Some virtual training buddies and I spent some time today emailing back and forth about walk breaks. How often should you take walk breaks? Should one’s ultimate goal be the elimination of walk breaks? Are walk breaks a sign of weakness or inferiority?
There are many opinions about walk breaks out there. Some woman posted on the New York Road Runners page recently complaining about “walkers” getting in her way during a race. She wanted these people to know that she is a “real” racer and trying for a PR (personal record) and they should hang out in the back. The implication, of course, is that anyone walking couldn’t possibly be going for a PR. Many people pointed out that run/walk is relatively common and some straight walkers are faster than she is. Just as many applauded her annoyance at walkers.
I, like many others, started my running “career” using the Couch to 5k training plan. The goal of this plan is to get Couch Potatoes ready to run every step of a 5k. It starts off with short run/walk intervals and quickly jumps to long ones. These jumps are disheartening for many of us. Oh how I wish I had discovered Jeff Galloway sooner!
Galloway has a beginning (I think he calls it a build-up) program. He has you start with straight walking and then adds 10 sec of running every minute. As that becomes comfortable, he increases the running portion. The difference between Galloway and Couch to 5k is that Galloway doesn’t believe that most runners – even Boston qualifiers – should run every step of any long run. Even if you run 7 min/mile (I can’t do that for 1 mile, much less 26.2), walk breaks are helpful. Walk breaks reduce injury and increase speed. And, in my opinion, increase enjoyment.
There are recommended intervals based on pace. A 12 min/mile runner would use a run 2/walk 1 ratio. If you are faster, you increase the run portion. Slower runners decrease the run portion. For a Long Slow Run, my pace is often around 13 -13:30 so a 1:1 is appropriate. Saturday’s long run felt great but I missed some training last week so I chose a 1:1. I probably felt great due to a good ratio. As I work on my speed, so I increase my ratio. For short runs I base my ratio on how I feel that day and my goal for that run. Today I felt crappy and stuck with a 2:1 ratio (but decided against hills or speed work until I feel better). Despite feeling off I managed 3 miles at 12:07 pace. Again I picked a good ratio. Other days when I’m feeling great, I may choose a 3:1 ratio.
I definitely get comments implying that my ultimate goal should be to run every step. Or that I’ll be faster if I do. Galloway has lots of data on this and it all shows that I will be slower without my walk breaks. Unscientifically I have found this to be true. I am faster with walk breaks. More importantly I’m happier. I enjoy my run/walk. I love that I can adjust things based on how I feel that day or even that moment. On my worst run I know it’s only 1 minute or even 30 seconds until my next walk break. And that gets me going when I’m tired or not feeling 100%.
Walk breaks are supposed to reduce injury. Since I started I’ve had a tight muscle in my back and a tight calf muscle. That’s about it over the past 2 years. Considering that I’m 40 – which is reaching an age when injury may be more common – that’s not bad.
My goal in running right now is to enjoy it. I’d like to train smart and maybe work a bit on speed and endurance. I want to be stronger and more fit. I want to finish my training runs and my races with a big smile on my face. And I know that means I will be continuing to take walk breaks on most of my runs.
My life is stressful (shocking, no?). I’m a surgeon with 3 young kids to raise. Running is my stress-reliever. It should be maximally enjoyable and minimally stressful. Being able to adjust my run/walk ratio to go with my reality, helps. I feel to shame in run 30 sec/walk 1 min on my worst day because I’m still out there working on my endurance, burning calories, and run/walking my way to a finish line.

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