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For beginning runners, walk breaks during a run workout are expected—necessary, even. Many newbies work toward the day when they can brag they finished a whole run without stopping to walk. That’s the true measurement of fitness…right?
Maybe not. For some runners, the run/walk interval is more than just a newbie strategy—it’s a critical ingredient of their race-day success. Alternating between two modes is also known as the Galloway Method, named for Jeff Galloway, a running coach who developed a formal training program and race strategy specifically designed around run/walk intervals.
Contrary to popular belief, the technique doesn’t mean walking when you’re tired; it means taking brief walk breaks when you’re not. Depending on one’s fitness level and race goals, a set ratio of run/walk is developed to follow for the duration of a workout or race. For one athlete, it might be alternating periods of one minute of walking followed by one minute of running; for another, it might be a one-minute walk break at the start of every new mile.
RELATED: Don’t Shun the Run-Walk Method
These breaks help to mentally divide a challenging race or workout by focusing on only one segment at a time, says running and triathlon coach Heidi Lueb of Valor Triathlon Project. They also give muscles recovery time during the run, reducing the risk of injury and giving athletes a chance to finish stronger. A 2014 study in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport indicates that run/walk intervals don’t slow a person down; in a comparison of marathon finishers, those who took one-minute walk breaks every 1.5 miles finished with similar times as those who ran the entire way. What’s more, those who took walk breaks experienced less muscle pain and fatigue after the race than their running-only counterparts.
Intervals aren’t just for road races either. Doug Hay, an ultrarunning coach says run/walk intervals are a must for success while running trails: “The run/walk method can be particularly helpful in trail running with maintaining a consistent effort level. Trails are often hilly, and the added work that goes in to maneuvering over rocks, roots and other obstacles can raise your effort level and heart rate quickly. Switching to a walk on technical sections of trails or when climbing a hill will keep your breathing under control and effort in check.” This, in turn, allows the runner to go further and faster without fatigue.
3 Run Walk Interval Workouts to Incorporate into Your Training
Ready to run (and walk) your way to a PR? Try these three workouts made for the track, treadmill, and trail.
Track Speed Work
Speed work and walk intervals sound diametrically opposed, but they actually dovetail nicely with this track workout, which allows for hard running and short recovery.
- Warm up with a brisk walk or easy run for 800 meters (two laps).
- Run at a moderate pace for two miles (eight laps).
- Run 200 meters at a challenging pace, then 100 meters at an all-out sprint.
- Walk 100 meters to catch your breath.
- Repeat steps 3 and 4 seven times (for a total of eight laps).
- Cool down with a brisk walk or easy run for 800 meters (two laps).
Treadmill Progression Run
“Pacing is so important,” says Lueb, “and consistently dropping pace is key in learning how each pace feels.” Lueb says progression runs provide a double benefit: Not only are you practicing the importance of pacing and finishing at a faster pace than you started, but you also are able to get some speed work in at the end of the workout. The treadmill is a perfect place to practice pacing before taking your skills to the road.
- Warm up by running at your easiest pace for five minutes. This should be a rate of perceived effort (RPE) of three on a one to 10 scale.
- Walk for one minute.
- Run for five minutes, a little faster and it should feel a little harder than the first one, or an RPE of four.
- Walk for one minute.
- Repeat the five-minute run/one-minute walk interval three times. Every run interval should get a little bit faster and feel a little bit harder than the previous one, while each walk interval should be evenly paced with the last one—you should not be slowing down.
- Complete one more interval, returning to a perceived effort of three to cool down.
Trail 4-8-12 Intervals
Though most trail intervals are based on elevation change, not time, that doesn’t mean all hills are a reason to walk in training. Hay’s favorite run/walk workout for the trail builds endurance and confidence on a variety of terrain.
- Warm up for 10 minutes with a brisk walk or easy run.
- Run for four minutes, adjusting your pace as needed for uphills.
- Walk for two minutes.
- Run for eight minutes, then walk for two minutes.
- Run for 12 minutes, then walk for two minutes.
- Cool down for 10 minutes with a brisk walk or easy run.
RELATED: Should You Run or Walk Hills?
How to Get the Most Out of Your Run Walk Intervals
Walk intervals are a careful strategy, and should be treated as such, says Hay: “The run/walk method becomes an issue when you rely too heavily on the walking, choosing to walk not because you’ve reached a certain amount of time running or because you’ve hit a difficult section of trail, but because you just don’t feel like running. Walking then becomes a crutch that’s no longer serving your training.”
Here’s what you need to know to keep the run walk method working for you:
Walk This Way
Your walk intervals shouldn’t be long, power-walking strides. Such a movement is unnatural for your body, upping your risk of injury. Instead, take short, quick steps, swinging your arms in a similar fashion to your run posture.
Some athletes like to structure their walk intervals to match the aid stations on the course of their next race. If you plan to do this, study the map of your race, then replicate that in your training—if aid stations will be spaced out every two miles, walk (and eat/drink) at those same points in your training runs.
It’s easy to abandon your interval plan in the first portion of your race, when everyone is passing you. Resist that urge, warns Lueb: “If you’ve been training with a specific interval, don’t change that for race day. Stick with what you know.” Keep to your plan—you’ll likely pass a few of those fading racers in the end.
One last tip: Take the stress out of your workouts by programming your intervals into a watch. It will alert you when it’s time to walk, then once again when it’s time to start running.