Walk Your Way to a Personal Best
If there is anything running has taught me in my years, is that a lot of the time backwards convention works.
Some of the concepts, theories, ideas, tips and tricks of running that I’ve picked up initially left me confused.
One of those concepts is that slowing down can actually help you go faster. Let me explain…
In 2017 when I start taking running seriously, I couldn’t run very far before stopping, either to walk off a stitch, bring my heart rate down, or to bring my breathing under control. It was a common case of being seriously … unift. For someone who grew up as a competitor (be it athletics, football, basketball, or really anything I tried), I was often left frustrated at not being able to run more than a couple minutes without stopping. I could play back to back competitive games of football or basketball in my high school years, and that sadly raised my expectations of myself.
Like those sports, I found myself fixating on the metrics (time, distance, number of times I stopped to take a break), and would get upset at myself that for a period of time (2003 – 2016), I’d quit running altogether. Only to start again a year later, and then subsequently give up again a few weeks later.
So I devised an incredible plan to help me with my running. My solution?
If I run frequently enough, I will build up my stamina and be able to finish a run without stopping.
To be honest, I thought it was just me who obsessed over these numbers the way I did. But, as the Internet is a thing, I’m starting to see other runners beating themselves up about not being able to go a couple minutes or kilometres without stopping. In one instance I saw a young runner apologising for her “slow” 8 minute/mile times, yes! APOLOGISING to everyone in the group (the average pace time for the group is around 11 minutes/mile). Like myself, they are falling into the trap of comparing themselves to the other runners around them.
However, there was a part two to my genius plan above. I enrolled in a 10k running clinic with the Running Room here in Toronto, and I was introduced to the deliberate practice of the walking mid-run.
But runners are supposed to run, no?
Not exactly, and it could even help you get a personal best. So let’s dive into the Run/Walk/Run Method (RWR).
The RWR Method
It come with a few names around the world. In some areas, it may be more commonly known as “Jeffing”, or even the “Galloway Method”. This practice of running and walking is named after Jeff Galloway; an American Olympian who competed in the 1972 games in Munich. Galloway initially developed this as a gateway for non-runners to become runners (as well as become customers for his store in the process).
I had heard of this concept a few years prior to my running clinic when my mother decided to take up running back in 2013. It got her from running a minute or two, to thirty minutes of non-stop running. This method is a combination of running and walking at set intervals during the run. For those of you familiar with the Couch to 5k (C25k) app, it also utilises the same method for new runners.
Galloway started with an initial group of non-runners and wanted to train them to complete a 5k run. It didn’t go over well - he realised that a little more training was needed to turn these rookies into serial runners. He started with a simple rule: Huffing and Puffing. The rule states that runners should take a walk break when they start to feel like their breathing is more huffing and puffing. Seems simple enough, right?
Anyway, fast forward a little bit and the initial group of runners started to build up their endurance and distances along with it. An additional bonus was that they also suffered less injuries!
Now here is the kicker, by adopting the RWR Method, runners started to even clock in quicker times than veteran runners who did not stop for any breaks.
So How Can You Implement This Into Your Training?
If you are new to running (or coming back from a long layoff), I might suggest aiming for five (5) minutes of running before taking a break. If you cannot go five minutes, not to worry, just keep note of how long that was, walk for 60 seconds, and then repeat.
In the 10k clinic it was expected that you had some running experience so right out of the gate we were doing 10 minutes of running, followed by 60 seconds of walking. For those who need a little mental help with running, you can break down your run into lots of mini runs. Mentally, most people can envision themselves running ten minutes rather than one hour. Runners can push or visualise themselves to reach those mini milestones rather than go for the long goal.
The best part about the RWR Method is that it’s completely customisable to your abilities. If you need to walk a little longer, then walk a little longer. Maybe try 60 seconds of running, and 120 seconds (2 minutes) of walking. Then once you can handle that make it 90 seconds running and 90 seconds walking. Next step is for you to do 120 seconds of running followed by 60 seconds of walking.
Finally, once you can recover within 60 seconds of walking, plan to extend the running portion. Instead of 120 seconds, go for 150, or 180 before taking that walk. Build it up slowly until you’re at a level you’re comfortable with. For me that ranges between 5 and 15 minutes of running before a walk break.
Walk breaks have also shown that runners can improve on their speed and race times by around seven (7) minutes in a half marathon when compared to non-stop runners. For the marathon it’s been seen to improve times by 13 minutes. This is due to breaking up the distances into manageable units, reducing the chances of aches, pains, and injuries with regular walking breaks. Also hitting “The Wall” can be a little easier as you’ve gotten into the routine of taking those mini breaks.
The RWR method is great for beginners (as well as seasoned runners) who maybe don’t quite yet have the cardio fitness to run for a longer duration of time. It is also great for runners or people who have been injured and are wanting to ease back into running. I myself have been escaping the Winter temperatures here and after two months of staying indoors, I’m using this to build my fitness back up.
This method will help you go further and longer and keep runners motivated. By focusing on that small block, those smaller victories, you keep going. Rather than focusing on the metrics of distance and time, runners keep running, start enjoying their runs more and let’s all be honest with ourselves here, nobody started running for the sole purpose of a 2 hour marathon, or a 15 minute 5k. It was mostly for fitness/health related reasons, and we should always remember that.
Just remember, a 15 minute 5k is just a far as a 60 minute 5k.
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