Walk Breaks are Okay While Running

As I read through Facebook posts from friends, family, and the many fitness pages that I follow, one thing always seems to pop up.  Folks complaining that they couldn’t complete a run without a walk break.  The distances vary from one mile to a full marathon, but people want to run the whole thing.

But there is nothing wrong with taking walk breaks, or even walking a full marathon.  If you can finish a marathon in the time allowed, I don’t care if you skipped during the whole thing, you are a marathoner.  Plus, have you seen how fast the Olympic walkers go? 

According to the Wikipedia article on Racewalking ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racewalking ), the record for a 50 mile WALK is 7:23:50 in 1972 by Isreali Shaul Ladany.  To convert that into minutes per mile, he WALKED 50 miles at an 8:55 pace.  That translates into a 1:57 half marathon and a 3:54 full marathon.  The dude broke my marathon PR by walking. 

At the Olympics they are doing 20km (12.4 miles) walking competitions and the men are coming in under 1:20 and the women under 1:30, WALKING.  They are walking faster than a 6:30 and 7:15 per mile pace, respectively!  Walking doesn’t equal being slow. 


The medals of Dashing Dad and Dashing Wife

Walking was involved for almost all of these medals

For me, I can run 10k without a break, and on two occasions I have ran an entire half marathon without stopping.  While one race was a Personal Record (PR), it was only my third half marathon and I PR’ed by more than 25 minutes.  I was going to PR no matter what (triathlon training, BABY!).  But, on the other 21 half marathons, (four of which were faster), I walked part of that 13.1 miles.

Jeff Galloway and his training method recommends walk breaks (http://www.jeffgalloway.com/).  Walking uses different muscles and gives your running muscles a break.  He recommends this method, even for folks trying to qualify for Boston. This allows you to have the energy in the last bit of the race (like a marathon) to finish strong. He has a whole schedule for paces and how long and how often you should take walk breaks.  This could be a 30 second walk break after 30 seconds of running, or after an 8 minute run.  The Dashing Sister runs 1:1s (1 minute run:1 minute walk). For me, I prefer to start my walk breaks after running a certain distance. 

When I first started running long distances, I would run a half mile and walk 0.1 miles.  Eventually this turned into a minute every mile and now I walk one minute every water stop.  Here is my reasoning for choosing to run a set distance rather than a set time.  When I finish a mile (or get to a water stop) it is a reward to take a walk break.  I also think better about distances.  I can tell myself how far I’ve come so far, and how much left to go. I may have ran the last 7 miles in one hour, and I know that there is 6.1 miles left.  But that 6.1 miles may take me 45 minutes, or it could take 2 hours.


Taking a walk break

Taking a walk break

The reason I changed it to walk breaks at water stops is for two reasons: 1) I can be sure to get all the water/sports drink I need (I won’t spill the cup as I try to dash and grab) and take a GU if I need to; and 2) my body does not get accustomed to running a set distance before walk breaks.  I can change it up if I need to.  It won’t mess up my rhythm if I need to walk up a hill, I want to sprint down a hill, if I need a quick 30 second breather, or if I decide to keep running to the next water stop.

Walking also doesn’t affect your time all that much. Obviously, unless you are an Olympic walker, the more you walk, the slower your overall pace will be, but let’s look at the math.  If you walk at half the pace that you run (i.e. run at 10/min mile and walk at 20 min/mile), and you walk 1 minute per mile, you only add 30 seconds per mile to your overall pace.  If you walk two minutes per mile (or 1 minute per half mile) it will add one minute to your overall pace.  This works at whatever pace you are running.

Now, here’s the thing, most people walk a little bit faster than half their running pace. For me I tend to walk around 14 min/mile, especially during races.  So, it doesn’t add a full 30 seconds onto my pace.  Also, if you take walk breaks, your overall pace may slow down, but it means you will be less tired, and you can run that 30 seconds per mile faster.

Galloway says that you actually gain 7 minutes on non-stop runners in half marathons and 13 minutes for a full marathon, because you won’t tire yourself out at the end.  For marathon runners, if you run the entire time, by the time you hit mile 20 or 23, you are spent and may not have anything left in the tank.  And you end up walking the last 3 or 6 miles.  So lets look at the math on this: running at 10 min/mile for 23 miles takes 3:50 and then walking 3.2 at 15 min/mile is another 47 minutes for a final time of 4:37.  But if you walked at that same 15 min/mile pace for 1 minute every mile you ran (at the 10 min/mile pace), you average a 10:20 pace and finish in 4:31. At least 6 minutes faster.  And I you had to walk after mile 20, your end time would be 4:52.

The great thing about the walk/run method is that it has introduced running long distances to a lot of people.  People say, “There is no way I could run 13.1 or 26.2 miles.” and they don’t have to.  Take walk breaks.  I personally can’t run 26.2 miles non-stop and I have no desire to.  Don’t let walk breaks get you down, it doesn’t diminish your race.  Enjoy that minute rest, take in the scenery, talk to the crowd, text somebody “At mile 23!”

If you take walk breaks, what is your method?


4 thoughts on “Walk Breaks are Okay While Running

  1. Great article, and well timed. I just started my spring marathon training and every time I walk I give myself a guilt trip. And yet, when I do take short walking breaks, my times tends to be better. Thanks for the post. I’ll be sharing via my blog’s Facebook page and via twitter (@askdadblog).

    • Walking is a good thing, especially long distances. I have never felt guilty about walk breaks. I even took a 30 second walk break in the last 1/2 mile of a half marathon to rest up so I could sprint the last 300 yards. The walk cost me maybe 10 seconds, which I more than made up in the dash (get it, I’m Dashing Dad) to the finish line

  2. Thanks for this! I am 31 and I have run some 5k and 10k’s and I am a terrible runner, so it took me a few years of running off and on to finally be able to run 5 miles (at a 12 min mile pace) without stopping to walk, and of course if i take a month or so off, it takes me awhile to get back to that again. For whatever reason, I always thought that to do a marathon or half marathon that implied in it was that you should be able to do it without stopping, or if you do stop, it’s only to go to the bathroom or tie a shoe, not just to stop for the sake of stopping…add to that all the runners i knew who went on about a runner’s high and how if you stop and walk it’ll just make it harder for you in the end…I had that hammered into my head and so I never even though about doing a longer distance because I thought the ability to keep going was a prerequisite. I am now considering trying to train for a half marathon with some walking interspersed…it may actually be possible!

    • You are most welcome. Look into the Galloway training and do regular intervals. I really like the “I just need a minute” walk break. I do it when I feel I need it or at aid stations. You can totally do it, and even if you walk a half marathon or marathon, you still completed the race and nobody can take that away from you. Good luck!

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