Introduction to Run-Walk Intervals
The run-walk method is a strategic technique used by long-distance runners and walkers and has been championed over the last 20+ years by noted runner, author and coaching specialist, Jeff Galloway. The popularity of the run-walk method has enabled millions of people of all ages, body types and skill levels to successfully complete their first long distance event. With practice, walkers can add running intervals to their training plan, and runners can add walking intervals to their training plan, and both will go longer and faster with fewer injuries. The key to successfully using this method in a long distance workout or event is to insert your walk breaks (intervals) BEFORE you become fatigued.
In this short article, we refer to the run-walk method as a strategic decision that walkers and runners can implement. Some walkers want to become runners and can do so by adding short intervals of running. Many runners want to go longer distances and they can do so by adding walk breaks (intervals).
While the run-walk method seems logical enough, it has not always been well received by a few running “purists” who did not want to be seen walking or identified with walkers. However, the run-walk method has become very well accepted in the running community by enthusiasts and coaches alike, and the results are now in after 20+ years: veteran runners have been using strategic walk breaks to post personal best times in long distance events.
Classic Run-Walk Stories
One of these classic stories is from Tim Deegan of Jacksonville, Fla., who had run 25 marathons before submitting to his wife’s request that he train with the run-walk method as part of a large charity event. “The only reason I did this is because I love my wife,” said Mr. Deegan, 49. “To say I was a skeptic is to put it very nicely.” But to his surprise, he began to enjoy running more, and he found that his body recovered more quickly from long runs. Deegan had been running his marathons slower over the last couple years to about 3 hours 45 minutes, 15 minutes shy of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. As he ran-walked his way through the Jacksonville Marathon for his wife he started thinking he might have a chance to qualify for Boston again. He ended up qualifying for Boston and ran a personal best of 3:28 in the process.
Another story comes from Nadine Rihani of Nashville who “ran” her first marathon at age 61, taking walk breaks. Her running friends urged her to adopt more “traditional” training into her next marathons, and she was eventually sidelined by back and hip pain. So she resumed run-walk training, and at age 70, she finished first in her age-group in the Country Music Marathon, coming in at 6:05. “My friends who were ‘serious’ runners said, ‘You don’t need to do those walk breaks,’ but I found out the hard way I really did need the run-walk.” Let’s consider that Nadine had a personal best time in a marathon when she used the run-walk method. The number of similar success stories cannot be counted.
Rationale Behind Run-Walk Intervals
The rationale behind the run-walk method is that by taking regular walking breaks, the primary running muscles are rested at regularly-occurring intervals, allowing them to recover before running again. The benefits of the run-walk method are many. By training for distance runs using run-walk intervals, runners can often maintain a faster overall pace, stay as strong (if not stronger) during the second half of a race as they were in the first half, and finish their race injury free.
For new runners, especially those who have taken up the sport in middle age, the run-walk method can help overcome the inevitable fatigue of a long distance run, and run-walk helps them maintain the stamina necessary to “go the distance” and to enjoy the experience. The actual run-walk intervals can vary according to overall conditioning, length of the run, and performance goal. For beginning runners, a run-walk interval (ratio) of 3:1 (three minutes of running followed by one minute of walking) is a good place to start. However, many adults should consider a 1:1 for the first 4-6 weeks of a structured training program such as with BOISE RunWalk, especially if they are overweight and have not been exercising.
As your stamina and strength increase using the run-walk method over 4-6 weeks of training, you might decide to experiment with other intervals. Again, the key to successfully utilizing the run-walk method is to be consistent. If you HAVE to walk during a training run or event, you have waited too long to walk.
For those of you who think that “real runners” don’t walk, keep in mind that many veteran runners who have switched to the run-walk method are now achieving personal records (PRs) during their races. The run-walk method may well be the smartest strategic technique in your running plan.