphones (if they’re allowed—double check the rules!), so you’ll have some entertainment for the race.
  • ENJOY!  Races are so much fun, so take it all in!  Take a ton of crazy selfies to share with your family and post all over social media.  You got up and put in the miles, and you deserve to share your celebration!

Have you participated in a race before—either virtual or in-person?  Tell us about it!

Is participating in a race your goal for this year?  Let us know, so we can cheer you on!


Kristin has been hitting the trail (or the treadmill) for a walk almost every day for the past several years, and she recently completed her first half marathon. She loves sunny fall days, cushy walking shoes, and coconut caramel iced coffee from Dunkin.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *