This method works even if you’ve never been a runner.
Running is making a comeback, and one of the smartest ways for you to come back with it—and love it, stick with it, and not get sidelined by injury—is to add some strategic walking minutes into your run.
If that sounds too beginner, too not the point of running, put your ego aside for a second and consider this: one of the most popular Run Walk Run programs on the planet was developed by an Olympic runner, Jeff Galloway. And many of his runners are still running circles around other runners who have slowed down or quit.
“The main reason people get discouraged when they start a running program is that they either hurt, or they get so exhausted that they don’t want to continue to do it,” says Galloway, author of Galloway’s Book on Running and pioneer of the Run Walk Run method of training. “The Run Walk Run method takes all of that away.”
Plus, it might make you faster. Galloway’s research in more than 10,000 runners has found that training with and using the technique can take an average of 3 minutes off someone’s 5K, 7 minutes off a half marathon, and a little over 13 minutes off a marathon.
Yes, Run Walk Run Is “Real” Running
The concept of Run Walk Run is to take walk breaks at pre-planned intervals. If you’re a 7-minute miler, for instance, you might run 6 minutes, then walk 30 seconds and repeat the whole way throughout your workout. Here’s what this fast/recover/fast style can do for you:
Run Walk Run Helps You Run Farther
“When you run nonstop, your muscles are going to fatigue more rapidly,” Galloway says. So you’ll tire out at two and a half miles when you’d planned to go three, for instance. “It’s the same as if you lift a weight and don’t take breaks, you’re not going to do as much lifting as you would if you put the weight down and came back to it.” By taking strategic walk breaks (done at a good clip), you recoup your energy and can keep going.
Run Walk Run Helps You Avoid Injury
“In running, it’s the continuous use of a weak link that causes it to get irritated,” says Galloway. “But if you have a short enough run followed by a frequent enough walk break, then with each walk break, you keep erasing the stress buildup in the weak link.” (A good pair of shoes is a good idea, too.)
Run Walk Run Helps You Run Faster
Since you’re only running short segments at a time, you can run much faster than you could if you were running nonstop. In a race, that’s what helps you get the job done.
Run Walk Run Takes the Frustration Out of Running
If you don’t get injured, don’t get as fatigued, and are gradually increasing your distance, all that not getting wiped out makes running “mentally doable,” says Galloway. “It’s amazing the confidence level people get as they keep increasing their distances.” In other words, if you think you hate running, this might make you rethink that.
To determine how much running and walking you should do, Galloway recommends that you run, or run/walk a mile at “a good, hard pace for you.” Maybe that’s mostly walking, maybe that’s mostly running. Note the time, then use this calculator to determine your plan. In general, the faster you run, the farther apart your walk breaks are spaced.
If you run about a 10-minute mile, you might be doing 90 seconds run/30 walk/90 run. To some people, it can feel jackrabbity and awkward at first, with all the stopping and starting. (It can even feel that way if you’re in a 9-min-mile pace group and are doing 2 minutes on, 30 seconds off.) But you quickly adapt and welcome the breaks, and it becomes a rhythm of its own.
And by the end of your workout, “you’re not beaten up,” says Galloway. You can enjoy the rest of the day, and since “you recover really quickly,” he says, you can enjoy the rest of your life as a runner.