Run and Walk

One of the popular movements in endurance sport is the movement towards Run/Walk.  I’m not talking about running until you decide to walk and then walking until you decide to run.  I’m talking about a specific plan of action that has you running for a specific distance or period of time and then walking for a specific distance or period of time and then repeating that process.

Some folks will run for 10 minutes and walk for 1 minute, then run for 10 minutes and walk for 1.  Others run 6 minutes and walk 2 minutes.  Some will run a block then walk a block.  The plans for actually doing it are as varied as the participants but you see them at nearly every endurance race.  The tactic even has a name: “The Galloway Method” named for running guru Jeff Galloway who is one of the most visible advocates of the concept.

I know coaches, experts and pundits who talk very favorably about it and it’s even gotten a lot of positive discussion on the triathlon podcasts like Tri-Talk and IM Talk.

Why It Might Work For You

There are a number of advantages to the run/walk method including:

  1. Essentially it breaks your race into a series of intervals. For some people it’s easier to approach a marathon as just a series of 10 minute runs, or perhaps twenty-six, 1 mile intervals.  Rather than the monotony of running along for hours at a time the “start/stop” (or at least start/slow) nature of this method can feel a little easier or less intimidating.
  2. By slowing your pace to walk, even a purposeful one, you will tend to reduce your heart rate for those periods.  For some people it’s hard to chug along at 150 beats per minute for hours on end, but if you could get regular breaks where you can get your heart rate back to 110 or 115 every 8-10 minutes it seems a lot more manageable.
  3. In endurance sport nutrition is an important discipline.  But it’s well known that with a high heart rate it’s hard for the body to process the nutrition (even just water) that you might take in.  By slowing to a walk at regular intervals and getting your heart rate back down your body may be able to more effectively take up whatever nutrition or hydration you’ve consumed.
  4. Mental breaks.  One of the challenges for me in a long race is looking ahead at 2, 3 or more hours of just chugging along watching the white stripes go by under my feet.  With a run/walk approach I find myself more mentally stimulated and with more “action”.  It breaks the race up into little sections and that helps keep me focused.  My strategy at Honu will be to run a mile then walk a minute.  But just before the end of that mile I want to go “Up Cadence”, i.e. increasing the turnover in my legs to pick up just a little bit of speed before I stop to walk, helping to offset the loss of speed during the walking phase.  For me when I come out of the walk I’m usually .05 to .08 into the mile. And I know I’m going to “Up Cadence” around .95 of a mile.  So I really only have to think about running my pace for .87 to .9 of a mile!  That seems awfully manageable and mentally it keeps me focused because I know I have a pace change or other action coming very soon.
  5. Practical pacing.  It’s better to walk and recover and then run again at a strong pace than to run yourself into the ground and end up walking, or staggering, the last miles of your race because you have to.  If you’re not capable of running every stride of a marathon or other long race then it’s better to be smart about it – walk on YOUR terms, and it will be a stronger walk followed by a faster run. 

Why It Might Not Work For You

  1. Starting and stopping can be hard on the body.  For some people it’s easier to just maintain a steady-state than to be frequently shifting gears from walk to run and back.
  2. When you do run you have to run at a slightly higher intensity in order to compensate for the time lost during the walking phase.  Unless your running pace is pretty slow, your walking pace is going to be slower so if you want to keep the same overall (or faster) race time you’ll have to run faster.  That might be a problem for you.  Again, these are essentially intervals and if you’re not trained to go faster (at least slightly) and then recover, and then go faster again it may not work that well for you.
  3. Ego.  Some people simply can’t bring themselves to walk during a race. It just feels wrong.  I struggle with this one myself – my sense is that I want to RUN the race. But I have to remember that it’s just about getting across that finish line.  It doesn’t HAVE to be a run at every stride.  Put the ego aside and do what gets you to the finish line the fastest. 
  4. The run/walk method can be complicated.  Constantly keeping track of when to start and when to stop.  Especially if your plan isn’t a basic one – R10/W1 for instance.  Some folks have a plan that starts off as R10/W1 then becomes R8/W1 after mile 10, then becomes R10/W2 after mile 15, then…and maybe you’re somebody who just wants to tune out, focus on your breathing, look at the clouds and run.  If you don’t like to do the mental work during a race then you might not do well with a plan that you have to monitor as you go like this.

My Plan for Honu

For Hawaii 70.3, as I indicated, I plan to try a Run/Walk plan for the first time.  When I say “first time” I mean first time in a race, by the way.  I’ve been doing it in training for the last few weeks and am encouraged by the results.  At Honu the aid stations are basically a mile apart.  So my plan, quite simply, is to run from aid station to aid station.  At each aid station I’ll take on some nutrition (probably water and cola, though perhaps Gatorade if I feel I need it) and walk for one minute while I drink and try to get my breathing and heart rate controlled.  At the end of that minute I’ll start running again, to the next aid station.

After Mile 10 it’s basically a 5K and I’ll be less concerned with controlling my heart rate at that point as I shift gears into just being concerned for a strong finish.  If I feel really good I may abandon the walking at that point and just run the last 5K straight in.  But even if I’m still run/walking on plan I’ll probably cut the walk down and pick the run pace up…as I’ll no longer be concerned with saving my legs for later in the race.

I’m optimistic, based upon my training efforts, that this plan will help me have a stronger overall run than last year.  I’ll have more success nutritionally, I’ll be mentally sharper and I’ll be fresher at the end of the race where I’ll be embracing my mantra of “Last Mile Best Mile”.

One thing I’ve come to believe is that my approach of running a specific distance (1 mile or the next aid station) then walking for a specific time is a good combination (as opposed to running 10 minutes and walking 1 minute or running 1 mile and walking 100 yards). 

By running a particular distance there’s no incentive to dog it.  If I was going to run just 10 minutes when I got tired I might let myself fall into a slow, sloppy, run knowing that the clock was ticking anyhow and relief was just 9 minutes away regardless of how hard I ran.  If I were going to run a mile and walk a particular distance I could do that walk pretty slowly and milk a lot of time out of it.  Neither of those approaches would be conducive to a good result on race day.

But by running a distance I have incentive to be efficient and purposeful.  If I start dragging my feet I’m not going to get myself any closer to that walk break.  If I want to walk…I need to get to my milestone.  Period.  So I’d better keep moving and move with vigor.  On the walk it’s only going to be a minute.  Whether I cover 20 yards or 200 yards at the end of that minute I’m off and running again.  So the clock keeps me honest there.  And there’s actually incentive for me to walk purposefully too…the walk is the first part of that mile and the more ground I cover in that walk, the less ground I have to run over on the way to the next walk break, and the “less fast” I have to be on that run.

I already know that I start every mile “in the hole” pace-wise with this tactic. I may well find myself .08 into my mile and on a 15 minute pace with the walk.  That means I have .92 of a mile to get my average pace down closer to 12 (or better).  If I slack off on the walk and turn it into a stroll then I both have to run further and run faster to overcome that deeper hole I’ve dug for myself.  So an efficient, purposeful, walk is the way to go.

My goal for Honu is to be at least 27 minutes faster overall than last year.  And I’ve discovered that I only have to average about a 13 minute/mile pace (including the walking) in order to cut that much time off last year’s dismal run.  Based upon my results in training I’m optimistic that I can do quite a bit better than that; and hopefully coming off a much stronger bike segment this year.  (more on that in my next post)

So if you’ve never tried the Run/Walk technique maybe give it a shot on your next training run.  I was skeptical of it but now, in certain races, I’m optimistic that it may give me a better result.  I guess we’ll find out on June 5.

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