Sport Walking distances defined

There’s so much potential to create routes of any length for Sport Walking and to treat them all equally as challenges, so here’s some basic guidance on Sport Walk distance categories, to help you pick the right one for your next challenge, training session or walk.

So let’s start at the shortest end of the scale, with distances up to 5km which we call ‘Super Sprints’.  On the flat, ‘Super Sprints’ are great for building pure speed – they will let you establish your ‘pace ceiling’ or effectively discover your fastest possible walk speed. Another way to use ‘Super Sprints’ is to walk at your ‘base’ pace (your slowest comfortable pace, where you’re still moving quickly) on the flat and to focus on your technique and form. Effectively to use it as a technique session. The last way to use a ’Super Sprint’ is to tackle a short steep climb as fast as possible, such as an iconic hill or a very technical route.  This taps into the principle of what’s known in Trail and Ultra running circles as the ‘Vertical Kilometre’ or ‘VK’ for short. You can summit many British mountains in less than 5k and then you can enjoy the route back as recovery. ‘Super Sprints’ are a valuable part of your Sport Walk training and if you take on our #5aDay challenge, you can use ‘Super Sprints’ as the foundation of all your walking.

Going ‘vert’ on a ‘Super Sprint’ – superb strength training

Next comes anything between 5 and 10km which we call a ‘Sprint’. Not literally a sprint obviously but if you’re travelling at a good pace, then 10k should come to you in under 2 hours easily and if you’re more of a whippet, then under an hour and a half.  ‘Sprints’ provide similar benefits to ’Super Sprints’ but of course, you’re going to need to moderate your pace a little because of the additional distance. Just as with ‘Super Sprints’, this slightly longer distance is best used for ‘base’ tempo technique work, for building speed endurance and for more challenging short climb routes.

Probably the most common distance for the ‘everyday’ Sport Walker is what we call ‘Middle Distance’, rather like in running. This covers anything from 10k to 30k and gives you up to four or five hours of strong walking, which might sound a fair bit (or not much depending on your outlook) but when you consider that some of the serious challenges will take up to 20 hours, it’s still quite achievable. This distance would have its own pace if you were in a race and it would be somewhere between your 50k pace and your 10k pace.  It’s hard to put an exact number on it but this would be something you’d need to establish yourself based on how strong you were. If you’re using this distance for training though and 25-30k is arguably the best distance for a single session if you’re training for a 100k (combined with other walks that would probably see you covering between 50-80km in total a week) then you would walk this distance at whatever pace you’re aiming for in your race or challenge during the main build up period.  You’d walk at your ‘base’ pace though for ‘off season’ training walks, to build endurance.

From there, you step up to our definition of ‘Marathon’ distance.  Although the actual Marathon distance is 42.2km and you can certainly go out and walk exactly that as a dedicated challenge, we categorise ‘Marathon’ distance Sport Walks as between 30 – 50k.  This is partly because you’re getting a good 6-9 hours of walking but also because 50k+ is a distance that’s widely accepted as being ‘Ultra’ distance and that’s the next and only remaining category. ‘Marathon’ Sport Walks are probably the most widely accessible major challenge for Sport Walkers and can also easily be grouped into multi day ‘Ultra’ distances. While many ‘Marathon’ events and races are only for runners at present, this distance is still widely accessible to Sport Walkers of all abilities and it’s also a great training distance for super long challenges, such as 100 milers. Walking a ‘Marathon’ Sport Walk, whether it be at the lower end around 30-40km, an actual ‘Marathon’ of 42.2km or up to the ‘Ultra’ base point of 50km, gives you a really great day’s walking and, depending on the route and terrain, can be a hugely satisfying session. The actual ‘Marathon’ distance is a good benchmark distance and one which you can find yourself trying to beat time and time again because the distance is so achievable within a single day’s Sport Walking.  The same is the case for the 50k distance and this in particular is a strong milestone in the journey to 100k and beyond.

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Make the ‘Marathon’ distance your default for a full walking day

The daddy of Sport Walking is undoubtedly the ‘Ultra’ distance, just as with running. In some respects, it’s where Sport Walking starts to come into its own and pay performance dividends. There is quite a lot of debate though in the running world about what exactly constitutes an ‘Ultra’. Some people say that basically anything over Marathon distance is an ‘Ultra’ because, after all, if you’re going longer than that then what else is there? Many ‘Ultra Runners’ feel that a minimum distance should apply, say 80k (roughly 50 miles) and the most common ‘Ultra’ distance, certainly in Europe is 100k.

‘Ultra’ challenges like the South Downs Way are where Sport Walking really shines

Whichever way you look at it, ‘Ultras’ are a serious challenge and so for Sport Walking, we’ve decided to peg our colours on a firm distance range, given that you’re still looking at upwards of eight hours action at the shortest.  So, we’ve classified ‘Ultra’ Sport Walking as anything over 50km. It is a tricky subject because you could have a 55km Sport Walk that is brutal, covering technical or very steep mountain terrain or you could, for instance, tackle our own ‘Sport Walk New Forest 80km’ – a longer distance but a far less demanding proposition physically (unless you bury yourself speed wise).  The truth is that no two routes will be the same, no two distances will demand equal effort.  For us, it is about recognising the length of time any route will take and allowing for routes that cover both flat and mountainous terrain. As a guide though, for non-mountainous routes, the optimal ‘Ultra’ distance would be 80km+.

Of course, there are far longer routes and multi-day routes but to be honest, we don’t really see a benefit in classifying these differently, just as running gives up the classifications at ‘Ultra’. Once you’ve walked 100km in 14-16 hours it’s all kind of academic!

The thing is, that any distance is good and will deliver benefits if you’re going as fast as you can, working hard and aiming to achieve something from that specific walk. Even a Super Sprint can be really satisfying, despite its short length, if you pick an inspiring route or maybe a steep challenge with a special view from the summit.  Use them all for different purposes and you’ll get the most out of your Sport Walking.

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