Strategy for Completing and not Competing

The last time I toed the line with purpose as a runner was in 2012. It was at the Lakeland 50 in the UK. I was confident, I was really fit and in April, I had won an ultra in Turkey.

However, everything was not ok.

I was getting constant knee pain and I kept ignoring it… Ultra runners are good at that!

Anyway, for much of Lakeland 50 I was near the front, that is until Ambleside and then it all fell apart with constant knee pain. My hopes of a top-10 disappeared and I eventually crossed the line in 36th place in 9:59. My target had been to run around 8:40. In retrospect, I should have been happy. But I wasn’t. I went away knowing that my knee issue had stopped me performing and it needing addressing. 

My knee injury was chronic and required two, maybe three operations. I declined all knowing that knee surgery success is hit and miss. So, ever since, I have managed that pain, changed my goals and loved adventures. Gladly, big hikes and fast packing/ multi-day is what I really love. I still get pain, but I manage it. So, all is good. I am happy to do what I can. I run regularly, daily sometimes and even now, 30-50km training runs are a regular. But walking has always been something I have used to keep moving and rather than it being a negative, I always made it a positive.

So, why am I writing?

Well, I started running after cycling and triathlon. I have to say, I have never considered myself a good runner. I dropped my marathon PB to 2:53 which was creditable but in doing so, I lost the true reason for running. FUN! Do not get me wrong, I had loads of fun running but PB’s, time, diet and training all took over from a healthy outlook on my running. 

I was obsessed by my running. I must clarify, I was previously obsessed by cycling and triathlon and that is why I stopped…!

Being a photographer and journalist has allowed me to look at running in many different ways. I mostly follow the elites, but multi-day races, such as Marathon des Sables, allow me to follow runners achieving a life time goal. I must clarify, achieving a life time goal may be a 5km, 10km, half-marathon and so on. I use longer distances as this is the area I usually deal in – ultra.

Many are looking to complete and not compete.

I have learnt since 2012 that I normally complete anything I set my mind to in sport and the reason for that is strategy, planning, getting the mind in the right place and yes, embracing walking!

The Older I Get, The Better I was!

So much truth here… For me anyway. As the time has passed from 2012 I have worked on races worldwide and all of those races have required me to have a level of fitness. For example, Everest Trail Race, I do pretty much most of the race with cameras – it is the only way. For personal adventure, I have done big treks, several in Nepal, the most recent being the ‘High Passes’ with the additions of Kala Pather, Everest Base Camp and Ama Dablam BC. In 2020 I have done more multi-day adventures than ever before; regularly moving in a self-sufficient (with tent) way for over a week. A recent trip to Jotunheimen in Norway lasted 9-days and in Trysil, I completed 100km in 2-days with an overnight wild camp. So, all is good!


There is one truth in completing. YOU NEED TO BE ABLE TO WALK.

Walking is often looked on as a negative. To be honest, I have heard some people say, ‘I don’t care what time I do, as long as I do not walk!’

The reality is, if walking is embraced, learned and practiced, finishing times will not only get faster but more enjoyable.

For perspective, we now include walking as a key training element at our Lanzarote Training Camp (HERE) with a specific walking group and one day dedicated to a long walk, for all!

So, how do you start?

Firstly, there is a big difference between walking to the shop for a carton of milk and walking in a race/ training. If there is not, there should be!

Walking in a race (or training) should be meaningful, strong and powerful.

There are many strategies one can use.

For example, one strategy I use is a thing I call “7’s” or “5×2”.

Quite simply, it is about covering 7km by walking 5km and running 2km.

The Strategy:

Firstly, with my coaching clients I ask them to walk 5km and time it. We then look at technique and discuss how to get faster.

I need to clarify here, we keep the route flat on road or good hard trail.

I am aiming for, where possible, sub 10-minute km’s. Now of course, many variables come in to play – terrain, weather, climbing and descending to name but a few. But let us assume flat terrain, good weather and fast trail.

Once we get the walking of 5km in under 50-mins, I then add running. Firstly 1km. So, walk 5km and run 1km. Once that fees comfortable, I add another 1km. And here is where the “7’s” or “5×2” comes in.

Basically, the plan is walk 5km and jog 2km.

Like any plan it is progressive, starting with walk 5 and jog 2. Then walk 5, jog 2, walk 5. Then, walk 5, jog 2, walk 5, jog 2 and so on…

This teaches the mind to break down distance and time in manageable blocks. You can focus on the walking, knowing that a jogging break is coming up. You can endure the jogging, knowing that a walking break is coming up.

Why, “7’s” or “5×2.”

Well, 7 conveniently goes in to a marathon – 7/14/21/28/35 and 42.

I think a marathon is something we all understand and although I will round numbers up (for ease) 50-miles is two marathons and 100-miles is four marathons, 7’s provides a great strategy.

So, you see my thinking?

Let’s say, you trained your walking to be so good, that you could walk 5km and jog 2km in under 1-hour. Suddenly, you are doing a 6-hour marathon with actually only maybe 50-60 minutes of total running.

So, if that pace is maintainable, you could do 50-miles in sub 12-hours and maybe even 100-miles in the desirable sub 24-hours!

Here is an example and of course, pace fluctuates based on terrain conditions, but it provides a good perspective.

This is how a strategy of completing falls in to place.

  • Distance becomes manageable because you made it so.
  • Time becomes manageable because you made it so.
  • Pacing becomes manageable because you made it so.
  • Planning for hydration/ nutrition becomes manageable because you made it so.
  • The mind is prepared because you made it so.

Once you have the above dialled for a flat course. You can then tweak and adjust according to your race and the terrain it will present you. Obviously, if it is technical with a great deal of elevation gain, you will need to re-look at the strategy. But, and this is key, you already have something that works, you just need to adapt it.

Planning a race pace and strategy is crucial. But accept things can go wrong, so have an A, B and C plan.

Here for example is an 80 miles strategy:

CP’s provide distance markers and one has the cut-off time information. Of course, weather, terrain, darkness, fatigue etc etc must be considered. But from training, one can formulate plan. Let’s say in daylight hours, 4-miles per hour and in darkness, 3-miles per hour. The numbers in bold show possible projected timings based on training pace.

Cp 1 10.5 miles, cut off 1430  – 1230

Cp 2 16.8 miles, cut off 1600 – 1430

Cp 3 26.2 miles, cut off 1810 – 1700

Cp 4 34.2 miles, cut off 2030 – 1930

Cp 5 43.7 miles, cut off 2330 – 2230

Cp 6 52.4 miles, cut off 0230 – 0130

Cp 7 61.5 miles, cut off 0630 – 0430

Cp 8 69.4 miles, cut off 0845 – 0700

Finish 80 miles, cut off 1215 – 1000

Some important points:

Running shoes work differently, especially when walking for a great deal of time. So, consider this! Get the correct size shoe, a thumb nail width above the big toe is perfect. Quite simply, if a shoe is too big, ones foot will move. A moving foot equals friction. Friction equals blisters. However, a wider toe box may well be a good consideration.

Read an in-depth article HEREOn how to get the correct size run shoe.

Socks; I am a huge Injinji fan. They put your toes in little pockets and protect them.

Consider something like Gurney Goo as a barrier for your feet.

Poles are a great addition for a walker, particularly on challenging terrain. Learn to use them, it is like 4-wheel drive.

Be progressive. Walking will use muscles in a different way to running and you will be sore. Build for three-weeks and take things easy on the fourth week. 

For example, weekly mileage may be:

  • Week 1 – 40
  • Week 2 – 50
  • Week 3 – 55
  • Week 4 – 30
  • Week 5 – 45
  • Week 6 – 55
  • Week 7 – 62
  • Week 8 – 35

And so on…

Schedule big walks as follows: 

1) Tuesday/ Thursday and Sunday

2) Wednesday/ Saturday and Sunday (the back to back days useful for long races and/ or multi-day such as MDS).

Add running days. 

For example, if doing 1) above you could run Wednesday and say do a Parkrun on Saturday.

If doing 2) above you could run Tuesday and Thursday.

In Conclusion:

The secret is, to plan ahead. Get the date of your A Race and then count back in time considering your goals and objectives. 

Break the time down into month blocks of three week build and one week easier.

Schedule a C and B race. For example, C may be a marathon, B a 60km – This of course depends on the distance of the A race.

One thing is for sure. Once you have broken down your challenge into manageable chunks of walk/ jog, you will feel supremely confident on the start line knowing you have a strategy for completing!

11 thoughts on “Strategy for Completing and not Competing

    • Thanks Simon, lots of stigma re walking, but as I hope I touched on in this post, walking, particularly in an ultra, can be a faster way to cover distance as one has less highs and lows – hopefully consistency from start to finish and look, if you can go under 24 for 100 – that is a result!

      • I can vouch for that, I’ve even done races where it was my walking ability (on long steep climbs) which let me down rather than my running ability. The Traversera integral Picos de Europa is one that springs painfully to mind!

  1. Pingback: Multi-Day Racing – It’s not complicated | – Photography, Writing, Talk Ultra Podcast

  2. Really helpful article, thanks Ian. If we change our mindset to become fast walkers that can run a bit, nothing seems unachievable!

  3. Hi
    I found this article fascinating, I’m a keen walker but not a great runner, that’s putting it mildly
    As I was reading it made perfect sense and everything became clear!
    Great thanks
    Mark Gill

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