At the 2010 Exeter Marathon, I experimented with the Run-Walk-Run strategy that has been popularized by Jeff Galloway in an effort to see how well it would work for somebody that can run a little faster than most of the people that generally make use of the Run-Walk-Run method.
Jeff Galloway first shared this strategy with me a few years ago and told a story about how he had coached somebody using the Run-Walk-Run from a 2:33 PR to a 2:28 PR.
Fast runners are outside of his area of expertise because he doesn’t have enough data on them, so it seemed like a good opportunity for me to add a new data point.
While I was preparing for the Exeter marathon, I got in a few training runs of up to 10 miles using a 15 second walk break every mile as my run/walk ratio. I also did a mile time trial to see what sort of shape I was in, coming away with a 5:14.
A 5:14 mile plugged into Galloway’s calculator estimated that my marathon would be about a 2:58. According to McMillan’s calculator, I was in about 2:52 shape. Based on my own experience and levels of training before this race, I estimated I was in about 2:54 shape.
Using the Run/Walk method for the first 20 miles and then racing it in, I actually ran a 2:50:26.
I’d call the experiment a success, and think that it’s worth testing it when I’m in better shape to see if I have similar gains over the sort of time I think I’ll be running.
After letting folks know about the results of my experiment, I’ve had 2 reactions. The first is, “Wow, you ran a 2:50 marathon using run/walk?” For all those folks, thanks! It was fun.
The other reaction is to tell me what an idiot I am and how my experiment was not successful because I would have run faster if I hadn’t walked during the race, despite training that’s more like what I’ve run 3 hour to 3:10 marathons than 2:50 marathons in the past.
They also claim that I’m an idiot because I’m even considering using the run/walk method at some point when I am in better shape and want to make a run into the 2:30s.
I’m not saying that I’m guaranteed to make the goal, I’m just saying that it seems worth continuing the experiment.
For my race this weekend, I had little to no speedwork since I broke my foot last July. Despite taking substantial time off (45 days of no running at all, a few weeks of very light workouts, a few weeks of no running just hiking while traveling, and then slowly building my base back up through the end of 2009) I did get a good base of miles in during January and February.
In March, I didn’t really know what I was going to do and had decided against registering for the Vermont 100, so my training went into maintenance mode (as much for mental recovery as for physical.) I felt that I had a good base despite relatively low mileage for a fast marathon leading into the race. My 8 week average was right around 42 miles per week.
I can’t definitively say I was in 2:54 shape, but that’s what I honestly feel I was at based on my dozen plus other marathons, my previous training for those races (where 40 miles per week plus speed work was usually a 3:00-3:10), and on my usually accurate guessing of where I’d finish. My guess may be subjective but it is good enough for me.
During Exeter, I followed the run-walk-run strategy, and managed to run better than I felt I was in shape for had I run straight. Does that mean I wouldn’t have run faster had I run the entire thing? Possibly, but I don’t think so. I sure felt pretty good at the end, and got in a good hike the next day without any trouble.
Do I think that this strategy will work for everyone? Probably not. I don’t think it would have worked for me had I not practiced it in the weeks leading up to the race.
I didn’t bother wearing my heart rate monitor, and I rarely do, so I have no idea how it affected my heart rate.
I think that the biggest benefit for taking the walk breaks is that it gives me a good opportunity to stretch out my back, give my muscles a quick breather with a different motion, and reminds me on a consistent and regular basis to reassess my running form.
I’m generally pretty good about assessing my form anyway, but I don’t think in the past I’ve had the discipline to remind myself 3-4 times per mile, which is what I easily found myself doing when anticipating walk breaks, restarting from a walk break, and a few times in between while watching for an actual place to take the walk break to best effect.
Any race, but especially long races such as a marathon, is as much if not more of a mental game than a physical game. Sure, you need to be in good shape to run a good time, but you can be in good shape and still run a bad time if your head isn’t in the right place. I think that the walk breaks helped as much with the mental game as the physical.
So, that said, I want to get into better shape. Then I want to try this strategy in a bigger race where I’ll have people to run with. I want to see how I’ll do.
I may not have evidence that I can run a 4 minute PR and break into the 2:30s, but I don’t have evidence that I can’t. Since I feel I’m capable of it, I’m going to train for it and attempt it. This experiment was successful and tells me that further research is called for.
If it doesn’t work, I’ll go back to racing flat out. If it does, then I’ll probably still race flat out at some point, but I’ll keep playing with run-walk-run.
Either way, I’m aiming to run fast.
(Comic Source: xkcd)
Hi Blaine-Quick question for you, if you don’t mind! 🙂
Do you mind if I ask what pace the run and walk portions were at, and how long your break was? Was it just 15 seconds of walking after every mile?
I actually thought about trying this method for my last marathon, but trying it out during training, it seemed like I would have to run soooo much faster during the run portions to make up for the walking that I wasn’t able to hold the pace for too long, and I definitely didn’t recover enough during the walk breaks to make up for the fast pace…
Granted, I’m MUCH slower than you…I was aiming for a 3:40 (8:23 pace overall), so (and I can’t remember exactly what the paces were anymore, since it’s been a few months) I aimed for a 7:30 (?) run pace and a 20:00 walk pace (I think I had figured it out to be 4 minutes running, 1 minute walking, but I might be forgetting the right numbers here, too!).
I guess I’m just curious if you had any practical tips as to how to incorporate the method when you’re aiming for a faster time…?
Thanks! 🙂 And I love your blog!
I trained with a pretty brisk walk, and I only took 35 steps for each one. I didn’t actually time it as that was too much of a bother; during training I consistently walked 38 steps in 15 seconds so I cut it to 35 as easier to count and to account for deceleration and acceleration time.
The trick is figuring out in training what ratio works for you, I think. Remember that it isn’t run/stop/run, it’s run/walk/run.
If you want to see what sort of impact different paces will have on your overall time, you can use this handy calculator:
Just choose a total time you want to walk at a set pace for a specific distance and it will tell you how fast you have to run. (That spreadsheet was originally put together by Tom Powell, thanks Tom!)
I have used the run/walk method w/ great success for several marathons including my two fastest ones. In 2000 I ran 2 marathons and a half marathon in the space of 22 days and set PR’s in all three of them. On Sept. 30th I ran the NH Marathon, a very tough hilly course and finished in 4:24. This was a 28 minute PR for the course from the previous year. I walked 1 minute at every mile maker. It seemed strange to be stopping to walk at that first mile maker and see all these runners pass me, but I would catch them again and do the same thing at the next mile marker!
Fifteen days later on Oct. 15th, I ran the Nute Ridge Half Marathon in Farmington, NH. (This race is no longer around, but it was a great course w/ awesome homemade food at the finish!)This is a very hilly course as well and I ran another PR for this course and a new half PR. I finished in 1:46 and walked 30 seconds every mile.
One week later on Oct. 22nd, I ran the Baystate Marathon in 3:55:00. This was the first time I had ever broken the 4 hour barrier. I was thrilled! Once again I walked 1 minute at every mile marker. At 20 miles I was feeling so good, I knew I was going to break 4 hours and had enough left at the end to sprint to the finish w/ a college co-ed that ran w/ me the last few miles.
A week later, I ran the Shirt Factory Five in Salem, NH and ran my best 5 mile time ever in a snow storm! I didn’t use the run/walk method for this short of a race.
One year later in the fall of 2001, I ran another marathon PR at the old Ocean State Marathon in Providence, RI. I ran a 3:52 using a 30 second walk break every mile. In July of 2001, I ran a 50K for my 50th birhday on July 14th. I ran from Rochester, NH to York Beach, ME in 5:14 using a run 8 minutes/walk 2 minutes formula. This was my first ultra distance run and I felt less sore running 31 miles than when I had run a marathon in the past!
I’ve been really looking at Run / Walk for fast Marathon paces lately, having just started training for my first Ironman Triathlon (a year from now). I wanted to make sure I would have good legs to turn in a sub 7minute pace on that run, and wanted to see what the best ways to preserve the pace would be.
I’m really glad that people like yourself are experimenting with it, and sharing stories of success. An interesting point, particularly for those runners in the 7min / mile or 8min / mile range, is the actual time cost vs recovery benefits of walk breaks (and don’t want to calculate them, using the now vanished calculator in your comments).
For someone who can walk at a 12:00 min / mile brisk pace (which is actually nowhere near as hard as one might think, particularly on race day and with warmed up muscles), you’re looking at the following numbers for a Half-marathon distance, with 30 second walk breaks after each mile of running (skipping the 13th, since I’m assuming most people will want to run out that last .1 mile).
8min pace (assuming you don’t try to ‘catch up’ the walking time each mile).
8min / mile x 13.1 = 1:44:52:30 Finish Time
12 x 30s walking at 12min / mile = 0.5miles covered in 6 minutes.
8min x 12.6 miles (since you’ve already covered 0.5miles walking) = 1:40:48:00
Add the two together for a whopping finish time of = 1:46:48
That’s less than a two minute difference between them, with far more stability and a lot less muscle strain. If you can use those breaks to pick up your running pace even 10 seconds a mile, you start seeing time gains.
For a 7 min/mile pace, it’s not quite as much savings:
7min / mile x 13.1 = 1:31:42:00 Finish Time
12 x 30s walking at 12min / mile = 0.5miles covered in 6 minutes.
7min x 12.5 miles (since you’ve already covered 0.5miles walking) = 1:28:12
Total finish time of = 1:34:12
While I’m certain I would tweak these times based on runner fitness and stamina, I think it makes an incredibly strong argument for the value of this technique, ESPECIALLY for runners who are Training Through some of their B and C races at the Middle and Long distances.
I’ve only been working the Run / Walk / Run rotation into my long Sunday runs, using normal tempo / interval / threshold runs on the other days to build specific endurance and speed, but it’s meant that for those long runs, I am often able to put out close to Half-Marathon pace for 16-18 mile runs, with no added recovery time the following day, and the training benefits of that are absolutely massive.
Thanks for this Blaine. I came across you post looking for a good article on run/walk strategies for a 26.2. I’m hoping to use one at Manchester Marathon this w/e, to get as close as I can to 4 hrs. There’s plenty on the web about what’s possible, but less about what’s been actually implemented, and the results, so thanks again.
Good luck this weekend!