Training, Racing & LCHF Fueling For Skating And Endurance Sports
Walk breaks? How boring. The walk of shame is surely only to be used as the last line of defence (unless you count crawling on your teeth) against the dreaded DNF when you’re so exhausted that you’re no longer physically able to run? And if you even so much as think about walking during a Triathlon – of any distance – then you will be deemed to have failed at life, never mind sport…
…which is a shame, because when you see past the negative connotations, breaking up a race or a long run with short walk breaks confers many advantages that most people don’t realise.
Walking is, strangely, vastly underrated by most runners, even non-alpha, non-males. I guess intuitively I understand why – when you’re trying to race, the last thing you want to do is to deliberately slow down SO much and watch everyone pass you as you a breather when you don’t even need to do so. But for many people, by strategically incorporating walk breaks they may be able to beat even well judged (ie even split) steady-pace race efforts.
How is that possible?
Jeff Galloway is the most high profile proponent of the run/walk/run (RWR) method. Galloway’s claims about RWR are pretty bold, and he naturally has whole books and training programmes built around this principle. In summarizing, your run:walk ratios vary depending upon your current fitness and start at 1:1 or even higher (ie more walking than running) for beginners, up to a ratio of about 4:1 for for legitimately fast runners.
The walk-breaks in Galloway’s method have been refined down the years, and it might be surprising to some how often he recommends you to take them – typically a short walk break every few minutes.
RWR can be used successfully for any distance that you struggle at, but most typically works best as distance increases from half-marathon upwards as even moderately fit athletes have trouble in these races.
According to Galloway, during training the walk breaks act as recovery intervals during the course of your whole run. He says that there are very little downsides, and that you don’t lose any of the benefits compared to just running for the same duration. So if your 2hr session broken down into 1.5hrs of running and 30 minutes of walking, you will still get the same endurance development as you would from 2hrs of solid running, but RWR will put less overall strain on your body, you’ll feel fresher at the end, and recover much better.
During racing, Galloway claims that the same benefits of frequent recovery intervals built into the RWR method typically helps people improve their marathon times by an average of 13 minutes – they stay fresher for the course of the whole race rather than fading towards the end as nearly all regular marathoner runners do.
He says that it can even help to the level of running Boston Qualifiers and even sub-3hrs marathons… so you can see that it is far from a method just for beginners. Galloway says “The fastest time I have seen from an athlete using the walk run program was a gentleman who went from 2:33 to 2:28.” Sure, you won’t find elites marathoners using walk breaks, but as I have said in other posts, what works for elites and what works for age groupers is often very different.
I found more positive testimonial about the smartness of walk-breaks from Rich Roll’s book “Finding Ultra” where he describes how he successfully used them during the double-marathon leg of the Ultraman, placing competitively as others wilted in the Hawaii heat.
My goal going into the race was to run 7:30.. The original was a progressive walk run — 10 miles run / 1 mile walk, 8/1, 7/1, 6/1, 5/1 and then 4/1’s to the finish.
The truth is that walking & hiking are important skills that are far more commonly practiced when you move into the ultra world, and especially trail ultras where elevation becomes a factor. On many courses even the elites will hike the toughest parts of the climbs (well ok, maybe not Killian) and save their running legs for the more runnable sections. There seems to be a dividing line where plenty of “not-running” is both normal and optimal in trail culture, but seems to be poo-poo’ed in road racing culture. In this case, I think I side with the trailheads.
At the beyond-nutter level, eg 1000 mile & six-DAY races.. yes, such crazy events do exist, Stu Mittleman employed a deliberate RWR strategy from the outset (which did NOT go down well with the crowd) to stay strong for the duration of these races. As distance goes up, it becomes impossible to run 100% of the way, and it works out faster overall to take planned breaks earlier which keeps you fresh for longer, rather than take them when fatigue has already set in and forces you to – by that point you’re already tired, and walk breaks won’t be as beneficial anyway.
Walk breaks can also play a very important role in keeping you injury-free. If you pound the same motion continuously then you’re at higher risk of a repetitive use injury, even with good biomechanics. Walking breaks this up and gives the body an alternative movement pattern that uses the joints, muscles and tendons in a different way. It is the same principle why we should cross train no matter what our main sport – too much of the same thing leads to muscular imbalance between those muscles that are used and those that aren’t, which makes us more prone to injury. Staying injury free and therefore able to train consistently is half the battle.
In my own experiments with walk breaks I have typically been adding a 2 minute walk maybe every 10 minutes. It’s not hard and fast, and depends on what is coming up ahead, and I’m very happy if my walk breaks coincide with the hills, as you typically lose less if you walk up the hills.
If you train by heart rate, walk breaks can also help to keep your average heart rate down and minimize cardiac drift as you gradually get more tired.
Walking also serves as the PERFECT cooldown. We all know the importance of cooling down properly after a training session, but how many of us actually do it properly rather than just pay lip service to it (I’m certainly guilty)? But at the end of my long run this weekend I was experimenting with run/walk intervals; I did 10 minutes alternating 30 seconds of walking with 30 seconds of running for 10 minutes, followed by 15 minutes of just walking at the end. The next day and the day after I felt just freakin’ fantastic, with barely a hint of soreness or fatigue in my legs. Absolute result!
In concluding, I’ve found that there is definitely a place for walking and walk-breaks in my training & running philosophy. While I don’t adhere to a strict Galloway formula, I’ll very happily mix in in about 10-15% walking during my longer “runs”, as well as add on 15 minutes of walking only at the very end for a cooldown. While I have yet to race using walk breaks, but it is certainly a tactic that I will use when the right race comes for me to do so.