Thursday, December 30, 2010

Anatomy of a Training Run

Anatomy of a Training Run: the Run/Walk Run

One "different" type of run that I'm following in my marathon training is the Run/Walk run. At a very basic level, it's just interval training: run for an allotted amount of time, walk for an allotted amount of time. 

I scoffed when I first read about run/walk training, thinking, "doesn't that defeat the purpose? I'm a runner for pete's sake!" Walking was the enemy in my training runs. It made me feel like less of a runner...lower on the B.A. scale. Well you know what? I was a runner, but one that was all too often plagued by injury. I'll be the first to admit, thinking that way was just plain stupid.

First, let's walk through some of the benefits:

  • decreased chance of injury
  • the mental benefit of breaking longer runs up into segments
  • interval training often equals maximum results (be it a time goal, distance goal, etc.) many people have even PR'ed by following a run/walk training plan
  • if you're trying to lose weight, intervals actually burn more calories and fat
According to Runner's World, Jeff Galloway pioneered the idea of taking frequent walk breaks during marathons and marathon training and it has been used successfully by thousands of marathon runners. So how does it work? ...and more importantly, why?

"By using muscles in different ways from the beginning, your legs keep their bounce as they conserve resources. When a muscle group, such as your calf, is used continuously step by step, it fatigues relatively soon. The weak areas get overused and force you to slow down later or scream at you in pain afterward. By shifting back and forth between walking and running muscles, you distribute the workload among a variety of muscles, increasing your overall performance capacity. For veteran marathoners, this is often the difference between achieving a time goal or not. Walk breaks will significantly speed up recovery because there is less damage to repair. The early walk breaks erase fatigue, and the later walk breaks will reduce or eliminate overuse muscle breakdown." (source)

There are a lot of different ways to utilize run/walk training. I generally follow a 4 to 1 ratio (in minutes) of running to walking, but my marathon training will be structured as follows:

Weeks 1-4: run/walk ratio of 3:2 on some weekday runs and long runs
Weeks 5-9: run/walk ratio of 4:2 on some weekday and long runs 
Weeks 10-18: run/walk ratio of 4:1 on some weekday and long runs

You can also structure your run/walk training based on your pace:

8 min/mi—run 4 min/walk 35 seconds
9 min/mi— 4 min run-1 min walk
10 min/mi—-3:1
11 min/mi—2:30-1
12 min/mi—-2:1
13 min/mi—-1:1
14 min/mi—30 sec run/30 sec walk
15 min/mi—30 sec/45 sec
16 min/mi—30 sec/60 sec


You don't have to follow such a regimented run/walk plan either, if spontaneity is your style. Just take walk breaks early and often. I tend to like the 4:1 run to walk ratio because it breaks those longer runs up into 5 minute segments and sometimes makes it much more bearable. But you don't need to run every single one of your training runs this way. As my own general rule, anything less than 3 miles is pretty much a run all the way run. Between 3 and 6 miles is always questionable...sometimes I like to walk a bit, sometimes run. 6+ miles is where I almost always utilize my walk breaks. If I'm feeling extra good about my run for the day, I'll just take a 1 minute break for every mile I run. It's all up to you and your body, the only advice I can give you is to listen to it! 

If you're stuck on determining your pace, but still want to use this type of training, you'll be happy to know that you generally only lose 15-20 seconds when you take a 60 second walk break. Over the course of 26 miles, this could end up being negligible or even add to your overall time, because you'll be less fatigued and able to put in more effort in those last few miles. Fortunately, Runner's World has a nice little chart to give us all a little bit more pacing information:

If you run a mile in... (Col. A) and then walk 60 seconds, your overall pace will be...(Col. B)

Will you use run/walk training in your next training plan? What other training techniques do you employ in order to stay injury free?


  1. I am currently using Jeff Galloway's run/walk plan for beginners training for my half-marathon next Saturday. I've never read that quote that you provided but it makes so much sense!

  2. As a newbie runner I scoffed at the run/walk plan, but I am all for no injury! I am currently on the C25K so I will keep the Galloway plan implemented. Thanks for the information.

  3. I hurt my knee last spring and used interval training to build my muscle strength back up. I'm a fan!


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