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Trail running: when to walk and when to run?

Walking is almost unavoidable when running off road, especially when running uphill.Here are a few ideas for picking the right time to walk when trail running.


Walk when you can't run fast

It is a simple and inescapable fact thatthe steeper the slope, the more your speed will diminish to the point where you are almost shuffling along. You will then realise that your pace is not much quicker than your walking pace.

In this case, fast walking will be the much better option given the potential benefits:lower heart rate, enhanced oxygenation and lower energy expenditure.

Naturally, every runner must work out their own limits according to the profile of the race (distance, number of slopes, gradient, cumulative elevation gain, etc.) based on their own particular abilities and experience tackling steep paths. In any case, it is up to you to decide when it is most appropriate to manage your ascent by walking quickly rather than running uphill.


Set your pace according to your heart rate

When faced with a particularly long uphill climb with a more gentle gradient, you can also use your heart rate to decide when to walk instead of run. It's up to you to set your upper heart rate zone which can be done using an alarm that you program into your heart rate monitor watch: as soon as you cross over into the upper zone, walk to the top of the climb and gradually accelerate on the following flat or downhill section.

By monitoring your heart rate, you can control your level of exertion when running. This is particularly useful for beginners, to avoid going too quickly and getting into difficulty. It can play an important role in the ability of a runner to cover longer distances and discover off-road running.

With experience, you will instinctively know when to slow down and conserve energy in order to speed up later on!


Walking in order to go further

You cannot deal with your first spot of trouble on a 50 km run the same way you would on a 20 km run! During a short event, it is possible to push through the pain barrier by running for as long as possible, even to the end of the climb. However, you may find it hard to step up the pace at the top if you are so tired and out of breath as a result of the significant effort put in.

For longer distance runs, we must take into account the energy expenditure involved in a climb. The effort put in on a slope increases our consumption of oxygen and hence our heart rate, but also forces the muscles to contract. You must stretch out your energy reserves and manage your effort levels if you want to finish a long-distance run. This may mean walking up almost every climb.

When struggling for the first time during an event with a high elevation gain or covering a long distance, it is advisable to run prudently and manage your effort levels, even if your legs are feeling good.


Walking in order to eat and drink

The longer the trail run, the more you need to eat and drink at regular intervals in order to compensate for the energy lost and perform well. Pay particular attention to these aspects and schedule short intervals between replenishment times because waiting for a supply point and running out of energy can seriously damage your hopes of attaining your objective.

As you will probably know from experience, it is particularly difficult to eat or chew solid food without it affecting your breathing. Taking a little time on a downhill slope or on a flat section to walk will allow you to slow down your breathing so that you can take on solids or liquids more easily. It is better to temporarily drop 30 seconds behind another runner than run the risk of becoming dehydrated!


How to walk?

Although attacking with the front of the foot when trotting uphill may be fast, it is much more tiring and must be reserved for when you are at running pace.

Walking helps to spread the effort more evenly between all of the muscle groups and parts of the legs, thereby reducing any tension in the calves.In order to maintain a good walking speed, try to place your foot as flat as possible by increasing your stride length.

Use your arms to improve your posture and avoid slouching. For example, you can use the tops of your thighs for support to help push yourself forwards or even use the sports walkers' technique of quickly moving the arms forwards and backwards in a pendulum motion that matches your walking pace.

For races with a high elevation gain that authorise the use of poles, the latter can be used to spread the load on the muscles by reducing the effort made by the quads during long climbs.


Drawing up a race strategy that includes walking sections is a very effective way of managing your effort levels.It is up to you to decide when you should walk according to how you feel and the challenging moments of the day.