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Benefits of Walking Breaks During Long Runs

To Speed Up Your Runs, Should You Walk?

It sounds counterintuitive that adding walking breaks to your runs will result in faster times, but the run-walk theory may be exactly what you need to add miles and drop time.

Why it's hard for runners to incorporate.

Whether you've been running for years or are training for your first 5K, you probably have already learned the hard way that it's a runner's ego that keeps runners believing that true success is covering the entire distance without walking. But at what cost? If adding walking intervals to your run helps you feel better, recover faster, and even hit a personal record, why is it viewed so negatively to do a run-walk program?

Not convinced? Science and experience both indicate that adding consistent, disciplined walk breaks from the beginning of your run will lead to more success in your training and racing.

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Why it works.

  1. Your body fatigues less when you add walking breaks. If you wait until your body is already tired to take a walk break, you're already behind. Adding walk breaks from the beginning of your run when you're still feeling energized ensures that you'll conserve more energy for longer. Running requires more effort and energy from the body than walking, so rewarding your muscles with a short walk break while they are still fresh keeps the body feeling fresher longer.
  2. Your mind fatigues less. If you're starting a long run, you're probably already focused on how you'll manage to run for six or more continuous miles on a Saturday morning. Instead of focusing on the seemingly insurmountable distance from the start, planning to do a run-walk allows your mind to focus only on the interval you're in. So instead of hours, your mind can focus on covering only two to three minutes at a time. Easy, right? You can run for two or three minutes over and over again, even on the days you don't think you can run six miles.
  1. Shorter recovery. Taking walk breaks allows your joints a break from the constant jarring of running. Less strain on your legs throughout your run allows for quicker recovery, letting you get back to running more quickly without feeling sore for the entire day. The dip in your heart rate during a walk interval also allows the endorphins produced naturally during a run to better collect, leaving your mind and body with a longer-lasting runner's high.
  2. Take in food and water without spilling. If you're trying to cover your entire run without a walk break, you've likely spilled more water or gel than you've consumed. Consuming carbohydrates on runs lasting more than one hour is essential for your body to be able to cover the distance. Plan to grab a quick sip or bite during your walk break to make the most of your time and fuel.

Do it right.

If you're ready to experiment with your own run-walk formula, take the time to make a plan that works for you.

  • Experiment with the duration of both the run and walk break. Individualizing your run-walk ratio will allow you to determine what ratio makes you feel faster and stronger.
  • During your walk breaks, walk slowly enough to allow yourself to catch your breath and recover, but quickly enough that you don't lose ground or waste time. Remember the walk breaks are intended to make you fresher and faster, so try to avoid either walking too quickly or coming to a complete stop.
  • Set an app on your phone or on your GPS watch to alert you when it's time to run and when it's time to walk so you don't find yourself staring at a clock while you should be enjoying a race or training run. Avoid counting the seconds in your head so you can focus on your form and performance.

Ready to run (and walk)? Leave your preconceptions about what it means to be a "runner" behind and experiment with the plan that makes you happier, stronger, and faster!

Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Kathryna Hancock
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