How Walking in a Triathlon Helps You Finish Faster

How Walking in a Triathlon Helps You Finish Faster

By Marty Munson,

Wouldn't dare be caught walking during a triathlon? Then get ready to get passed by someone who would.

Some running and triathlon experts — and some really fast athletes — say walking may be the secret to faster run times. The bonus: Experts and converts say there's less wear and tear on your body.

The walk/run approach — in which you run and walk at predetermined intervals — is a concept that was created by Olympic runner Jeff Galloway and popularized in triathlon by Bobby McGee, an educator and coach for the International Triathlon Union and author of books including Run Workouts for Runners and Triathletes.

The Strategy

While completing a run with some walk breaks is a great way to begin running, it's also useful for practiced athletes. It works like any interval workout by restoring some energy during the walking recovery. This allows you to go faster during the run intervals than you could if you were just running straight through. It also lets you complete longer distances without breaking down your body as much.

But the key word when it comes to walk breaks is "planned." The walk/run strategy is just that — a strategy. It's not an S.O.S. When you're working out and you get tired and decide to walk, that's giving up. However, when you set out on your run with planned intervals of walking and running and you stick to them, you're increasing your ability to cover the run distance faster. In many cases, this adds up to faster overall race times.

So if you want to incorporate walking, how do you do it? The first key is to take your first walking interval long before you feel you need it. In fact, McGee recommends that you have a walk interval within the first 10 to 15 minutes of starting out on your run. You won't feel like you need it, which is precisely the reason why you do — you want to sustain feeling great.

The Intervals

There's no magic ratio for how long the walk/run intervals should be, but a classic combination is to run 9 minutes and walk for one. This pattern is also extremely easy to keep track of. If your form is breaking down dramatically by the end of the 9 minutes — your footfalls get heavy and loud, your cadence is slowing, your midsection is collapsing and you just can't run light and pick up your feet quickly — then just shorten the interval and introduce the walks sooner. Try a 4-minute run, 1-minute walk.

Or start with a 1-minute walk, 1-minute run. Then gradually increase the length of the running sections. Eventually, introduce more speed into the run intervals.

The Right Way to Walk

While the walk sections are designed for recovery, they're not window-shopping strolls. You should be walking with your elbows bent and with a sense of urgency. Don't use long, loping strides; keep your cadence up and your strides short. This also makes it easier to take off running again.

The Motivation

Still not convinced that slowing down is the way to speed up? Know this: The other bonus of walking intervals is that you get a big mental break. Knowing that you "only" have to run 9 minutes before you get to walk for a minute can get you through a distance that seems daunting.

If you try it, a big trick to success is keeping your overall plan in focus so you don't get antsy when people pass you while you're walking. And be nice when you pass them back on the run.