The Long Course Run/Walk?

“Should I walk the aid stations at my next Ironman® run or just run through them?”

We’ve been recommending a run/walk strategy for our athletes and at our “Four Keys” pre-race talk for years. It works and these are our thoughts:

Run through the aid station to the last water, gel, coke, sportsdrink guy/gal, whatever your needs are for that aid station. Get it and walk for 30 steps:

  • Last means you’re not tempted to walk allllll the way through the whole aid station. They can be big. You’re now, hopefully, walking among people who are running = a reminder to start running vs keep walking like everyone else.
  • 30 steps is a hard, non-negotiable number that removes you from the decision to start running again. 30 steps takes about 15-18″. Maybe later in the race you start running after 30″ vs 30 steps. Whatever, pick a non-negotiable something that removes your will from the decision to start running again.

Walking for 15-30″ at the aid stations then becomes:

  • A tool for slowing you down early on the run. Stand a half mile to a mile out from T2. From the looks of it, about half the field thinks they can run a sub 3:15 marathon, as hundreds drill it at sub 7:30 pace…until they end up walking 10 miles at 17′ pace. Walking the aid stations slows you down, separates you from these people who are running too fast, and focuses you on your race, a 140 mile TT, not a race to the fastest mile 8 run split, where the wheels begin to fall off for many.
  • A reward for continuing to run between the aid stations. As the run develops:
    • At first you won’t need to walk the aid stations, at all. You don’t think about it until you’re in the aid station.
    • After about mile 8 or 10, you’ll start looking for the next aid station (ie, permission to walk and take a short break) about 7-8 minutes after you’ve left your last aid station.
    • Then you start looking for it at 6 minutes out.
    • Then 4 minutes out.
    • Then 2 minutes out.
    • Then 30 seconds out.
    • Giving yourself permission to walk the aid stations, beginning with Mile 1, becomes a reward for continuing to run between the aid stations. The mental conversation becomes “Body, STFU. Keep running, don’t slow down, and I will reward you for that effort over the next mile by letting you walk 30 steps at the next aid station. That’s the deal and we only have to play this game for another 6-8 miles. Suck it up.”

Walking then becomes a tactic, to keep you running and not slowing down between the aid stations, vs a failure.

Next time you go for a long run with friends, do this 1 mile on, 30″ off (walking, not standing) thing. See just how little space they actually gain on you, how quickly you can get back up to pace, and long you can maintain this total pace vs them slowing down. That slowing effect is much greater and much more likely on the IM marathon.

I have a Garmin 310 and I walk 30″ every mile on nearly all of my training runs. I have one display screen that gives me current pace, cummulative distance, time, blah, blah and another that gives me current pace, lap distance and average pace of the lap. I hit the lap button at the end of the mile and see myself walking for 30″ at about 17-18′ pace. When I start running, my avg pace for the lap is…17′. But it quickly spools down until by about .5-6 miles into the interval I’m back at the average pace I would be at anyway, had I not taken a 30″ break. Each time I do and see this, I gain confidence in what the numbers tell me. I’m also able to reset my focus on form and pace cues that I hold for 1 mile and then reset at the start of the next interval.

In summary, walking 30 steps or about 30 seconds at every aid station, beginning with Mile 1:

  • Breaks the run into 26 x 1 mile boxes, within which I focus on making the best decisions possible — what to eat, what to drink, pace up/down this hill, focus on my cadence, footstrike, running form and other easy to flake on cues.
  • Is a tool for slowing you down at a time of the race when nearly everyone is running too fast. Don’t try to beat a guy running 7:30’s by running 7:20’s. Do your thing, ignore him, run/walk your 8:40’s and catch him at mile 20 when he’s walking or under a bush. The IM run course is littered with the bodies of very fit people walking the IM marathon after having run much, much faster in the first 6-8 miles and refusing to walk. How’s that strategy working?
  • Becomes a reward for continuing to run between the aid stations.

We’ve had Ironman® athletes of all flavors set huge run PR’s and Kona qualify using our strategy. It works!

Rich Strauss

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