Monday, 17 February 2014

Running 101: To walk or not to walk?

Welcome to my second running 101 post. Today we are talking about walk breaks while running.

My marathon certification training course lays out very clear guidelines on walk breaks:

The NAASFP does not advocate walk breaks while running past the beginner phase because the biomechanics of walking differ to greatly from the biomechanics of running. (NOTE: beginner phase is a learn to run 5k plan that they include)
Because I believe I need to be able to practice what I preach, I am learning to drop the walk. As a Running Room trainee and instructor, I have always supported the run/walk philosophy so this has been a difficult shift for me.

I have been scouring the internet for the past weeks looking for science to support the biomechanics claim. Truthfully, I have found more articles that support the walk/run method but the rationale isn't always clear. Regardless, here is a rundown of the pros and cons of walk breaks.

Yes, Take a Break
  • Periodic walking breaks can help you run more efficiently, and more comfortably. (source)
  • A fast, brisk walk provides a gentle and specific stretch to the leg muscles. (source)
  • The walk-run combinations of active rest will help dissipate lactic acid build-up. (source) *See below - this points out how controversial this topic is.
  • Run-walk breaks help prevent injuries and can speed recovery. (source)
  • Run-walk breaks keep runners motivated by breaking the long run into smaller, attainable goals. This one I agree with. It is the psychological aspect of getting through a run. However, that doesn't mean walk breaks need to be at regular intervals. The same effect could be achieved by walking at water stations and mapping them out before the race.
No, Keep Running

  • A steady pace prevents lactate build up. According to Pete Pfitzinger, top American finisher in the 1984 and 1988 Olympic marathons with a PB of 2:11:43: 

"The most efficient way to run a marathon is to run at very close to an even pace, because running portions of the race much faster than an even pace causes a build-up of lactate (hydrogen ions are the actual culprit) and other metabolites that make you slow down. If you run a portion of the race slower than the optimal pace, then by necessity you must run another portion faster than the optimal pace (which causes a build-up of metabolites that make you slow down), so the net result is a poorer performance. Walking a portion of a marathon would require you to run other portions of the race much faster to run a given total time, so it would be detrimental to your result."
  • Matt Johnson from Runner Academy: I personally don’t advocate that runners that are looking to PR rely on any method that incorporates walk breaks. They have their purpose, but running the best time you are capable of is not one of them.
  • Incorporating walk breaks during runs was first used as a energy saving distance technique by ultramarathoners. However, any ultramarathoner knows that while it increases the distance you may be able to go, it slows your pace considerably. You won't see any fast marathons completed using this technique. (source)
  • If runners could and would learn to slow down and train at a pace that's about 80% effort for the distance, they wouldn't need walk breaks. 

If you are new to running, walk breaks will help you train for that first 5k distance.  There is also certainly a place for walk breaks in training but not necessarily in the long run. Walking between intervals would make sense, or in some cases walking downhill during hill repeats in order to lower your hear rate for the next hard effort.

I quite honestly think that it is a personal choice and should be based on your current fitness level and goals. As for injury prevention, I am not sure. I for one, have had my fair share of running relate injuries from IT band problems to plantar fasciitis. The contributing factors are too complex to determine whether walk breaks would help in my opinion.

So let me know! Do you take walk breaks? Why or why not?? 


  1. Hey Lindsey. I don't necessairly think it's just for beginners. I know plenty of fast repeat marathoners who take "walk breaks" at water stations or using mile or time intervals. (And they still kick my butt ha ha ha) But I agree that it is a personal choice (and fitness level). Above all I think what ever works for you, do it. I've read more research on the pros than the cons. I don't do walk breaks during races but if I feel like walking through a water station, I sure will :)

    Sorry this is so long ... And lastly, I don't think there should be any shame if you have to/want to run. It doesn't make you less of a runner! The end :)

    1. I agree! I have always taken walk breaks too. As I ran more half marathons I came up with a strategy to take one every 30 minutes. I usually run with my own water so I don't stop at water stations. I also think that they are useful in training for the long distances. If someone came to me and said "I talk walk breaks" I would happily build that into their plan and racing strategy. I think it is a huge success factor in many peoples running :)

  2. I am with Chrystal!!! She summed up exactly how I feel. I am not a "fast" runner and I do take some walk breaks in half marathons.I have PR'd taking walk breaks.

    1. Thanks Tina! I am with you! I have PR'd using walk breaks in every race :)


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