Walking During Ultramarathons and a Run/Walk Pace Calculator

A common question I am asked: "Do you run the entire way?"

"No, of course not!  Why the heck would I do that? It would hurt too darn much and I wouldn't get there any faster!!!" 

Road runners of short distances who are unfamiliar with ultrarunning sometimes sneer when they hear that. It is as if they consider me less of a runner because I walk on purpose and am proud of it.  

How ignorant and foolish they are!

Many, if not most, ultrarunners intersperse walk breaks with their running. Unlike shorter distance races where walking may be seen as a sign of weakness or failure, in ultrarunning taking walk breaks is a tactic and sign of intelligence (and there are very few things about ultrarunning that are intelligent!). There are some ultramarathoners such as Ulli Kamm, who walk the entire distance and finish before many of the runners. Even the elite walk at times during races. 

Taking walk breaks allows us to use a different set of muscles from those we use when running. This prolongs endurance and minimizes delayed onset muscle soreness. A walk break is a perfect opportunity to drink or eat, or catch our breath while tackling a hill. 

Jeff Galloway popularized the use of planned walk breaks in mainstream events such as marathons. However, walking has always been a part of ultramarathoning. Once they get over the stigma of walking, many very average runners are surprised to discover that they are able go distances they never before could've imagined, and with less pain at a better overall pace.  

Welcome to the world of ultrarunning!  

Our mantra is: "Every step forward is a step closer to the finish line! Run, walk, or even crawl if you must, but no matter what: keep moving forward!" 

However as simple as this technique sounds, there are many questions:

  • What it the best ratio of running to walking? 
  • At what pace do you need to run and walk in order to finish within our goal time?

Some choose to walk all the uphills and run the flats and downhills. In a hilly race, that tactic works well. I've used it many times. I am still amazed when I power-walk uphill past runners who would normally leave me in the dust in a flat race.

In races without hills,  we instead divide our running and walking by time. Some prefer a 5 minute run to 1 minute walk ratio; others believe 25 minutes running for every 5 minutes walking is better.

In my own experience: running over 10 minutes is too long and walking less than 2 minutes is too short. In longer races, or when I am struggling, I may walk as much as 50% of the time until I find my second (or my 5th or my 15th) wind. Everyone is different. Finding your own best run/walk ratio comes with experience.

Then too, every race is unique. Weather, altitude, humidity, fitness all dictate how we should pace ourselves. If I am not sure whether it is time for me to begin running again, I look at my heart rate. If it has not come down to <120-130, I'll continue walking until it does.

Often late in a long race I feel fatigued and don't feel like running again. However, if my heart rate has come down, then I know it is time to start running, even if I don't really want to (as if I can call what I do late in a race to actually be "running").

Out of curiosity, I made my own Ultramarathon Run/Walk Pace Calculator in an Excel format to compare various race strategies, paces, ratios of run to walk and so on. Unable to post that here, I found someone elses* running/walking pace calculator online and modified it for my own needs. I converted the Excel formulas over to HTML and embedded it below. 

Have fun playing around with various ratios, times and paces of running to walking while still finishing your event within your goal time.

Don't forget to add extra time for bathroom breaks, stopping at aid stations, BS'ing with volunteers, changing shoes/socks, fixing blisters, removing toenails, dry-heaving, avoiding wildlife, getting lost, hallucinating, etc.  


*I must give credit where credit is due. The basic design and HTML of this calculator was created by  Scott Glazer. I used his calculator as a starting point and added/changed a few things for my own needs. 

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10 responses

  1. Found your blog, Tom! Followed a link from the Journal. Good luck on Strolling Jim. I did the Galloway technique on the Mick Marathon and ended up passing everyone at the end who had passed me earlier. I am totally a fan of the walk/run. Let me know how you did on the race and say hi to Jeanne and Nathan for me!–Lisa your neighbor down the way.http://www.swedishcowboy.com

    May 2, 2009 at 6:52 am

  2. [esto es genial]

    May 2, 2009 at 10:26 pm

  3. Hi Lisa- I'm glad you found my blog!
    The humidity at Strolling Jim in Tennessee this weekend about killed me. We started in downpour and there were thunderstorms and flash flooding all over the state. The course had to be changed because one of the roads was flooded over.
    I had no choice but to slow down. My time was that of a 50 miler rather only 40 miles- but I still finished. I was the first ever South Dakotan to run that race in 31 years. They told me at the start that because of that I wasn't allowed to DNF.
    After the half-way point, I got passed by four people. Funny thing I noticed: every one of them had southern accents. There's something to be said about acclimatization for race conditions!
    I'll get my full race report posted as soon as I have chance to. One advantage of taking it slow: there's more time to take photos and enjoy the sights.
    Coming next: Bighorn in June.
    So when do you think you'll be ready to try one of these?

    May 3, 2009 at 4:23 pm

  4. Yes, the air is very dry here in the Black Hills. It always feels heavier everywhere else, except maybe Wyoming. :-)I just might have to start thinking in the ultra direction . . .

    May 3, 2009 at 8:09 pm

  5. Awesome calculator. Love it and will use it to figure out my pace for Pocatello 50. Looking at your comment above, I think we'll meet at Big Horn and I'm looking forward to it!

    May 4, 2009 at 2:19 pm

  6. Glad you like the calculator. Of course, calculating and actually doing are two entirely different things!
    Thanks for commenting and for linking my blog to yours.
    I'll see you at Bighorn in June!

    May 4, 2009 at 5:19 pm

  7. Are you doing the 50 or 100?

    May 4, 2009 at 5:22 pm

  8. Great tool! I hope to get the chance to give it a try in the next year.

    May 4, 2009 at 5:33 pm

  9. I'll be doing the fifty.
    I DNF'd at my first 100 attempt last August (Lean Horse Hundred) so will be doing that race again this year. Once I get one or maybe a couple of "easy" hundreds under my belt, I'll start thinking about tougher ones, such as Bighorn.
    So many ultras, so little time!

    May 4, 2009 at 5:39 pm

  10. [das ist gut]

    May 5, 2009 at 4:40 am

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