The run/walk method is a simple but very effective strategy for improving race times, avoiding injury, and improving endurance. It involves running for a predetermined length of time, taking a planned walk break, and repeating.
The run/walk method is often thought of as being for beginners. Some athletes believe that walking during a race is cheating or admitting defeat, but in fact, a well-executed run/walk strategy can benefit even experienced and advanced runners. A survey of runners showed an average improvement of 13 minutes when they used walking breaks in their marathon, compared with running continuously under the same conditions.
I’ve been using the method since I started having coaching with 4Performance three years ago. Having improved my half-marathon (as part of a half-ironman) time by 25 minutes, it’s been a gamechanger for my running.
Benefits of the run/walk method
Break down the distance/time
Walk breaks help you mentally break up a challenging race or training session by concentrating on just one segment at a time. It can be quite daunting to think about running for 2 hours continuously, but when I think about running for just 9 minutes then it feels much more achievable. It helps me to stay mentally focused and motivated.
Walk breaks are actually a form of active recovery. Running uses repetitive movements and your muscles and joints continuously absorb shock with every stride- this produces fatigue, aches and pains. A short walking break gives your body a chance to recover and reduces the amount of repetitive stress on muscles and joints.
Improve overall pace
The run/walk method is actually a form of interval training- I find that my pace is faster for the run segments because I have been able to recover briefly on the walking breaks.
Allows you to fuel
Walking breaks give you a chance to take a gel or a sip of water particularly during a race where your strategy may be to walk the aid stations.
Tips for the walk/run method
Start the walk breaks before you get fatigued
The idea of this method is to start the walking breaks before you get tired, even if that is in the first mile of your run. I’ve previously made the mistake of not following a structured plan and trying to run for as long as I can before fatigue sets in and I’m forced to walk. If you wait until you’re very fatigued, you’ll end up walking slowly and it will be difficult to start running again.
Practice in training
If you are intending to use the strategy on race day, it is important to practice in training so you’re prepared and have established the ratio which works for you.
Stay disciplined and stick to the plan
When I start walking in a race, I’ve noticed that other athletes, marshals and spectators assume that I’m struggling and try to motivate me to run again. I appreciate that they are trying to help and they don’t always understand that I’m following a strategy which works for me. I have to stay disciplined, stick to my plan and try not to get caught up in what others are doing.
Most watches allow you to set up alerts which beep or vibrate for each interval, reminding you when to run or walk. This allows you to focus on the run without constantly checking the time.
Maintain good form when walking
Focus on keeping good form and posture while waking. Keep a brisk pace and pump your arms, as this will help you transition back to running. Try to avoid making it a leisurely stroll!
Experiment with intervals
Adjust the ratio of your running to walking as you build up fitness and endurance. I’ve found that a 9:1 ratio works well for me, but I have built up to 12:1 previously, and when coming back from injury I used an 8:2 ratio. I work with a triathlon coach to set the structure of my training sessions.
Use the run/walk method for your long runs
The method is for building up endurance- I only use the run/walk method for runs which are longer than an hour. For anything less than 60 minutes, I tend to run continuously.
Do you use planned walking breaks in your runs?
All items worn were gifted by Adidas, but all opinions are my own.