Stay away from the lightest weight running shoes -- they won't have enough cushioning for a marathon.
A marathon is the same distance whether you walk it or run it, so it makes sense that the same shoe works for both. Running shoes are designed to handle the beating your feet take during a marathon, making them ideal for walking or running the course. The right gear helps the shoes work more effectively to protect your feet as you walk.
Running Shoe Benefits
Running shoes differ from walking shoes in some key ways. Although lightweight, they tend to offer more cushioning than walking shoes to absorb the extra impact running causes on your feet and lower legs. Walking shoes might work well for short walks, but for marathons, your feet need that extra cushion, especially in the heel. Running shoes offer better airflow so your feet can breathe better than in walking shoes, and running shoes tend to be more flexible to help prevent foot fatigue over long distances.
The Right Running Shoe
The right running shoe for your marathon walk might not be the same one you would run the race in. Walkers tend to roll their feet from heel to toe, which means shoe flexibility is key. Twist the sole to ensure it offers some resistance; if it's too easy to twist, it won't offer enough support, but if it hardly twists, it's not flexible enough. Grabbing a running shoe by the heel and toe and bending it upward lets you see if it bends at the correct spot for walkers -- it should bend just under the ball of the foot.
Breaking Them In
Don't get a new pair of running shoes the day before your marathon -- plan ahead to give you time to break them in. Ideally, your shoes are ready for a marathon after you've walked about 40 miles in them. Start with short walks in the shoes, then increase the distance as they begin to work better with your feet. You might need a larger size in a running shoe than you do in your daily footwear, so take the time to find a shoe that fits well with a bit of extra space at the toe to prevent squeezing. Plan to replace your shoes after walking about 400 to 500 miles.
Socks and Such
The best running shoes can still cause hot spots and blisters on your feet if you don't protect your feet properly. Never use cotton socks, which tend to absorb moisture and cause friction. Instead, try an acrylic or polyester blend designed to wick away moisture. Buy socks designed for walkers; many offer padded heels to keep your shoes from slipping as you walk and causing blisters. Some include padded insoles for extra cushioning, especially along your heel and the ball of your foot. Moisture-wicking clothing can help prevent chafing in other areas of your body during the marathon walk, such as under your arms and your inner thighs.
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