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TriRadar coaching editor Phil Mosley on how a run and walk strategy could speed up your triathlon run.

Triathlon Running AdviceThe idea of walking during a run workout is an alien concept to most triathletes, but including an occasional brisk stroll can offer real benefits. Let’s first consider a few facts. A brisk walk (four to six miles per hour) is the equivalent to a slow running speed, and has been shown to be an equally efficient form of transport. It’s even possible to do a sub-five-hour marathon by walking. Fair enough, a five-hour marathon doesn’t sound particularly fast but as part of an Ironman triathlon it could help you record a very respectable finishing time.

Take a break from running
We’re not saying that you should always walk instead of run, but that doesn’t mean you can’t walk from time to time. It uses your muscles in a different way, so that you conserve energy and stay fresher for longer. When muscle fibres are used repetitively and intensively they fatigue quickly. The weak areas get overused and you are soon forced to slow down or suffer the consequences. By shifting back and forth between walking and running you distribute the workload among a variety of muscle fibres, which can improve your overall performance and reduce the likelihood of overuse injuries.

It’s easy to think that all training must feel really hard for it to be worthwhile, but it’s not the case. Even professional runners, cyclists and triathletes do around 90% of their training at low intensities, with heart rates at 110 to 135 beats per minute. Sometimes they train at higher intensities, but the majority of their time is spent at an easier pace. So if you’re fighting to breathe every time you run, it’s probably not because you’re unfit. It’s just that you’re trying too hard. A run walk/strategy might be the solution.

Sustainable heart rate
Occasional short bouts of walking could even be the difference between enjoying your runs and hating them. They enable you to keep your heart rate down to a sustainable level that allows you to train consistently without suffering continual discomfort. As you get fitter over time, you can decrease the walks and increase the running sections.

You could even use a heart-rate monitor to indicate when you should run or walk. When the intensity gets above around 80% of your maximum it’s an indication that you need to walk until it goes back down to 60%. If you don’t own a heart-rate monitor, you should aim for most of your run/walks to be at an intensity where you can happily maintain a conversation or easily breathe through your nose only. When it gets too hard, it’s time to walk (briskly) again.

If you’re an experienced runner, you can also use occasional short periods of walking to your advantage, particularly on longer runs. The time you spend walking should depend on your target race pace (see the guidelines below). For triathletes who can comfortably run at an eight-minute mile pace or faster there’s less of a benefit to walking, except perhaps in an Ironman.

Your Run-Walk Strategy

● 8 min/mile    >    Run 4 minutes, walk 35 seconds
● 9 min/mile    >    Run 4 minutes, walk 1 minute
● 10 min/mile    >    Run 3 minutes, walk 1 minute
● 11 min/mile    >    Run 2 minutes 30, walk 1 minute
● 12 min/mile    >    Run 2 minutes, walk 1 minute
● 13 min/mile    >    Run 1 minutes, walk 1 minute
● 14 min/mile    >    Run 30 seconds, walk 30 seconds
● 15 min/mile    >    Run 30 seconds, walk 45 seconds

This article was originally published in Triathlon Plus magazine. Save time and money by having every issue delivered to your door or digital device by subscribing to the print edition or buying digitally through Zinio or Apple Newsstand.

You’ll find loads more triathlon training advice in’s Training Zone section.

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