Walking my way to faster races?

In December of 2006, I made a commitment to use a run/walk method for my races in 2007. There is always a lot of discussion and opinions around this idea amongst runners. Here are the two biggest things that I see:

1. Those runners that believe that a “true” runner wouldn’t walk during a race
2. Those runners/sports scientists that believe there is no validity to the method.

I originally came to the idea after listening to Bobby McGee speak during the training clinic at the Olympic Training Center. While I wasn’t sure if I was convinced, I thought that I’d give it a try.

Here’s the link again to my previous post: Does Slow Down mean Walk for me?

My Experience:

The commitment I had was to run/walk every run I did. And looking back, I don’t remember doing a single run in ’07 that I didn’t walk some. There were quite a few benefits that I derived from this experience. I’ll skip the physiology of it for now (maybe I’ll get to it at another time), but the two things I noticed were:

1. It allowed me to recover easier, which allowed me to run more often (I actually ran every single day in Feb. of ’07)

2. Emotionally, it allowed me to relax and have peace with the idea of walking, which allowed me to use those lessons during races.

I used the method in 3 key races during the ’07 year:

1. Derby Half Marathon
2. Mountainer Half Ironman
3. Ironman Wisconsin

To be honest, I believe it helped in all three races. I had some doubts about the idea of walking during the half marathon, but here is what it did: It slowed me down at a time during the race when I was getting caught up in the race and running way too fast. Therefore, it forced discipline into my race when it would have likely been lacking. While 1:25 is not really fast for a half marathon, it was as much as I could have expected considering the training I had leading up to that race.

The biggest benefit that I had during the year using this method was during the Ironman. It was hugely beneficial going into that race knowing I would have to walk, because when I started walking that first mile, I was able to say to myself “this is part of the plan.” That was more empowering than getting to 15 or 16 and saying, “I have to walk because I don’t know if I can run anymore.”

The difference between those two psychological states are worth many minutes during a race. I had hoped that I could go under 3:30 for my marathon split, I didn’t make it as I went 3:35. But I’m convinced that I would have been closer to 4:00 had I not started walking from mile 1.

Who benefits the most?

The athletes that benefit the most from using this strategy, in my opinion, are those that are still challenged by their endurance. I tell athletes that you’d benefit if you are planning on going over 3:30 for the marathon. (There’s no science to that number.)

That being said, I will use this method the next time I try to go under 3 hours. And as Bobby McGee said, he has had a 2:30 marathoner use this method.

The key is determining where your pacing begins to drop. Maintaining a consistent pace is likely the largest performance boost that many runners will see by using a walk/run strategy.

I would be interested to hear others experience using a run/walk stategy and how they felt it helped or did not help them.

Comments

  1. says

    Lacey. Sorry that it took me so long to reply… been a little absent for a week.

    Brad said a lot of the things that I would have said, here is one thing to think about…. the faster of a runner you are, the less important that walk breaks become. Although, to make them irrelevant you need to be very fast. And… the long you run the more relevant they are.

    So if you are very fast and run only short runs (probably under 4 miles for most) than they don’t make sense.

    But let’s say you run over a 10 min / mile for a 5k. I’d say using the run/walk is probably very relevant and as Brad suggests it may allow a person to run faster than they normally could and then recover during the walk.. ultimately cutting out time.

    The ultimate answer is this… it depends. 🙂

  2. says

    Lacey, I’ll let Gary chime in with a more learned answer than me, as he’s more of an expert. But my layperson’s answer is: It all depends on the runner.

    If you find that you are able to run a comfortable consistent pace over the course of your desired distance, than I would say, you probably don’t need to add walk breaks. How ever, you might want to think about adding them one day just to see the effect it has on your time, and comfort level. What does it hurt to try it out?

    It may be that your consistent pace is say, 12min/mile. And you may find that if you tried to run faster for a mile (say 10min or 9:30min) that a short walk break at each mile marker, gives you enough a recovery break that you could start up again and run that second mile at 10min or 9:30min… and then repeat for mile 3… this would theoretically take 3-4 minutes off of your 5K time. And, you may actually find that you are more confortable and enjoy your run more.

    I would say that if you’re running at elite or even top-10 age group times for shorter distances (5K, 10K) then walk breaks probably don’t make sense. Basically around 7min/mile a walk break of 20 seconds means you actually have to run a pretty wicked fast pace of 6:40/mile to stay at your 7min/mile pace. It can be done… and it probably should/needs to be done for most of us running further than 10 miles… but for shorter distances like 5K you’re better off just running fast and not stopping till the end.

    So… in summary I’d suggest:

    1) Try walk breaks at any distance, see if you like them, if they make it easier for you to achieve your goal.

    2) For long distances… walk breaks will make 90% of us faster not slower.

    3) For short distances… at slower speeds… walk breaks might actually help you go faster and be more comfortable when its all over.

    Good Luck!

  3. says

    Hmm, interesting. Now, it looks like you are pretty much talking about using this approach for long distance running as being the end goal (and that if that’s your end goal, you should also approach shorter training runs that way.)

    Would you also advocate this approach for someone who is just focusing on shorter distances, like 3 to 5 miles, and who is not just beginning to run? I am sure that if I were to attempt a half marathon or marathon, I would need to incorporate walking from the get-go. But planning walk breaks in a 5K or 4 mi run/race doesn’t seem necessary to me, especially since the goal for me is usually to maintain a consistent effort throughout and finish feeling good. (And, BTW, I am not fast and I really don’t ‘race’ races… I view races as a treat for continuing to exercise. So, speed isn’t my primary concern.)

  4. says

    Brad – this is an essential protocol for people doing Ironman, IMO. Unless you are Peter Reid or some other athletic and aerobic freak.

    One point I like to make is that the longer you plan on being “out there” the more important this strategy becomes. Elites don’t have to walk during a marathon b/c they are running less than 2.5 hours…. most of us are running a lot longer than that.

    Lacey – One word. Practice. I know people who run all their runs, decide to use a run/walk method during a race and then say it doesn’t work. Use it every run, even if you are running for 20 minutes. It took a long time (a few months of walking every run) before it felt normal.

    The fitter who are the longer you can stretch out the walk/run ratio. I personally recommend people not get over a 10:1 ratio unless they are easily (under aerobic threshold) running under a 9 min/mile pace. Another observation that I have developed that is not based on a scientific rule.

  5. says

    I’ve never liked the feeling of run/walk/run. When I start to run again after walking, my legs feel odd and it seems harder to run than before I started walking. I did used to take slower running breaks as needed, though.

    However, I may need to try incorporating walking when I get back to long runs. It was recommended to me that I try the method if I want to do a HM sooner than later, to avoid re-injuring my knee.

    When you did a run/walk, did you walk 1 minute for every mile? I might be interested in trying something more like 3 mi/1 min when I am running that far again.

  6. says

    HOOOORAAAAY!

    I love to hear people who are fans of run/walk. I am absolutely convinced that this is a far superior approach to “running”…

    I know I finish faster when I take small walk breaks early and consistently in a run.

    Glad to hear it worked for you!

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