The Pros and Cons of Walking a Race

At every race, you’ll find a mix of participants.  You’ll find the serious runners who are competing to finish in the top three.  Depending on the race, you might even find elite runners who are leading the pack and breaking records.  But you’ll also find casual runners who aren’t trying to win any prizes; they just love to run.  You’ll find first-timers who are working with trainers to pace themselves or track their running/walking intervals.  You’ll find families and running buddies who are there pushing through together.  And then, at the very back of the pack, in the last starting corral, you’ll find the walkers.

I’ll admit that it took me a while to work up the courage to join the party in the back.  I was afraid that I’d be the only one walking—and the last (by far) to cross the finish line.  But that’s rarely the case.  In fact, I soon found that walking a race is pretty awesome!

Of course, from my own experiences, I’ve found that there are both good and bad things about being a walker in a race.  And if you’re considering walking your first race, it helps if you know what to expect.  So let’s take a look at just a few of the pros and cons.


Less pressure. At the back of the pack, with the walkers and the slowest runners, there’s no pressure.  No one is competing against you for a big prize.  Your only competition is you—if even that.  Everyone is there for the fun and excitement of it—and maybe to prove to themselves (or their disparaging, eye-rolling teenager) that they can do it.  So while there may be a whole lot of serious, stone-faced preparation going on at the front of the pack, there’s nothing at stake in the back.  Everyone’s just proud of you for showing up.

The pre-race excitement. Way up at the front, with the fastest runners, I can imagine that things are a little more serious.  Sometimes I’ll see these people, with serious expressions on their faces, warming up with sprints.  I can imagine that they’re mentally running through the course and double-checking their fancy hydration packs (that they most certainly did not order from Temu) and making sure their gels are within reach.  In the back of the pack, people are doing some stretching while laughing and joking with their friends.  They’re wearing silly shirts and tutus.  And there’s a kind of energy and excitement and overall playfulness there that just isn’t the same when you’re preparing for serious competition.

The support of other walkers and slow runners.  There’s just something about the racers at the back of the pack that makes them more upbeat and supportive.  These are the people who know that just showing up for a race is a big deal.  You got up to do this thing—just like they did.  And you’re all in it together.  So there’s a good chance that, when you’re fighting your way to the finish line and suddenly find yourself staring down a hill, there will be plenty of people around you to fight through it with you (and also to complain about it while sharing a good laugh).

The swag—and the post-race party.  You may not have finished that 5k in 16 minutes, but you get the same medal, the same shirt, and the same party as those who did.  Signing up for this race took faith.  Showing up took dedication.  And finishing took time, energy, and hard work.  You’ve spent hours training to be there—just like everyone else did.  So you’ve earned a little celebrating—just like everyone else.  So take lots of pictures, drink your post-race margarita, eat that free pizza, dance to the music, and grab all of the random freebies that you can fit in your arms.  And wear that medal for the next week.


Some races are inclusive events, celebrating the last finisher just as much as the first.  I remember pictures circulating of the very last finisher of last year’s Honolulu Marathon—one that’s known for its lack of cutoff times.  Even if it takes you just short of 17 hours to finish, they’ll be there to hand you a medal and celebrate your achievement.  And that’s why the Honolulu Marathon is on my bucket list.

Of course, not every race is going to be that awesome.  Many races have a cutoff time—and those cutoff times often do not accommodate walkers.  And while others will let you finish, it’ll be very clear that the race was over long before you crossed the finish line.  This is why I recommend participating in events that include longer events, too.  So if, for instance, you walk a half marathon, you’ll be crossing the finish line with a lot of those competing in the full marathon—and the party will still be going strong.

Sometimes, though, you’ll experience less-than-great results from participating in a race as a walker.  Like the following:

Less fanfare.  When I participated in my first half-marathon, I was so excited for the starting line fanfare.  I’d read about the music and the fireworks that started off the race—but, as it turns out, the fanfare was for the people in Corral A.  Back in the last starting corral, we were so far back (and around a corner) that we could barely hear the music—and the fireworks were behind a bunch of trees.  Needless to say, that was a bit of a bummer—but there was still plenty of energy at the party in the back that we were all excited and ready to go by the time it was (finally) our turn to start.

More time commitment.  It takes a lot longer to walk a race than it does to run one.  But to paraphrase a running quote that I once read: when you walk a race, you get your money’s worth! 

Racing against the sweepers.  Some races have a very tight minimum pace, and they’ll have a group of volunteers closing up the race—and if you fall behind, you’ll be asked to move off the course.  They might be police officers, and they might be Disney’s Balloon Ladies—but, whatever the case, if you’re not a super-speedy walker, you may find yourself trying to stay ahead of the sweepers.  And that can be a stressful situation—unless the sweepers are really nice and are just happy to keep you company and cheer you on.  Then they might just become your best supporters.

Stuff shuts down.  I’ve heard stories from people who have finished races after the big inflated finish line had already been deflated.  I’ve heard stories from people who had to hunt down the race director and follow her to her van to get a well-earned medal. 

My own story involves a looped race, where participants could sign up to complete one, two, or three loops of a 5k course.  I’d signed up for a 15k—but by the time I finished my second lap, I could see that things were already shutting down.  I grabbed my medal then, just in case, and carried it in my jacket pocket for the last lap.  By then, there was just one lonely guy left at the aid station—and the police officer who’d been directing traffic had left.  When I crossed the finish line, the photographer was gone, but my friend Lynne, who’d completed the 10k, was there to snap a picture.  And when our friend Kristin finished, shortly after, there was just one little girl standing at the finish line to give her a granola bar—because the boxes of them had already been taken away.  Needless to say, it all felt a little anti-climactic (and we never signed up for that race again). 

When you’re walking races, though, you’ll just have to be prepared for things to shut down while you’re still walking.  If you think that might happen, carry some extra water and snacks, just in case.  Walk with friends to keep the energy up.  Or prepare a high-energy playlist to keep you motivated.  And make sure to have friends or family members waiting at the finish line to make a big deal about you—even if no one else will. 

Not everyone—and not every race—will be supportive of walkers.  But, even when you end up crossing a deflated finish line, there are still so many benefits of participating in a race as a walker.  And once you’ve got that medal around your neck and your free banana in hand, you’ll be ready to sign up for the next one.

What are your favorite things about walking races?  Share your stories!


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.

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