The Run/Walk Ratio Experiment

Training for an ultra is a complicated thing, not that training for other race distances isn’t, but training to run 100 miles is a whole new ball of wax for me. And to complicate it more I’m not following any specific plan to accomplish running 100 miles, as I’m relying on my 30-weeks of Ironman training to do the brunt of the work for me, leaving me only seven weeks to devote to some run only specific training. I still have some work to do. 

I was listening to a podcast called “The Tunnel Hill Chronicles,” in which this younger guy named Lorin is documenting his training for the race, and he mentioned that he would rather be a little undertrained for an ultra-marathon than be overtrained. I agree, so I got that going for me – which is nice. 

Lately, I have been experimenting with pace. To run 100 miles in under 20 hours is pretty simple – average 12 minutes per mile, or 5 mph, and you are golden. And running the Big Hill Bonk taught me that running 4.166 miles every hour will net you a 24-hour 100 miler. Not many spend the entirety of the distance actually running. Most follow some sort of run and walk ratio, either by design or by having it forced upon them. The majority of ultra marathons seem to take place in hilly or mountainous areas, and the golden rule is to run the flats and the downhills and walk the uphills. At Tunnel Hill, despite what the name might be suggesting, there aren’t any hills or mountains. From what I understand, the tunnel actually goes through the “hill.” I’ve read that there are a few gradual inclines on the old railroad bed turned trail, but they aren’t really hills. 

So if there are no hills you have to design some sort of plan to incorporate some walking into your strategy or you will likely find walking as your only strategy.

I have searched for common run/walk ratios for ultras and found that they can vary widely. Some recommend a 15-minute run with a 3-minute walk. That seems on the high side to me. That gives you 3.33 run/walk blocks in an hour, and my OCD would prefer that I make them divide out nicely over 60-minutes. I have decided that breaking it up into a 6-minute run/walk segment might be perfect, which would give me 10 total blocks per hour. So far I have tried the following:

5 minutes : 1 minute Ratio – Five minutes of running followed by one minute of walking was the obvious first choice. I have done that ratio several times and I found that five minutes of running was a little long, and the one-minute recovery walk went by quickly. 

5 minutes : 1 minute, 15 seconds Ratio – I tried to add some additional time to the walk, but I didn’t like that it screwed up the 6-minute block.

4 minutes, 45 seconds : 1 minute, 15 seconds Ratio – I realized that I didn’t have to focus on adding time to the walk and took off 15-seconds from the run. This 4:45 run / 1:15 walk ratio worked pretty well. However, it got me to the 5-mile split around 53-minutes, which could be used to walk some more until the hour is up, or I could come to my senses and see that I should probably slow my pace a little.

4.5 minutes : 1.5 minutes Ratio – This ratio wasn’t much different than the 4.75:1.25, but I am starting to think that a little more walk time would be beneficial to for me. 

4 minutes, 15 seconds : 1 minute, 45 seconds Ratio – Bingo!  Running 4:15 and then walking for 1:45 was a great combo by not having too much run time and enough walk time to recover a little and give me some time to drink some water and take on nutrition.  This was working great, but I was a little concerned about not walking enough.

4 minutes : 2 minutes Ratio – Now I am onto something.  This seems to be the best combination for me.  The minutes are even splits and the 2-minutes of walking gives me a much needed break without wasting too much time walking.  I’m still covering just about the same distance as the 4-minute 15-second ratio, so I’ll take the extra walk time break and use it in my favor.  This works out to be a pace somewhere around 11:15 minutes to 11:20 minutes average pace per mile, which will be optimal.   

So, that’s enough experimenting.  A four minute run followed by a two minute walk seems to be the best combo for me and will be what I use in the event.  Six minute intervals, 10 per hour – I just have to do 200 of these intervals and I’m golden.  I won’t be wasting energy keeping track of that in my mind.    

The overall goal for me is obviously to finish 100 miles before the 30-hour cutoff, but I think I might be able to shoot for a sub-20 hour finish based on how I have felt in training while doing that run/walk method.  This goal may be a little over-ambitious, but I think that I can hold the pace for at least half of the 100 miles.  It’s the unknown miles from 50 on that I have no idea what will happen.  I’m sure the journey to the finish line will tell me a lot about myself.  I’m looking forward to it.  

Tunnel Hill 100 Training Update

I signed up for the Tunnel Hill 100 mile ultramarathon without much forethought. If I’m good for anything it’s not thinking things through. But seeing that I was training for Ironman Chattanooga in September 2021 and doing the Big Hill Bonk Last Runner Standing event in August, I figured that the training load for Ironman and running 50K at the Big Hill Bonk would prepare me well for Tunnel Hill in November. I may have figured wrong. But we’ll see. There’s still plenty of weeks of training to go, and I’m sure I may see some improvements in endurance running as I creep closer to the ultra.


I saw a post on Facebook recently that asked what was harder, an Ironman or a 100-mile ultra, and the answers were interesting. In terms of the race itself, most declared that running 100 miles in a day was much tougher than completing an Ironman. But many also agreed that the training for Ironman was much harder than what people do to train for an ultra. I was troubled and glad to hear both of those responses.


I’m a little concerned that the run training that I am doing for Ironman is not going to be sufficient to get me to that 100-mile finish. I only got through 50K at Big Hill Bonk before tapping out. Maybe if the finish 4.16 miles in one-hour time constraint wasn’t in play there, I might have walked more and gone a little further. That time/distance format is a good indicator or predictor for an ultra as 4.16 miles in one hour will net you 100 miles in 24 hours. I was able to get a third of it in.


On my 2.5-hour training run today, I played with using run/walk intervals for the first time. I had played with that Galloway method probably twenty years ago, but I found that I would essentially pace way too fast for the run portion and not walk leisurely enough in the walk portion. I gave up on it and just went with what I knew best, running by feel and keeping an even pace.


I tried running for five minutes and then walking for one minute. That 5:1 ratio was working pretty well for me and I was averaging 10 min/mile pace, which nets a 20-hour 100 miler. When I turned around at 75 minutes I was at 7.75 miles, and by the time I finished the 2.5 hours I only netted 15 miles and felt pretty worn out. Not enough nutrition? Was the day warming up too much? Were the hills at the end causing me to slow down? Maybe, sure, all of the above, I dunno.


To do 100 miles in 20 hours you need to hit five miles every hour, and I did that today. Maybe if I run the 5:1 ratio until I hit five miles, I could have more time to walk out the remaining minutes of the hour. I will give that a go next time. I’m also considering lowering the ratio to four minutes of running and one minute of walking and see how that goes. There is still time to play with the run:walk ratio.


Thoughts of dropping down to the 50-mile ultra have been entering my head, but I’m not giving up just yet. I just need to dial it in a little better and see where it takes me.