Run Walk Race Strategy

Most ultra marathoners (in fact nearly all, other than the top elites) use a run/walk strategy for ultras. Many runners use it for shorter races too. I’ve used it for all my ultras, and for several of my marathons – coincidently (or not), one of the marathons I used it in has been my fastest to date.

There are many common run/walk strategies – the one I use for ultras is 25/5 – twenty five minutes running, followed by five minutes walking. Some people use 20/5 (I used this in my last marathon), 9/1 etc.
There are a couple of important points about run/walking:

Do it in training – it is very tough on the calves until you get used to it, and trying it for the first time on the day of a marathon or ultra is probably a very bad idea. Many people find it tough to run/walk during training, especially if they train alone (“look at that asshole, he told me he runs ultras, but here he is a mile from home, walking”), I know I do – it’s much easier if you do it with a group, and entrust one of the group to time the run/walk times, and dictate the pace.

Do it from the start of the race – waiting until you are too tired to keep running is too late to start a walk/run strategy – that’s called “being too tired to run” not “strategy”.

The walking bit of the run/walk is meant to be brisk – it’s not a chance to take selfies, admire the view, or check Facebook – you should decide what pace you need to walk at (around 14 min/miles is good) and stick to it. The walk times should be used for taking in food and drink, applying Vaseline to sore areas, and general maintenance, but all while still moving.

When you are exhausted, the temptation can be strong to extend the walk break, or add in an extra one – try to resist this, and focus on getting to the next (legitimate) walk break.

While the fixed time ratios above work for most situations, you need to take terrain into account in deciding your strategy – on hilly ultras, and trail ultras, you need to adjust the ratio so that you are not running uphill and walking downhill! I have done a couple of short course ultras where I walked the hills and ran the rest of the course, and this can work with many courses.

There is a really good run/walk pace calculator here that can be used to determine what pace you need to do to finish in a certain time.

A week-planned Run/Walk strategy can extend the distance you can run considerably, can prevent or postpone exhaustion, muscle cramps, and stomach issues, and can reduce the recovery time after a race significantly. If you haven’t tried it, you should.

More advice on marathons and ultras here.

Waiting until you are too tired to keep running is too late to start a walk/run strategy
Waiting until you are too tired to keep running is too late to start a walk/run strategy

19 thoughts on “Run Walk Race Strategy

  1. Coach Chambers

    Surely once you stop to a walk you are mentally broken, keep going at a slower pace if needs by, but walk? Never

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  2. Pingback: Born To Run 40 Mile Ultra Marathon Race Report | Randall's Running Blog

  3. D Norman

    I use run/walk strategies and find them very helpful to me as an *older* ultramarathon runner.
    I would comment, however, that while a fixed ratio run/walk strategy works great for non-hilly road marathons, it is not as useful for trail races where terrain and hills dictate where a runner should walk. It would be foolishness to attempt to run up a steep climb and then walk down the other side to meet your run/walk ratio times! I use the old ultramarathon adage: run the flats and downhills, and walk the hills and any extremely technical terrain.

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    1. Completely agree with you – I probably should add that in above! If you have a look at my reports on the Born To Run Ultra and the Sicmilebridge Ultra, I used that tactic in both.

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  4. Pingback: MCI Tralee Marathon Race Report – RandRuns

  5. Paul

    Great post and wish I had seen this at the start of my training. A bit to later to try now with marathon a week away. But you managed to cover all my “questions”, “fears” or “anxieties” about run/walk strategy. I think the clincher for most people will be if it actually improves times, as in the end most people (especially reading running blogs), measure themselves by their times and not just finishing feeling good. Thanks for the tips, maybe next one. Oh quick question, I assume short races 10ks and such you do not use this?

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    1. Hi Paul, thanks! The run/walk method can improve times for some people, especially those who tend to slow down a lot in the second half of the race, but it’s main advantages are probably in injury prevention, reduction in recovery times, and making the marathon less of an ordeal. I don’t personally use it for shorter races, but I know a lot of people who do.

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  6. Hi,

    Due to achilles tendonitis i’m run-walk training for my first marathon but as I’m running with a friend I’m wondering if its stupid to go into the race thinking I can run the whole thing? What do you think?

    It’s a toss up between running alone and abandoning my friend, and using a run-walk strategy… (If he tries to keep up with me he might get injured!)

    Great Article, thanks 🙂

    Paul

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Paul, I would definitely consider run/walking it – it will be a lot easier on your achilles (I’ve run/walked a marathon with the same issue) and help reduce the chance of further damage. (obviously the correct thing to do would be not run the race at all, but runners never really listen to this option!).

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      1. I forgot to mention, I DID IT!

        Managed to run the whole marathon without walking AT ALL and survived. Managed to complete it 4hr 52 minutes on the hottest day of the year by far! I was amazed that I managed it and after about 10miles I felt that maybe I would. Incredible considering the longest I had EVER ran including my training was just over 2 hours.

        Thanks again for the advice, I think the only thing that ever put me in doubt was confidence that this strategy could work.

        Paul Giles

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Catherine Forrest

    Great post! I just ran the Big Sur marathon with a pacer who used run/walk (at the mile markers and a couple of stretches on the biggest hill) and it was amazing. I’ve never trained using run/walk, and have run 8 marathons with varying success. I had a MUCH better finish at Big Sur than I’d thought possible, my first-ever negative split, and I felt great at the finish. Hope anyone reading this post just goes for it and tries run/walking their next race, I know I will. (Huge props to the pacer, btw.)

    Liked by 1 person

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