When we think of “running a race” the vision is just that: someone running. But with the coming of the 2nd Marathon Revolution, the massive increase in participants in the full marathon and half marathons finds more people using a walking break. People are completing the 26.2 distance in times ranging from 6+ hours to incredibly near 5 hours by incorporating a walk break.
The purpose of this article is not to decide if taking walk breaks is better or worse than running only. It is for the athlete who has made the decision to use walk breaks to maximize the benefit during the race they can get. If we look at the 2 largest training groups for the LA Marathon, whose members predominate SBRC, we see that both programs offer a run/walk variant to their training.
Let’s first define a run/walk. This is an interval activity where the person runs for a given period of time then switches to a walk for a shorter time period (such as 3/1, 4/1 5/1, 6/1.) What many people think is that the walk is a time to relax – nothing is farther from the truth. The key to walk breaks is that they give the running muscles, that have seen their elasticity diminish from the continual contact with the ground, a moment to recover. This recovery returns the muscle’s elasticity to a point and holds off the moment of fatigue. Dr. Tim Noakes covers this in his book “The Lore of Running” and further discusses the use of walk breaks in long races.
The pace of a walk period should be at minimum a “New York Mid Town” pace – roughly 15 minutes per mile. Walkers are known to achieve paces as fast as 11:45 during a break, and competitive race walkers hit paces in the mid 7:00 area. How to achieve this requires practice as does everything in our sport. But key points:
When transitioning from run to walk, do not plant you foot and lose your running energy into the ground. Rather, strike with your heel and roll your foot and then shove off with your toes…this keeps all movement in the direction you want to travel. Continue with this heel to toe action until its time to run.
Many people use a small skip to begin the run phase so as to maintain the walking momentum into the run– this is a perfect beginning as you train to run/walk.
The feet should fall in front of each other as close as possible. This requires flexibility in your pelvis and hip regions, but the result is more energy spent going forward.
The best training for these the 3 points above is the “skills and drills” portion of Tuesday track for our walker/run-walk crew. Come join us 1 Tuesday night and feel the difference.
Finally does it matter? Assume you can run a 11 minute pace for 5 minutes before your walk break. On your walk you maintain a 17 minutes pace. Your expected marathon finish time is 4:41:13; now increase the walk time to 13:30 minute pace and the finish time is 4:33:37. Nearly 10 minutes faster without any additional energy!