do you walk in an ultra

I am planning on entering the highland fling in April next year and was wondering if I can get advice.  How much walking do you do in an ultra if any?

Can you do a walk run ratio of running then walking as that is how I started running.  I couldnt run anymore than 5 mins when I started but with my run/walk technique I can get to 20-30miles with ease now. I am not one for doing splits as I just run when I can recover and then run again.


Any advice much appreciated


  • I think that for many its the distance that is important in ultra running, not the speed.  If walking helps you get the end of the event, then walk.  Unless your name is Spartacus in which case manup and keep running!

  • Unless you are elite, you will almost certainly be walking a significant part of the Highland Fling. 

    The best strategy would be to run the flats and downhills, and walk the uphills, but you must adapt your strategy to the circumstances. 

  • Craig, on NDW50 I was walking the uphills (and the steep downhill steps) and running the rest. There was one guy I saw who was walking I think one minute in 10 to rest his knees; we played leapfrog for a long time. Set times wouldn't work for me except maybe on a fairly flat route (first time I reached a "walk now" on a nice bit for running a hilly course, I'd ditch the plan), but each to their own.

  • Running throughout is an idealist approach, you need to take it as it comes and it is about finishing. As DB says many people walk the uphills then run the downs and flats, I do this and take the opportunity to eat as I walk on advice from others I have run with.

    I would resist the temptation to do your 20-30 at normal pace, do it deliberately slower to last longer, walk breaks will help you.
  • E mmyE mmy ✭✭✭

    A friend of mine who has recently dipped her toes in ultras is following a 5min run 1 min walk plan to see how she gets on initially and once she's used to the distance she'll start expanding this upwards like Debra indicates.

  • I am with Ben, run the flat and downhills and wak the uphills for as long as you can, if its a really long race then you may need to 'start making deals with yourself' towards the end to get through even the flat 'if I run to there I can walk for x mins etc'

  • I agree, towards the end you will do anything to get through, you will make deals, and limp,hallucinate, shake etc..... Great fun
  • I know of a few people who do walk/run ratios in ultras. Usually something like run 9/walk 1 or run 13/walk 2. That sort of thing. I imagine that strategy works best on a flattish course where the terrain is fairly similar the whole way round though. If you tried it on the Fling you could find yourself walking downhill then running uphill, or walking on a smooth path then attempting to run over a section of tree roots and boulders, which wouldn't be much use. For offroad hilly ultras, the most common advice I've heard is to walk the uphills and use that time to eat and drink. Then jog/run as much of the downhills and flats as you can.

    If you google a bit, you'll find a whole pile of Fling write-ups on blogs kept by Scottish ultra runners. Might help give you an idea of what sort of terrain to expect and how to tackle it...

  • Craig - there is an infamous section on the Highland Fling where only the mountain goats amongst us will attempt any running - look up 'Inversnaid' - it is part of the more remote section along Loch Lomond imageimageimage.

  • thanks very much for all the info guys I'm going to do a recce run/walk before the race. information always appreciated.

  • I second Tigerspaw, the section after Inversnaid is "tough" running terrain - especially with tired legs

  • Spot-on advice here. In summary, run or jog whenever it's convenient and you are able, walk the rest. A walk break reinvigorates you for a bit of running again in the later stages as you begin to tire.

    I wrote a couple of accounts with links to pictures of the route (2009 and 2011) in the blog (look in May 2009 and May 2011 blog archive).

  • I'm pretty strict on run/walk in training up to 50 km but haven't actually run an ultra race yet due to flu image. For long runs I've enjoyed using a Gym Boss timer set in a 10:1 ratio for run/walk. This pretty much coincides with a mile. The minute gives me time to have a decent slurp of water and every third set I have a gel. Plus if it's an undulating course I walk little uphills or anything that might take me much above 72% max HR (target average).

    So far I've managed a couple of training 50 kms/2000 ft climbing in about 5:40 with this strategy when my marathon race time would have been about 3:50.


  • It's my first ultra in a couple of weeks (Vanguard Way) and I'm not only planning on walking anything that looks even slightly like a hill, I'm also planning several sitting down and eating chocolate breaks.

    (And I'm terrified!)

  • Peronel: I thought about doing Vanguard Way but it's not going to be practical. Personally I wouldn't go for the sitting down bit - I'm told it can be hard to get up again. Having said that, if you've trained okay you should be fine! Good luck, and enjoy it!

  • Peronel - you may find that chocolate isn't the best thing - giving you a sugar rush, then dropping you back down again. I have to say, on my last ultra I had a sit down for about 15 mins, and had no problem getting going again, but the time before I struggled after only sitting for a couple of minutes.

    Don't be terrified - you've chosen to take part in this, so go out, enjoy yourself, look at the scenery, meet some nice people, have a great day, and keep putting one foot in front of the other - as long as you do that you'll make it to the finish line image

  • I've found that sitting breaks can be a life saver on the longer ultras. I use them to sort out kit, e.g. change head torch batteries, swop wet gloves for dry ones etc, and to take on fuel, have a hot drink, look at the map to see where you are going next, get your head in the right place, then off you go again. Give yourself a time limit, say 10mins, then you know after that 'allowance' you have to get moving.

  • Some of the longer ultras (especially those arranged by the ldwa) have one or more check points where you can sit in a warm building and have a hot drinks, snacks and if event is likely to be 24 hours or more a hot meal and as Tigersapaw says a limited break is of great use in sorting yourself out and changing any clothing if necessary.

    The getting up is more of a problem if you have to sit on the ground - especially if you cool down too much.  (Bear once took a comfort break under cover of darkness on a cold frosty night and when tried to stand up to pull up tights was unable to straighten legs and pitched forwards into brambles leaving a very bare behind pointing heavenwardsimageimageimage.)

  • image This is why, although I have been known to 'go' outdoors when there is no choice, I will always avail myself of an indoor toilet if there is one at the checkpoint image.

    In fact indoor checkpoints are like a little piece of heaven on a cold and wet night, and are often staffed by angels (otherwise known as the W.I.) with cakes image.


  • I tried running the whole of my first ultra (it was the old Tring2Town so very flat), apart from the checkpoints, and it turned into a 30/15 run walk ratio - that is run 30miles, walk 15miles...

    Subsequently I run for about an hour then settle into a run/walk of about 18mins/2mins if the terrain is flatish, otherwise walk the up hills and try to run the rest.

  • Ohhh the luxury of a real, sit-down toilet.  I remember trying not to cry in a porta-loo mid event once, because I didn't want to leave it's stinky luxury.  I could sit down (stickily), I wasn't being rained on, and noone could make me move any further.  Bliss!

  • I think the answer is always going to be yes unless you are in the same league as Kilian Jornet, Lizzie Hawker, Jez Bragg etc. I like to use a gymboss timer and usually use a 10:1 ratio, which pretty much fits with some energy intake every half hour or so, at least for 50 km (haven't tried further)
  • Do you guys train run-walk as well as race it? I tried training like that last Winter and hated how slow I felt, and am now considering ditching that as a training plan, but doing it on the event itself.

  • NiceIronDad, yes and no.  Every three or four weeks I go down to my parents in Sussex and head out for the day on the Downs.  I take a rucksack, an OS map, sandwiches and the dog, and concentrate on covering ground fast.  Run some bits, walk others, find somewhere pretty to eat my sandwich, maybe stop for an icecream.

    I don't think of it as running - record it on fetch as cross-training - but I'm running all the downhills, for sure.  Perfect ultra training, at least for a slow bod like me.

    But, yeah, doing formal run-walk does my head in, so I don't.


  • DazDaz ✭✭✭

    Up to 50miles I only walk through aid stations to get what I need.  I'll run uphill until its really steep and have to push down on the knees.  Oh and when taking a pee - I can't do it while running....can anyone!?

    In 100mile races I'll start walking from 50miles when my body needs to - which is probably a good 30% of the time! image

    Endurance Coach @
    Elite Ironman, Ultra Trail Runner
  • I'll walk the steep uphills when on long training runs (20 miles plus), and I'm trying to learn to walk while map reading, rather than standing still to map read.

  • DazDaz ✭✭✭

    That's something I can't do yet (walk while reading a map) - tend to trip image

    Endurance Coach @
    Elite Ironman, Ultra Trail Runner
  • Ta, helpful. I think I may largely bin the walking in training..., except for hills, I don't mind walking them!
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