For access to all of our training, gear, and race coverage, plus exclusive training plans, FinisherPix photos, event discounts, and GPS apps, sign up for Outside+.
For some triathletes, the idea of walking during the run portion of a race is out of the question. You’d rather shamble along with your last ounce of energy and fall across the finish line than walk, right? New research suggests that you should give yourself a break, showing that in longer races like a half or full iron-distance, walk breaks might be a good idea.
For the study, German researchers looked at what differences might exist between runners who used a run/walk strategy in a marathon (running for a minute and a half and then walking for a minute) and those who simply ran the entire race. They were interested in not only who was faster, but also who felt better upon crossing the finish line.
Statistically speaking, there wasn’t a significant difference between the times, but, the run/walk group was just a few minutes slower than the run-only group. With that said, the run/walk group reported less fatigue and muscle pain at the end of the race. There are a number of reasons why this is significant. Namely, less pain suggests those runners likely enjoyed the experience more and will also recover quicker. This is why the famed running coach Jeff Galloway has long preached utilizing a run/walk approach in long races.
Indeed, John Ridgley, a USA Triathlon-certified coach based in Atlanta, has found this method useful in his own training. After getting beat by a run/walk group at the Marine Corps Marathon in the late 1990s, he tried it the following year and finished under four hours. He hasn’t looked back since. He now uses it in Ironman races, as well as instructing many of the triathletes he coaches to do the same.
“After researching it, I didn’t do it to reduce my time,” he explains. “I did it because I felt much better after every training run and race while still finishing in the same time or better.”
For many of his athletes who are shooting for a sub-14-hour Ironman finish, the run/walk approach helps them avoid the dreaded Ironman shuffle. “My run/walkers never get to that point,” he says. “They pass people even when walking and none of them ever feel like they are wimping out doing it that way.”
When it comes to employing the method, it is important to practice in training so you’re prepared for race day. “For simplicity’s sake, most run 4 minutes, and walk 1 minute so they don’t need an interval timer; they just walk at 4 and 9 on their watch,” he explains.
For racing, Ridgley also emphasizes keeping things uncomplicated so your weary mind doesn’t need to process a lot of data and numbers. In stand-alone marathons he suggests running a mile and walking a minute, but for the Ironman, he simply recommends walking the aid stations.
If you plan on implementing this strategy, it is important to get into the rhythm early on in the run portion of a race. “If you are forced to walk because you’re tired, it is already too late and you probably won’t ever start running again,” says Ridgley. “If toward the end of the run you’re feeling good, you can always abandon the walk breaks and negative split the second half.”
While alternating between running and walking might not be the best approach for the fastest athletes, the research shows that many of us can benefit from it. If you’re concerned about wear and tear on your body or you’re simply not sure you’ll be able to complete a long-course event, this is a great way to boost confidence and ensure you’ll hit the line in one piece.
Options to try the run/walk method
Walk just the aid stations
Run a mile, walk a minute
Run four minutes, walk one minute