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Articles > Walk, and run better


Page 1 2 Runners are willing to try just about anything to get faster, or to somehow get more out of training fartlek, intervals, heart-rate monitors, carbo gels, and even LSD (the running kind, that is). But walking? For that serious runner who is about to turn the page with a smirk, read on. Once commonly viewed as a sign of weakness, walking is emerging as a useful training tool to boost your running performance.

The idea of adding walks to runs in training and during long races certainly isn't new, but it has been winning converts in recent years, especially with the resurgence of the marathon. Walking can be a useful tool for runners of all abilities. Let me outline six ways that walking can help your running.

Surviving a long race

Joe Henderson, the West Coast editor for Runner's World, is a lifelong runner who has written about running for over 25 years. Henderson, once a self-described "running purist," lived by the words "Real runners don't take walks." Now he is a crusader of walks for runners and claims that walking has saved his marathoning career. After mileage-limiting surgery, Henderson thought he would be forced to give up marathons altogether. Now he's averaging two marathons a year. Henderson states, matter of factly, "I wouldn't be finishing any marathons without the walks."

Walking breaks dramatically reduce the stress of continuous running on the legs, without a loss in aerobic benefit. In fact, many runners report that they can cover two and three times the maximum distances they could attempt without walking breaks. If you've entered a long race but just haven't been putting in the miles, consider taking walking breaks during the race. Or if you're thinking of moving up from 10Ks to half-marathons, half-marathons to full marathons, or marathons to ultra-marathons, short walking breaks may be just the boost you need to cross the finish line.

Exactly how long should your walking breaks be? Over the years, Henderson and Jeff Galloway, another walking advocate, have experimented with lengths of walking breaks in search of the best ratio of running to walking. Independently, both arrived at the formula of one minute of walking every 10 minutes, which translates into six minutes of walking per hour. There is no magic formula for exactly when to slow down, but for marathons, Henderson suggests slowing at every aid station, or every few miles. The one in 10 formula translates to 48 seconds of walking per aid station, if you are running 8-minute miles. Walking through the aid stations will also have an important side benefit you'll have time to take in lots of liquid as you go by.

Increasing your weekly mileage

How many times have you heard after a race, "If only I could have squeezed in more miles in training..." Easier said than done. The biggest problem with adding mileage is that it can lead to every runner's nightmare a downward spiral of injury or overtraining. Walking can help avoid this problem both by extending the distance of the long run and by reducing the impact of extra mileage.

If you include a long easy run in your program to build up endurance, then walking can help. For marathoners, half-marathoners, and 10K runners, those long aerobic runs can really punish the body. Walking breaks can make the long runs a little less taxing on the body, so you can recover faster. Depending on your schedule, a quicker recovery might make it easier for you to handle some of the faster miles, making the rest of your training week more productive.

The best way to find out is to experiment. Test Henderson and Galloway's formula, or try your own time frame. Make sure that you insert the walks early enough in the workout or race to reap the benefits later. If you don't take a break until your body starts screaming, you've waited too long. Ideally, you should feel good throughout the long runs and stop when the time is up not because you have to.

Regaining fitness

If you're a beginner just starting out or an experienced runner returning from injury, walking can help you reach your goals faster. When you're out of shape, a training run can seem daunting, especially if you are used to covering the distance with ease. Running harder for shorter bursts is more effective for elevating your fitness level than slugging it out slowly without stopping.

Jack Daniels, head cross country and track coach at State University at Cortland, N.Y., studied the benefits of walking and running for beginners. In a study for Nike, Daniels examined the effects of walking on a group of sedentary women between the ages of 20 and 40. The women participated in four 3-week stints of either continuous running or a combination of walking and running. They exercised for three days each week, ranging from 20 minutes a day during the first 3-week period to 45 minutes a day in the final three weeks. The greatest improvements were realized by the group that mixed walking and running.

Daniels explains, "In effect, the walking breaks turned the workouts into a big interval session, which allowed [the women] to go faster than continuous running for the same amount of time."

The same technique can be used for returning from injury. If your legs can only put up with limited miles, then walking breaks will help you to cover the running miles much faster, which will speed your return to fitness.

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