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.