Over the years, I’ve taken my share of walk breaks during long runs and races. I’ve gotten dehydrated, cramped up, or was just too tired to continue running. Most of these run/walk experiences were disappointing failures. I know many other runners who’ve had similar experiences and based on them, it would be hard to recommend that anyone run/walk at any time!
But I highly recommend it.
Let me clarify. You shouldn’t do it the way I’ve described above. In fact, you should do the opposite. Planto run/walk during your workout and race. Set a schedule and stick to it from Mile One. You’ll likely find yourself skipping your walk breaks at the end of the race (instead of extending them like I did). You’re certainly not going to break any world records or qualify for the Olympics, but many people have broken 3 hours and 30 minutes in the marathon using this method. Some have even broken 3 hours.
Why does it work?
You recover during the race or workout. The walk break allows your body to “catch up”. During the walk break, your body can clear waste products in your muscles faster than it makes them. Your muscles actually repair themselves. When you take walk breaks early, there are fewer waste products to clear and less damage to repair.
Think of it this way:
When you run, you’re digging yourself into a hole of fatigue. For argument’s sake, let’s pretend you dig 6 inches into the hole for every mile you run. When your head is underground, it gets pretty tough to breathe. That means somewhere around 11 miles, you’re going to start feeling that fatigue. Let’s also pretend that for every minute you walk, you can fill in 3 inches of the hole you’re digging, but once your head is below the surface, it gets harder to reach the dirt overhead that allows you to fill the hole back in. If you walk for a minute after every mile you run, your “fatigue hole” will only grow by 3 inches (6 inches digging minus the 3 inches filled back in) every mile. That means the fatigue isn’t going to set in until well after the 20th mile.
On the other hand, let’s pretend you start out fast without walk breaks. You start feeling that fatigue at mile 11, but you know you’re far from your goal, so you push through. By mile 17, you’re standing in your hole of fatigue and your head is 3 feet below the surface. You’re really hurting! You stop to walk, but after 5 minutes, you’re still deep in your fatigue hole. You’ve built up too much waste in your muscles and your body isn’t equipped to clear it fast enough to get you back on track. You’re exhausted!
Of course, walk breaks aren’t free. The trade off is speed, and if you are fit enough to run fast the entire way, you will get there faster than you will if you take walk breaks. How much speed is lost, though? The slower you run, the less you lose in taking a walk break. Here’s a simple chart:
Running Pace (min/mile)Adjusted Pace w/1 min walk per mileHalf marathon time differenceMarathon time difference
The big questions are: how must faster do the walk breaks make you during the periods when you arerunning, and how much speed will you lose at the end of your run if you didn’t do the walk breaks from the beginning? Everyone is a little different and you’ll need to experiment to figure that out.
Even if you don’t plan on using a run/walk plan in your race, it’s a good idea to use it for your long training runs. The purpose of long, slow distance runs is to train your aerobic system to handle long bouts of work. Walk breaks during this type of training actually make your work bout longer and keep you training solidly in your “aerobic zone”. Just remember to walk early – before you feel like you need to. When you feel like you have to walk, it’s too late!
Written by Brian Darrow
Brian Darrow is a running coach in St. Petersburg, FL who specializes in online coaching for beginners. Follow him at ARunnersBlog.com