Here’s a secret that might help you overcome frustration as you begin to train for longer races such as the Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon and 5K: It’s perfectly okay to alternate running and walking. “When trying to increase distance as you train, it’s easy to feel stuck,” says Jodi Thirtyacre, captain of the Kaiser Permanente training teams. “You try to run longer or harder and you just feel like you can’t do it. Alternating walking with running will help you get past that hurdle and maintain your momentum.”
While you may feel like you”re “giving in” when you slow to a walk, it’s actually a training regimen recommended by many experts. “There’s a running style called run/walk/run,“ says Thirtyacre. “It’s geared towards beginners who want to run distances but don’t quite have the endurance to run extended lengths.”
Beginners aren’t the only ones who can benefit. Many serious long distance runners consider alternating running and walking the most efficient way to cover long distances. And it can be quite successful; one survey found that marathon runners who used a run-walk strategy came in 13 minutes faster than continuous runners.
The rationale behind the run-walk strategy is simple: It helps your body adapt to running more gradually. Running is a high-impact sport that puts a lot of stress on your body. When you alternate running with walking you cut that stress, allowing you to run longer before soreness sets in.
One strategy popular with ultra-runners is to walk hills, then run on the flats and downhills. Another method is to choose a ratio of walking to running and maintain it for the entire run. If you’re a beginner, clock how long you can run continuously — even if it’s only a few minutes — then walk for however long it takes you to catch your breath. Maintain that ratio for the duration of your run.
Other popular ratios include 4:2, 3:2, and 2:2 which means walk for four minutes, run for two; or walk for three minutes, run for two; or two and two. Or reverse those and run for four minutes, walk for two, etc. Use a running watch, an app, or a regular watch to track the minutes for each segment.
Keep in mind that you want to keep a fairly regular pace whether running or walking. Keep the running easy and your walking pace a rapid stride. “Pump your arms as you walk so you get a good workout,“ says Thirtyacre. Your goal is to maintain a fairly even heart rate throughout the running and walking intervals.
Don’t push yourself too hard when deciding how long to run before walking. You want to slow to a walk before your running muscles start to get tired, not when they’re already crying out for help. This allows your muscles to recover instantly which increases your capacity to run further. It also helps prevent soreness the next day.
As your fitness level increases, you can alter your ratio. “Increase your running and decrease your walking until you reach your distance goal or time,” says Thirtyacre. You may wish to use a run-walk strategy during the race itself to increase your endurance.
Running in short intervals also helps you train your mind in preparation for marathon running because short distances are less daunting. Anyone can run for four minutes, so make that your goal and you’re sure to achieve it. Walk for a few minutes, then ask yourself if you’re ready for another four minutes. The answer will almost certainly be yes.