Run Walk Strategy

I’m sure you’ve heard of the idea of using periodic walking as part of a structured strategy for running long distance. The idea is that you run for a fixed period of time before inserting a stretch of walking on a regular basis. You do this from the very beginning of the race, which means your first stretch of walking might feel a little self indulgent, but in theory it preserves the strength in your legs, and enables you to maintain your pace throughout the run.


I was reminded of the theory a few weeks ago when listening to IM Talk. John and Bevan interviewed Will O’Conner, a well respected sports scientist in New Zealand, and a man who has completed a marathon in 2:45 using the run walk strategy.

Link to the podcast is here. The interview begins at 47 minutes.

Will’s website is here:

If you don’t have time to listen to the full interview, let me summarise the supposed benefits:

·         Evens out your pace throughout a marathon, minimising the impact of slowing down at the end.

·         Better ability to take on and absorb hydration and nutrition during those walking periods.

·         Lower overall impact on the body meaning faster post race recovery.

This last point is what made my ears prick up. As I start to prepare myself physically and mentally for an attempt at a double ironman in 2018, this faster recovery sounds very appealing.

As an experiment, I decided to try it out this morning with a long distance training run. In truth, my intention had been to run around 35km, but I ended up feeling so good that I extended to 42km to complete the experiment. My plan from the start was to run 3km (which equates to 16-18 minutes), then walk for a minute, have a drink or some food, then run again to the next 3km marker, and repeat.

run walk.png

Looking at the pace graph, you can obviously see the points where I walked every 3km (there may be another dip in the graph around the 25km mark, but that was a quick call of nature!).

More importantly, however, is the consistency of the running pace. It dips a little – the first 10km was completed in 58.29 (5.51/km), and the final 10km in 62.30 (6.15/km) – but in comparison to other marathons I have run, that is virtually identical! In the past, I have started marathons at round about the same pace, but collapsed to 7 or 8 minutes per km in the last 5-10km. In fact, although it was only a training run, this was the fastest I have ever run a marathon by almost twenty minutes.

In terms of impact on the body, I am still pretty stiff this evening – I don’t feel as if I just jogged round the block – but anecdotally feel much better than previous occasions that I have run this far. Perhaps that’s more difficult to quantify, and maybe some of it is in my head, but mental recovery is just as important as physical recovery, so let’s not dismiss that. We’ll see how I feel tomorrow morning.

So what can we learn from this? The theory that Will O’Conner spells out is sound. For a four hour plus marathoner like me, and for a 2:45 runner alike. It may not be the right solution for everyone, but if you suffer from a tail off towards the end of a long run, it is probably worth experimenting, and finding out if it works for you. I’d love to hear from you about any other examples where it has had a positive effect.

Link to Strava file of the run: