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Walking Training

Ultra “running”?

You’ve picked your ultra, signed up and now it’s time to train and prepare. You’re ready to put some serious running in to train for this. Let’s go….

Before you start focusing on logging lots of miles running, take a step back and think about what your race plan might look like.  

Do you actually plan to run the whole way? 

Do you plan to run up all of the hills?

Training to run is great but will this actually fully prepare you for the challenge?

If you are anything like most ultra “runners” you’ll spend a lot of time walking. Let’s think through a few examples: completing 100 miles in 24hrs is viewed by lots of people as a big goal. To complete this goal you have to average just over 4 miles per hour. That is a brisk walking pace on a flat trail.  

In something like the Lakeland 100 you have 40 hours to complete 105 miles (yes – it’s actually 105 not 100 and those 5 miles extra do make a big difference!) – that’s an average pace of just over 2.6 miles per hour. If you were an incredibly fit walker I’d say you could walk the Lakeland 100 and just finish within the cut off time – it would be stressful and hard but I think you could do it (think of Billy Bland walking the whole Bob Graham Round in around 21hrs).

Walk The “Ups”

The approach that nearly all ultrarunners take to completing races is that they’ll walk the “ups” and run the “downs” and “flats”. The main difference between a faster and a slower finisher is how steep something has to be to walk up and the general pace at which they can run and walk.   

The fastest competitors may only be walking 20-25% of the course but the slower competitors are likely to be walking at least 50% of the course. Using the Lakeland 100 as an example, that means the faster runners might spend 6hrs walking and the slower runners might spend up to 20hrs walking!

Why Walking Training Is Important

You can do all the run training in the world but unless you’ve trained to walk as well you could easily come unstuck and not achieve your goal/not finish the race. Walking uses different muscles and different technique to running so it’s really important to incorporate walking in your weekly training. A few things to think about when training for walking:

If you plan to walk the hills then it makes sense to train walking on the hills too.

A great way of training to walk can be on the course recces. Big long days walking in the hills stresses the body less than trying to run all the time. It also allows you to focus more on the course and prepares your body for what you’ll actually be doing in the race (are you really going to be running up that hill three-quarters of the way into the race?!).

Commutes can be a great way to get some walking training in. If you have a flat commute and find it too easy – carry a rucksack with a few books in it and it will soon become harder.

Use the chance to really practice using poles. If you learn a good technique and train with poles you’ll get so much more out of them on race day.

Leave your Strava pride at the door – it’s sad to say but in the past I’ve been a bit put out that walking doesn’t contribute to my displayed weekly mileage on Strava and also that it seems an inefficient use of my time mileage wise. I’m actually embarrassed to admit this but it’s true. I’m totally over that now as I recognise the key value of walking (and training at slower paces). Try to adopt this mindset. If this concerns you, try to think of your training in terms of time rather than mileage and see how that works out.

At the end of the day, the rule of specificity states that if you want to get better at something you need to practice that thing. Ultrarunning is really ultrarun-walking and so if you want to get better at it you need to practice both elements!

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