Have you just started running? Maybe you’re coming back from an extended period of not running or possibly from an injury? Or maybe you are using the Couch to 5K method of training or you’re taking up running as you enter your middle age?
If any of these apply to you, I’m guessing you’ve been advised to use the walk/run method to get into or back into shape. In doing so, many people see this as a “means to an end”; in other words, they are using the walk/run method to build up to training and running races with a continuous run.
But, for some people, the walk/run method may be both the means and the end with benefits that will keep you motivated, injury free and running faster. That’s right, we’ll talk about some information that points to people running faster using the walk/run method, especially as the distance of the race gets longer.
So, what are the benefits of the walk/run method and how do you apply it to your running and training? Below are 6 reasons why you might consider the walk/run method as well as some resources to help you determine the best run/walk paces and intervals for you.
As we all know, running is an endurance sport and, the longer we run, the greater the need to stay motivated and not get frustrated. I know when I do my long runs, sometimes a few miles into the run I begin to stress and think “Oh my god, I’ve got 15 more miles of this?” and it affects my running.
Under the walk/run method, you run for a period (in this example, let’s say 2 minutes) and then you walk for a period (let’s say 30 seconds). I don’t know about you, but I have no problems thinking about running for 2 minutes until my next break. By cutting your run into smaller bites, you will alleviate your stress and maintain a much better mental outlook during your run.
Ability to Maintain Better Running Form
Admit it, when you run there are times your running form gets out of whack and you know something is wrong especially later in your runs. Maybe you’ve begun to lean forward or you’re “sitting back” in your posture; for me, I can tell because I start to bring my hands up to my chest and my shoulders roll in and I start to slouch.
It’s hard to keep yourself focused on your running form for 30 minutes straight, much less for a few hours if you’re doing a long run. But, keeping that running form “right and tight” for 2 minutes…well, that's pretty much a no-brainer.
By breaking your run into segments of short (in our example, 2 minutes) of running, you’ll be able to maintain a better running form and increase your running efficiency and endurance. If you want to learn more about better running form, please read 8 Do's and Don'ts For Good Running Form or watch these Running Form Videos.
Decreases Fatigue, Hastens Recovery
When you are running continuously for miles, the repeated movement pattern of your muscles will create muscle fatigue especially when you’re running for miles and miles. When you take a walk break, you are allowing those muscles to take a break and, thus, you are pushing back the fatigue allowing you to run longer before feeling the fatigue.
Because of this slowed rate of fatigue, your body can recover better which will put you in a better place for your next run both physically and mentally.
Decreases Chance of Injury
For the same reasons you can hasten recovery by decreasing the onset of fatigue via the walk/run method, you’ll also be decreasing your chance of injury. When you begin to fatigue, your form falters and you put greater pressure on your joints, muscles and tendons which greatly increases your chance of injury.
This, to me, is one of the best reasons for the walk/run method because nothing is worse for your running than an injury; the time off from running to recover, the loss of your aerobic base (some scientist believe you can lose all your aerobic conditioning gained by running in as little as 3 weeks off) and the time to rebuild your base are crippling to your training.
If you are a runner who is prone to injury, you should seriously consider the walk/run method as your training choice on a full-time basis. Also, check out our 6 Paths to Injury Free Running blog for more ways to stay injury free.
Interval Training Anyone?
In its simplest form, the walk/run method is a form of interval training; by incorporating high intensity repetitions with low intensity recovery periods you are able to burn more fat (keeping your glycogen level in reserve for longer) and become a stronger, faster runner.
Yes, HIIT (high intensity interval training) is all the rage but be cautious this doesn’t mean you should be in an all-out sprint during the run section of the walk/run program. Later in the article, we’ll provide you some resources to help better understand the different run/walk paces you should set for different training run as well as the length of both the run and the walk segments.
Check out our 8 Types of Training Runs blog to learn more about interval training and other types of training runs.
Faster Race Times
I know, this seems like a direct contradiction with the whole concept of the run/walk method, but I’ve been very surprised at my own individual results and here’s what I’ve found. When I use the run/walk method in a 5K, my time is a bit slower but when I’ve used it in longer runs my time is either as fast or faster than my continuous run times. In addition, I’ve found that the longer the distance the better my run/walk time is in comparison to my continuous run times.
So, I started to look at my Garmin data and realized something amazing; in any run over 7 miles, my time for the run/walk method is, on average, better than my continuous run times. I also realized my average heart rate for the walk/run method is, again on average, lower than for my continuous runs.
I’ve concluded, for me anyhow, I’m able to benefit on longer runs by pushing back the fatigue thus increasing my endurance as well as keeping a good running form during the entirety of the run and these two things allow me to run faster on the longer runs using the run/walk method.
Independently, Jeff Galloway estimates after working with thousands and thousands of runners that most people can run a marathon 13 minutes faster using the run/walk method.
Speaking of Jeff Galloway, he provides a tremendous amount of information on how to utilize the walk/run method of training on his website at www.jeffgalloway.com.
In particular, you can read about establishing your baseline with his “magic mile” and determine your suggested pace for different types of runs including 5k, 10k, half marathon, marathon and your long run as well as the suggested walk/run periods using this Walk/Run Calculator.
My suggestion is to give the walk/run method a shot, and see if it's something that will enhance your running.
Rich Flaherty is a middle of the pack runner and triathlete, whose only real claim to fame is his daughter Bekah Brooks qualified for the Boston Marathon in her first marathon.