Taking walk breaks in an Ironman marathon is a common concern among triathletes who want to ensure they make the run cutoffs and/or for those who are looking for the most efficient way to PR a marathon after completing 112 miles of cycling. Completing 26.2 miles alone is challenging enough, but remember there are many ways to get it done.
In my estimations at least 50% of triathletes will walk at some point during an Ironman—if not more—so it is always great to be versatile and prepare to walk at certain points during the race. Although we might not like to think this way, it’s better to be prepared. While it’s likely that most triathletes will walk (some part of) the marathon, for what reason is dependent on the individual.
Reasons Why Most Triathletes Walk in an Ironman Marathon
- Poor fueling: This is probably the number one reason why triathletes walk. Not fueling correctly on the bike sets you up for a poor run and once you are in a calorie deficit it is hard to catch up. When you bonk, all the energy you have left is used to walk.
- Dehydration: Like poor fueling, dehydration will leave you feeling sluggish. It’s important to remember that adequate hydration involves the right balance of electrolytes (sodium, magnesium, calcium, and potassium) and water in your body.
- Poor bike pacing: Commonly known as overriding the bike. This will not only burn more calories, but it will undoubtedly burn out your legs too. Simply put, the more energy you put into the bike the less you will have for the run.
- Overzealousness on the run: This comes down to running smart and holding back on the first 13.1 miles. Time and time again, triathletes come blasting out of T2 only to find themselves walking sooner than they would have thought. Remember: It is a marathon, not a sprint!
Prevention is Better Than Cure
So how do you prevent any of these things from happening to you on race day? Practice, practice, practice. Practice fueling on a schedule, practice documenting how much hydration you will need in different conditions, practice what power numbers or heart rate you will need to maintain on the bike, and practice doing some runs off the bike until you get the pacing right.
Also, remember it’s OK to practice walking in training. Most triathletes only practice running in training, but on race day, it is likely you’ll have to walk some parts of the marathon. While a run/walk ratio might sound easy, by practicing this in training you will learn that it is can be hard to stop and start again when your legs are very fatigued. Practicing will prepare your mind to expect the discomfort you will encounter on race day.
As a coach, I suggest triathletes start doing run/walks for long endurance runs or long brick sessions six to eight weeks out from race day. We go through different ratios like 4:1 or 3:1 (example: run 4 minutes/walk 1 minute) or I have triathletes simulate walking through the aid stations during training by having them run 1 mile then walking 60 seconds (during this time I have them fuel and hydrate). I remind them that this is not a speed session, merely a strategy to be more efficient and consistent during the marathon of the Ironman.
No matter if you are an age grouper or pro, no one is exempt from walking, so being prepared and having a backup plan going into the race will create a higher possibility of a successful Ironman marathon.
Coach Morgon Latimore is an Ironman certified coach, U. S. Masters Swimming Adult Learn to Swim Instructor, U. S. Marine, and Ultra-Triathlete. Find him at MorgonLatimore.com.