This week, I want to impart this little pearl onto all of you: running/walking is a strategy, not a letdown.
SO many athletes who I talk to and work for are proud of their running, and greatly dislike it when they walk in the middle of runs. It can hurt their pride if they let it. I want to tell you all that this is not something to be disappointed or upset by, but rather, that it is a very smart strategy.
When beginner runners are getting their start, I always recommend that they run/walk to build up their cardiovascular endurance. We also employ this method in our Fleet Feet Syracuse Training Programs. Why? Because it works.
Why does it work? There are a TON of reasons, but here are a few of the big ones: First of all, it breaks up the duration of the workout mentally. If you know that you are going to be running for 2-5 minutes and then you get to take a 1-2 minute walking break, that is MUCH more digestible than thinking about running for 45 consecutive minutes. In similar fashion, if you are training for a long-distance event such as an IRONMAN, it is much easier mentally to think about the run in 9-minute running/1-minute walking segments than it is to think about it as 26.2 miles.
Second of all, if you plan to walk right from the start as part of your training or racing strategy, you will never be disappointed in yourself when you do actually walk. I’m all about setting athletes up for success, and part of this is making sure that the workout is doable, both physically and mentally. Making sure you have a strong mental strategy heading into a workout is just as important as having a strong physical strategy. Planning for something makes it MUCH more digestible than if it's something you have to "resort" to.
Finally, run/walking delays something called cardiac drift. Cardiac drift is the inevitable climb of your heart rate over time during an endurance event. If you run continuously, then your heart rate only continues to rise. It will rise until you reach your threshold, and then you won’t be able to sustain the run because your body will go anaerobic, which is a fancy way of saying that it has a much harder time making energy because it’s not using oxygen to do it anymore. If you incorporate walking breaks into your run, you keep your average heart rate lower (and in aerobic zones) over the course of the workout/race and you delay that cardiac drift. Why does this matter? Because, ultimately, you’ll average a faster pace over the course of the entire workout if you keep your heart rate lower. The above photo, which is from a workout that followed a 9:00 running/1:00 walking strategy, shows an example of this delay of cardiac drift.
If you don’t believe me that this works, then I will gladly refer you to any of the dozens of athletes who I have coached this year alone who this has worked for. I will also tell you that this is the method that I personally have employed on all of my long runs since 2014 and on all runs period since my injuries in 2015. I PRed my marathon time using it, and I’ve been successful at many other distances and events (including IRONMAN) by employing this same strategy. I practice what I preach, my friends, and I only preach about the things that can actually help you. :)
So, the next time you’re dreading your long run, or when you’re looking to break up the monotony of your training, I encourage you to give the run/walk method a try. It might just be the breath of fresh air you need. :)
Coach Laura Henry
Laura Henry is a Syracuse, NY-based coach who is a USA Triathlon Level II Long Course and Level II Paratriathlon Certified Coach, USA Cycling Level 2 Certified Coach, VFS Certified Bike Fitter, and has successfully completed NASM's Certified Personal Trainer course. Coach Laura is passionate about helping athletes of all ability levels reach their goals and has coached many athletes to success.