Could The Run/Walk Method Be Right For You?
A misconception in running is that doing run/walk intervals are a means to an end. New runners think to be a “real runner” they must complete their training runs and races with a continuous run, so they plod away, getting frustrated with aches, pains, and slow finish times.
Run/walk pioneer Jeff Galloway faced the same stubborn runners when he first developed the run/walk method in 1974, “Many of the veteran marathoners refused to take walk breaks at first.” he explains on his website jeffgalloway.com. But, as their training went on, “As the former beginners moved into longer distance events such as marathons, they continued to adjust to walk breaks and started to record faster times than the veterans. This led to the use of walk breaks in all pace groups.”
You read that correctly, those using the run/walk training method saw faster times than the veteran continuous runners! Needless to say, the run/walk method is not necessarily a beginners only strategy.
Here are ways run/walk intervals set you up for success:
Provides Mental Break
Whether you’re new to running or have goals of a new distance, the thought of running continuously for XX minutes or miles can be daunting while you wait for your Garmin to synch. You’re nervous you won’t be able to complete the distance, worrying you can’t push through when it feels tough.
But, you know you can run for a few minutes. Having walk intervals gives you confidence by providing a planned recovery. Running is as much – if not more – a mental sport as a physical one, and these walk breaks allow you to regroup mentally in regular intervals. Your mind isn’t fretting about how it’s going to run 14 more miles, it’s focused on running 4 more minutes until the next walk break. This makes your long runs – be it 5 or 15 miles – more approachable and causes less mental stress.
Decreases Risk of Injury
When you run continuously, you are creating greater fatigue for the muscles used. This puts more wear and tear on your joints, muscles, and tendons which increases your risk of injury. By incorporating walk intervals, your body switches gears that enable some muscles to take a back seat and slightly recover. Walking also causes less stress on your joints due to the decreased force placed on them with each foot strike. When your body is over-tired, your form suffers and poor form – especially for long distances – increases your chances of injury.
Slows Fatigue and Allows for Quicker Recovery
As mentioned above, running continuously fatigues your muscles because the same movement pattern is being repeated for miles – and on long runs – hours. When those muscles get a break during walk intervals, they fatigue much slower, meaning you can be out on the road for longer before feeling the fatigue you would in a continuous run. This is super helpful when training for endurance events.
Because of a slowed rate of fatigue, your body is able to bounce back and recover quicker after a long run. Since the long run is not the only run you do in your training, it’s important to be recovered and ready to go for your next workout. By erasing fatigue and recovering quicker, you’re sure to be ready for your next run as opposed to being so sore or tired that you have to cut back or even skip it.
It’s a Form of Interval Running
Interval training is the hot term in fitness and for good reason! Incorporating higher intensity repetitions with low intensity recovery intervals has been proven to burn more fat and can even make you a stronger, faster runner. A misconception is that interval training has to be done at an all out sprint to have any benefit. The truth is, incorporating any challenging intervals into your run will benefit you in – no pun intended – the long run. Plus, when you allow your body to recovery during the walk breaks, you’re able to push yourself a bit harder during the run intervals. This is what leads to faster finish times!
Continuous running and run/walk isn’t an either/or situation. Once you use the run/walk method to build your endurance, you may find it easy and enjoyable to run continuously for short to medium distances, but want to keep the run/walk method as part of your long run training plan. Or, you might keep the run/walk intervals, but increase the ratio of run to walk as your fitness improves. There is no one way to incorporate this method into a safe and effective training plan, so find what makes sense for where you are now and don’t be afraid to adjust as you go!
 Jeff Galloway, JeffGalloway.com