Walking in the marathon does not lessen the achievement or decrease the pride you will feel after completeing the distance. I've tried to run a full marathon and did very poorly in the last few miles. I've also incorporated walking breaks every few miles into the race and my times dropped dramatically. I ran a 3:29 marathon taking a walking break every two miles.
I've also walked a marathon. Registered as a walker and started with the walkers. And guess what! I found that taking running breaks made the walking easier. In fact the last three miles of the marathon I walked were the easiest to run ever. BUt I'd still gone the distance, even though I'd walked.
SO, why does walking help in the marathon, even at times near the 3:00 barrier? It changes the mechanism of contraction within the muscles. That changes the stresses on the muscles and allows them to recover and take a break from running. Near the end of a marathon, each step is causing microtears in the muscles and if the large muscles are completely fatigued from the first 20 miles, then the small, less effective muscles are forced to take over. That translates to more energy expendajure and less distance traveled as well as increased tearing and lactate build up.
If you are walking in your long runs, then take the walking breaks in the marathon. It's easier on the legs to take even 20 seconds per mile to walk. Or walk at the water stations to make sure you stay hydrated. I'm a firm beliver in walking breaks and my times have gotten better since I started adding them.
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