Master the walk/run strategy to become a faster triathlete

Park the ego and optimise your run time with this old-as-the-hills tactic


Are you struggling with injury? Lacking fitness? Ankles not as flexible as they once were? Then the walk/run strategy (also known as Jeffing) could actually make you a faster triathlete. Coach Rob Wilby provides practical advice…


There are a myriad of reasons why adopting a run/walk strategy might suit triathletes – from beginners in their first ever triathlon to more experienced racers attempting a bucket-list Ironman but fearful they don’t have the fitness to run the entire marathon, and need a coping strategy.

To practise, remember the walk should be a fast power-walk, with high cadence. Arms should be held in the same position as when running, i.e, bent at 90°. Your ability to power-walk efficiently can be trained, just as running speed can be trained.

For beginners or those returning to running after a long break, start by running for 1min and then walking for 30secs. Increase the run section by 1min each week until you’re running for 5mins continuously.

For more experienced runners, try to break up any run over 45mins into 9mins running, 1min walking.

In-race situation

Commit to the walk/run method right from the start. For beginners, who are worried they might not make the distance, plan to break the run into chunks with measured walk breaks. Often, Ironman athletes end up running much faster overall, because they don’t fall apart at mile-18 and end up walking for the last eight miles. For Olympic and sprint distance, most well-trained athletes will run faster the whole way.

  • Use the same run/walk strategy as you have in training.
  • Try to time it strategically around an aid station, allowing you to drink (and eat) more easily.
  • As fatigue sets in focus on not letting the walk period stretch to more than a minute.
  • For beginners, planning short walk breaks of 15-30secs every 5mins will allow breathing and heart rate to settle.

Example race breakdowns

Whatever tactic you use, the aim is simply to reach the finish line faster. Here’s the maths: assuming 4mph walking pace, a runner using the 9mins run/1min walk ratio who completes the run section at 7:30min/mile will end up averaging about 7:50min/mile when the walk break is taken into account.

An Ironman athlete that has to painfully walk the last three miles of a marathon will take about 60mins to do so – compared to under 24mins for the athlete that can keep on run/walking at an average pace of 7:50min/mile. So the net gain is just over 36mins.

Here’s the strategy to follow for each triathlon run distance:

Olympic (10km)

Well-trained athlete: Run the whole way.

Beginner: 5mins run, 15secs walk.

Middle distance (21.1km)

Well-trained athlete: 9/1 ratio until 15km. Then aim to run strong to the finish.

Beginner: 5/1 ratio until in sight of the finish.

Long distance (42.2km)

All athletes: 9/1 ratio right from the beginning. Stronger athletes and those that have paced well might find they can run continuously for the last 5km.

(Images: Mat Rushbrook)


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