Walking gets such a bad rep. I’m not sure why people hate on it so much, but I’m all in favour of it. Walking can be a brilliant way to break up a run, to reset, refocus and then get on with the show. There comes a great power with taking a few slower steps.
It’s coming up to spring marathon season, which brings with it many people who are attempting 42.2km for the very first time. I love chatting to new-marathoners, seeing how they’re feeling ahead of the day, hearing how their training has been going and sharing some of my own wisdom. Most people are super excited but understandably nervous, and I love to see their enthusiasm. There are two things that I hear so often though which just make me want to scream. The first is: “oh, I want to finish in under X:XX time”, which I’ve written about before in a post called ‘Why you shouldn’t set a time-goal for your first marathon‘. The next phrase is this: “I don’t care how long it takes me, I just want to run the whole thing”.
ARGH! No! There is no shame in walking during a marathon, or any other race for that matter. In fact, if this is your goal, I’d say you’re probably more likely to ‘fail’ than if you had set yourself a time to beat. Because you have no idea what’s ahead and getting to that finish line might require you to take a few walking steps, meaning you would have ‘failed’ to achieve your goal long before getting to the end of the race. And anyway, walking is a perfectly viable method to employ to get you through this mammoth distance.
While training for my first marathon (Melbourne, Oct 2015), I discovered that running for more than ~14km at a time was too much of a mental burden for me to cope with. I was struggling to get through long runs without stopping to walk, and then would get frustrated and think that there was no way that I could complete the whole marathon. That’s when I made a revolutionary change to my approach and added in walk-breaks every ~12km. Now I wasn’t running 42.2km (or whatever long training run distance), but instead only had to think about the current section of running. On the day, I walked at 12.5km, 25km and 35km (or thereabouts), as I had pre-planned. None of these were for very long as I got swept up in the atmosphere of the day, but it made the whole experience much more manageable.
During that race I ended up chatting with a guy from my running club, overtaking him and then stopping for my 25km walk-break at which point he caught me and told me to keep running. Later at celebratory lunch it turned out that he had never heard of ‘planned walk-breaks’ before (despite running multiple marathons). This stuck with me because I remember thinking: “what’s wrong with walking?”.
Walking is great. Mentally, as in my first marathon, it lets you break up a race into smaller sections. Physically, it brings your heart-rate down, stops the stress of pounding the ground (for a short period of time) and means you will have more energy left later in the run. Emotionally, it can calm you down and renew your focus on the race. It’s much easier to think when you’re not having to concentrate on running fast.
In ultra-running, walking is a much-utilised tool. Because these races are often run off-road on routes with a lot of elevation, it can be much easier to walk up the hills rather than run them, as the incline requires more energy than you need to expend. At the EcoTrail de Paris, I walked all the major hills (and some minor ones), and most people around me were doing the same. It’s not a sign of failure, it’s a strategic move to help you get to the end.
The word ‘strategy’ is key. Planning when and for how long you’re going to walk means that you’re in control. This is in contrast to a race which just doesn’t go well, and so you find yourself walking more and more during the later sections. To avoid the second situation, we can use the first strategy.
Jeff Galloway is the king of the run-walk strategy, because he formed an entire race pacing methodology around the tactic. His approach is to calculate a run-walk ratio, such as 4min:30sec which you then repeat consistently throughout the whole race. The method has been used from all sorts of runners from sub-2:30 marathoners to those just wanting to finish the race. While you still do need to maintain a fast walk (aka, not a death-march!), the combination of run and walk should leave you fresh for the entirety of the race.
Personally, I think that ratio means you are walking too frequently. Recently I have been using a 19-1 ratio for sections of long trail runs where there aren’t any hills to walk up (not often), but if this is a method that you want to employ, you can choose whichever interval suits you best.
When it comes to your next run or race, don’t be afraid to walk. Used wisely it is far from a sign of weakness, but instead a powerful tool which will see you finishing strong 🏃♀️
Please excuse the small watermarked photos, unfortunately I haven’t bought the photos from EcoTrail de Paris yet. All credit for those photos to flash-sport.com.