"Better Running Through Walking
"I am more couch potato than runner. But not long ago, I decided to get myself into shape to run in the New York City Marathon, on Nov. 1, just 152 days from now. (Not that I’m counting.)
But after interviewing several people who have used the method, I’m convinced that those of us run-walking the marathon will have the last laugh.
Contrary to what you might think, the technique doesn’t mean walking when you’re tired; it means taking brief walk breaks when you’re not.
Depending on one’s fitness level, a walk-break runner might run for a minute and walk for a minute, whether on a 5-mile training run or the 26.2-mile course on race day. A more experienced runner might incorporate a one-minute walk break for every mile of running.
Taking these breaks makes marathon training less grueling and reduces the risk of injury, Mr. Galloway says, because it gives the muscles regular recovery time during a long run. Walk breaks are a way for older, less fit and overweight people to take part in a sport that would otherwise be off limits. But most surprising are the stories from veteran runners who say run-walk training has helped them post faster race times than ever.
One of them is Tim Deegan of Jacksonville, Fla., who had run 25 marathons when his wife, Donna Deegan, a popular local newscaster and cancer survivor, began organizing a marathon to raise money for breast cancer research. When Mr. Galloway volunteered to help with the race, Ms. Deegan asked her husband to take part in run-walk training to show support.
“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. His times had been slowing — to about 3 hours 45 minutes, 15 minutes shy of qualifying for the Boston Marathon — but as he ran-walked his way through the Jacksonville Marathon, “I started thinking I might have a chance to qualify for Boston again.”
He did, posting a time of 3:28.
Nadine Rihani of Nashville ran her first marathon at age 61, taking walk breaks. Her running friends urged her to adopt more traditional training, and she was eventually sidelined by back and hip pain. So she resumed run-walk training, and in April, 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,’ ” she said. “I found out the hard way I really did.”
Dave Desposato, a 46-year-old financial analyst, began run-walk training several years ago after excessive running resulted in an overuse injury. He finished this year’s Bayshore Marathon in Traverse City, Mich., in 3:31:42, cutting 12 minutes off his previous best.
“I run enough marathons now to see everybody totally collapsing at the end is very, very common,” he said. “You wish you could share your experience with them, but they have to be willing to listen first.”
Another unconventional element of walk-break training is the frequency — typically just three days a week, with two easy runs of 20 to 60 minutes each and a long run on the weekend. The walk breaks allow runners to build up their mileage without subjecting their bodies to the stress of daily running, Mr. Galloway said.
Many runners take their own version of walk breaks without thinking about it, he says: they slow down at water stations or reduce their pace when they tire. Scheduling walk breaks earlier in a run gives the athlete control over the race and a chance to finish stronger.
While I’m planning to use run-walk training to complete my first marathon, I’ve heard from many runners who adhere to a variety of training methods. So later this week, the Well blog will have a new feature: the Run Well marathon training tool, with which you can choose any of several coaches’ training plans and then track your progress.
Besides Mr. Galloway, plans are being offered by the marathoner Greg McMillan, who is renowned for his detailed training plans that help runners reach their time goals; the New York Flyers, the city’s largest running club, which incorporates local road races into its training; and Team for Kids, a New York Road Runners Foundation charity program that trains 5,000 adult runners around the world.
The Run Well series also gives you access to top running experts, advice from elite runners, reviews of running gadgets and regular doses of inspiration to get you race-ready.So please join me, the coaches and other running enthusiasts every day at the Well blog, nytimes.com/well, during the next five months of training. For me, this is finally the year I’ll run a marathon. I hope it will be your year too."
"Strategic walk breaks can make you a better marathoner
Sure we can adapt, but we pay for it in extra fatigue and lose some of the enjoyment of running. But there's a better way to go the distance -- alternating walking and running from the start. Once you commit yourself to doing this, there's probably not a distance you can't cover.
When taken from the beginning of all long runs, walk breaks erase fatigue, speed recovery and reduce injury; but best of all, they bestow the endurance of the distance covered. In other words, a slow long run with walk breaks gives you the same distance conditioning as a fast run of the same distance.
On every long run, you should take a one- to two-minute walk break every two to eight minutes. If you're just beginning to run, you'll walk more than you'll run. Experienced marathoners will recover much faster from their long runs when they take one-minute walk breaks at least every eight minutes. The walk breaks can be done at a fast or easy pace, but the easier walking pace relaxes the legs better.
When running at your comfortable pace and incorporating walk breaks, a total beginner can expect to finish a marathon after training six months or less. Those who struggle to run their daily distance can increase by a mile with walk breaks and feel great afterward. Runners over age 40 who incorporate strategic walk breaks in certain runs reduce fatigue and injury, and many improve times.
Once we each find the ideal ratio for a given distance, walk breaks allow us to feel strong to the end and help us recover fast, while bestowing the same endurance we would have received if we ran continuously.
Most marathoners will record significantly faster times when they take walk breaks. Thousands of time/goal-oriented marathon veterans have improved by 10, 20 even 30 minutes and more by taking walk breaks early and often in their goal race. You can easily spot these folks in races -- they're the ones who are picking up speed during the last two to six miles when everyone else is slowing down.
Use your muscles in different ways
When a muscle group such as your primary running workhorse, the calf, is used continuously step by step, it fatigues relatively soon. Walk breaks give that main running muscle a chance to recover before it starts accumulating fatigue, thus reducing the damage to the muscle dramatically.
Walk breaks force you to slow down early in the run so that you don't start too fast. This reduction of the intensity of muscle use from the beginning conserves your energy, fluids and muscle capacity. The running muscles are able to make adaptations inside so that they can go farther with less fatigue.
When you run continuously without taking a break, the weak areas of your running muscles get overused and force you to slow down later afterward. How do they do this? It's called pain.
By shifting back and forth between walking and running, you distribute the workload among a variety of muscles and increase your overall performance capacity. For veteran marathoners, this is often the difference between achieving a time goal or not. Walk breaks will significantly speed up recovery because there is less damage to repair. Early walk breaks erase fatigue, and later breaks will reduce or eliminate overuse and muscle breakdown.
The earlier you walk, the better
You must start walk breaks before you feel any fatigue -- in the first mile -- for maximum benefit. If you wait until you feel the need to walk, you've already reduced your potential performance. Even waiting until the two-mile mark to take the first walk will reduce the resiliency you could regain from walking in the first mile.
If you feel self-conscious about walking early, carry an empty water bottle and pretend to drink as you walk. You can also blame me: Tell those who pass you that Jeff Galloway made you do it!
Would you like a discount? To put it in shopping terms, walk breaks give a discount from the pounding on legs and feet. If you walk often enough, start early enough and keep the pace slow enough, a five-mile run only leaves three miles of fatigue, and a 10-miler produces only five to seven miles of tiredness.
How walk breaks can help you speed up
A survey of veteran marathoners showed an average improvement of 13 minutes when they put walk breaks into their marathon, compared with running continuously under the same conditions. By saving the strength and efficiency of the running muscles through early walk breaks, you'll avoid the slowdown in the last six miles where most continuous runners lose their momentum. If you paced yourself conservatively and walked enough from the first mile, you'll amaze yourself as you pass people and pick up speed.
There's also a mental benefit -- breaking 26 miles into segments that you know you can do. Even sub-three-hour runners continue to take their walk breaks to the end.
One of them explains it this way: "Instead of thinking at 20 miles that I had six more gut-wrenching miles to go, I was saying to myself 'one more mile until my break'. Even when it was tough, I always felt that I could go one more mile."
A three-minute run/one-minute walk person told me that she got over the tough parts by saying "three more minutes."
Convinced? Then give it a try. For more information on this training program, visit www.runinjuryfree.com."
"Runners, On Your Mark, Get Set, Walk!
Walk for Your Life!
By Eric Sabo
Thrilled by the chance to run 26 miles, Karen Brown says that her first marathon ended in the agony of defeat: At mile 21, the 30-year-old high school English teacher had given all she had to give. So she ended up walking the last 5.2 miles, crossing the finish line far behind the pack, at 5 hours and 20 minutes.
"I was so tired," she says. "I let myself down."
To most runners, walking is a sure sign of failure, especially in the middle of a big race. But the way champion marathoner Jeff Galloway sees it, the only problem with Karen Brown's disappointing finish is that she didn't start walking soon enough.
"Our bodies are better designed for walking than running," says Galloway, who was a member of the 1972 U.S. Olympic marathon team. "If you alternate, you can recover quicker and finish faster."
Galloway is one of the sport's biggest fans of "walk breaks," a system that splits long-distance jaunts into several miles of running and short walks in between. At its heart, the program sounds embarrassingly similar to those infomercials that promise rock-hard abs with only a few minutes of exercise each day, but Galloway insists that walk breaks are no joke.
"This is how they did the first marathons in Greece," he says. Even today, you can see some of the leading African runners slow down when they get water. This pause, Galloway says, is just a hurried version of the same idea.
Learning to Walk
"Beginners need to take longer breaks," says Galloway. "But world-class athletes can benefit as well."
From his running camp outside of Atlanta, Galloway has attracted a legion of followers who have used his advice to walk and run their way to impressive marathon finishes. And with more and more people getting bit by the marathon bug, running experts agree that his methods are a good way to boost involvement in the sport.
"Marathons are pretty daunting," says Owen Anderson, founder and editor of Running Research News. "It takes some of the pressure off if you don't have to run the whole way."
Galloway says he first started using walk breaks intuitively as a way to get poorly conditioned runners into marathon shape. He eventually developed a more sophisticated program after hearing how ultradistance runners would walk part of the time in races that go on for 50-odd miles.
When you take walk breaks, Galloway explains, your legs use different muscles, allowing them to recover and remain strong for a long race. He compares the effects to bending a wire: Keep twisting it, and the wire breaks. Just bend it from time to time and the wire holds up longer.
Not Just for Amateurs
The ratio of walking to running depends on your own fitness level, but the basic principles at work are the same whatever level you're at.
"You need to start taking breaks at the beginning of the race," says Galloway. "This way you can erase fatigue progression before it's too late."
For newcomers to running, walk breaks have shown dramatic benefits. At the request of a Los Angeles radio station, Galloway spent six months getting some 250 couch potatoes ready for their first marathon.
"Only one didn't finish," he says.
But Galloway says that even highly conditioned athletes can benefit. Like their out-of-shape counterparts, elite runners can take walk breaks to ultimately run faster.
"I've had guys come up to me and say 'I hate to admit this, but the breaks worked,'" he recalls.
But What About Winning?
Despite Galloway's success stories with beginning marathoners, don't expect the lead finishing group to walk in tandem anytime soon.
"I think it's a great way to start training," say Jonathan Cane, who puts athletes through their paces at City Coach in New York. "But I'm not as convinced that accomplished runners will see faster times with walk breaks."
Adds Anderson: "When you're walking, you're obviously moving more slowly than running or jogging, and therefore it broadens your overall time."
A problem with walk breaks, some say, is that the rest your muscles get from walking will be cancelled out by the extra amount of energy you have to burn trying to catch up to those who passed you. This extra effort can quickly drain your body's store of glycogen -- the fuel it needs to keep running.
"Walking may give your muscles a chance to regroup a little bit, but the reason your muscles are becoming fatigued is because they are running out of glycogen," Anderson says. And taking a break, he adds, isn't going to change the fact that you still need to finish the race.
Galloway is undeterred. "You can speculate all you want, but this works big time," he says.
One convert is Vernon Walther, who handles circulation for Runners World magazine. As someone who typically runs marathons in just over 3 hours, Walther was looking for a way to break into the club of 2-hour finishers. Three years ago at a marathon in Philadelphia, he took a series of 30-second walk breaks during the race and ran full tilt at the end. His finishing time: 2 hours and 57 minutes.
"It was my best race," he says."