The Benefits of Walking

Posted: February 8, 2011 in Uncategorized

One of the most difficult challenges runners face is walking.  During the initial running boom of the 1970’s anyone seen walking, either on a training run or during a race, must have been in a world of hurt; it was literally viewed as a forbidden act.  I wish I would have known then what I know now; I suspect I could have broken the elusive 2 hour and 30 minute barrier.  Rather, I will have to live with running 2 hours and 33 minutes on three separate occasions.  Not a terrible problem to have but time is relative and you always wonder what you might have accomplished with more discipline and smarter training.

Jeff Galloway, who is a 1972 Olympian and coach of over 200,000 runners and walkers, pioneered the concept of incorporating the run-walk method into running and racing.  I have to admit that I was initially a skeptic and worried that another runner would see me walking.  However, it didn’t take long to experience the benefits of taking regular walk breaks during my runs.  I realized that I was able to sustain my efficiency throughout my runs and complete them with less effort.

I also began improving my times on courses that I recorded time, pace, distance, maximum and average heart rate.  I also noticed that my average heart rate declined.  It’s a perfect combination when you achieve faster times with less effort and improved efficiency.  When I encourage runners to incorporate the run-walk method into their training, the general reaction is that it seems like such a counter-intuitive methodology.

As I have heard Jeff describe the rationale of run-walk, “This is a form of interval training and is directly tied to the conservation of resources: muscles, feet, joints, energy, fluids, etc.  The continuous use of running muscles will produce fatigue much more quickly.  Incorporating walk breaks early and often can erase most of the fatigue with each walk break.  The muscle and energy resources you conserve early will allow you to feel strong at the end of a run and speed up the recovery.”

That perfectly captures the essential benefits of incorporating the run-walk concept into your training and racing.  In the recent Rock n’ Roll marathon in Phoenix I walked a brief time during every water stop.  I benefitted from the brief 15 second break because I gave my muscles and mind a break and I didn’t spill anything on myself.  I noticed that I lost contact with many of the runners around me in the early stages.  But as the race progressed, particularly after 20 miles, I began to regain contact within a shorter distance and actually started to pass the same group of runners.

Many runners have mentioned they have a difficult time starting again, particularly in the later miles of a run, after their walk breaks.  The majority of them wait too long to incorporate the walk breaks.  Several have mentioned they don’t start their walk breaks until they begin to feel they need them…it’s too late to reap the benefits.  It’s similar to waiting until you’re thirsty to begin hydrating.  It’s also important to make a smooth and gradual transition back to running…nothing abrupt!

When I am training I walk one minute for every nine minutes of running.  I maximize my walk breaks by raising my arms above my head to expand my chest cavity and breathe deeply.  I then gradually transition back to running and assume my average pace.  Beginning runners should take their walk breaks much earlier but try to increase the running segment over time.

There have been countless runners that have completely converted to this approach during my 15 years of coaching.  The run-walk method clearly provides runners with more enjoyment, less injuries and faster times.  

I look forward to seeing you on your next run…ahem…walk!

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