Before I get started on this post, I need a disclaimer. I am NOT a running coach. I am NOT a trainer. What works (or doesn’t work) for me may or may not be the same for you. Everyone needs to find their own magic formula. I’m just a marathoner-in-training doing just that and this is my experience with using a run/walk/run method for my first 18 miler of this training cycle. These are my pros and cons of run/walk/run intervals on long runs.
When I registered for the Detroit International Marathon, I was not in marathon training shape. I was a little bit injured but stubborn, with a discount code, hence the signing up. I sat down and started working on a training plan – one that was much more intense than the plan I followed for my first (and only other) marathon. Why? I want to run this one A LOT FASTER.
Fast forward about 9 weeks into the 20+ week training cycle and I’ve run a number of double-digit runs, but for any over about 10 miles, I haven’t been able to run without walking. Now, I’m not saying it isn’t ok to walk – it most certainly is – but I’ve started on this training path with the plan to run the marathon, with the exception of walking through aide stations. Clearly, I’m having a hard time managing those 14 and 16 mile runs, especially with the heat and humidity we have been experiencing here in Michigan (and for the 14 miler – Savannah, GA).
My first 18 miler this cycle ended up falling on the weekend of the Rock n Roll Chicago Half Marathon. I’d had no intention of running this race but I won a free entry and decided if I could get in 5 miles before the race, I would run the half as a supported long run. The week leading up to the race, I saw on the website that pacers would be available for the time I was shooting for (a 2:30 half, or around an 11:30/mile pace) and that they would have a group using a run/walk of 5 minute runs/1 minute walks. I decided I would run with the pace group (because I’m thinking about doing that in Detroit) but that I would stick with the straight run pacers (again, because that’s my Detroit plan) unless my 5 miles before the race did not go well (spoiler alert – they went fine but the humidity was INSANE). I spoke to the pace folks at the expo and found out the pacers would be 7 corrals behind me (WHAT?!?!) and that they would NOT be running intervals. So much for that idea. Because I was still undecided of how to run the “race”, I set up the interval workout on my Garmin but still headed out for the 5 miles before the race as a straight run. On that run, I told my running partner I would be doing intervals. The humidity was killing me and I really wanted to make sure I could finish.
So, what were the pros and cons to run/walk/run intervals for me at the Rock n Roll Chicago Half Marathon? They were pretty balanced out.
- I really believe the walk breaks helped me deal with the heat and humidity. As a side note – half marathons in a concrete jungle in July are probably not the smartest races on the planet.
- I started to welcome the walk breaks. Even though I was getting tired, I knew I only needed to run for 5 minutes max.
- I woke up Monday morning feeling pretty darn good. A little sore, but nothing like previous long runs where I couldn’t even walk down the stairs. Then Tuesday morning I was able to run 3 miles (with sluggish legs, but I still ran). I definitely think I recovered faster vs on runs where I haven’t used scheduled breaks and just walked when I couldn’t run another step.
- The walk breaks gave me time to take in fuel, hydrate, take pictures, and refill my water bottles.
- I think it’s possible to go farther using run/walk than a straight run because the body has a chance to recover a bit during the actual run.
- There is potential to burn more calories. We all burn roughly the same number of calories per mile (100 give or take depending on your size and fitness level) provided you are getting your heart rate up regardless of the pace. If I can run/walk 10 miles vs straight running 7 miles during a workout, I’ll come out better on the calorie burn.
- The run/walk plan may result in fewer injuries if the walk breaks reduce muscle fatigue. Continuing to run on tired muscles can result in a loss of form and increased chance of injury.
- Pride. Sorry folks, but this was a big one for me and is very personal and tied into who I am. I’m a runner who has worked very hard at improving my running so I could complete races without walking. Honestly, I didn’t even start the intervals until 2 miles into the race because I didn’t want to start walking so soon. I just didn’t like what the walk breaks did to my ego.
- Pace/speed. I know if you read up on the run/walk/run method, many people will say you can complete a half marathon several minutes faster by employing walk breaks BEFORE YOU GET TIRED than if you just try to run the whole thing. (Many pace calculators say I should be able to run a 9 minute mile using this method but I call BS on that one.) So far, I’m not convinced. My pace using the 5:1 intervals for the 13.1 miles of the half marathon (11:49) was slower than on my 14 miler in Savannah (where I walked when I got tired and averaged an 11:44) and my hilly 16 miler (11:48) where I also just walked when I was tired. The 18 miler’s overall pace (11:36) was faster because of the 5 miles of straight running at the beginning.
- Data. Using the interval workout on my Garmin meant I had no mile splits. I’m a numbers nerd and it drove me nuts that I couldn’t figure out where in the run I started to break down. Also, that race has 2 big tunnels which totally screwed up my GPS so even if I’d been running it straight, I still might not have had accurate data.
- It became harder and harder to start running again once I hit a walk break. Several of my walks ended up more like 90 seconds.
- I was too focused on my watch and not paying attention to my surroundings. Because my Garmin isn’t very loud, it was difficult to hear the beeps over the race noise and my music. I missed a couple walk intervals so I just kept running until the next one and when I was in a walk, I kept my eyes on my watch so I wouldn’t miss when I was supposed to run again.
- Math. I suck at math. Yes, the watch was supposed to be doing the math for me, but I’d still want to know at what time I’d be allowed to walk again. Let me tell you, after running about 15 miles, I can no longer add 5 to anything in my head.
So, will I try this run/walk/run again? Probably. I’m giving serious thought to using it for my first 20 miler this coming weekend because of how quickly I recovered from the 18 and to give myself a better chance of getting all 20 miles in. I haven’t completely abandoned the idea of running intervals for the marathon, but knowing Detroit’s pacers do not use them makes it harder to commit. I don’t want to have to keep track for 26.2 miles and rely on hearing my watch beep. It might make more sense for me to plan 1 minute walk breaks at the top of every mile or something like that.
What has been your experience with run/walk intervals? Any tips you’d like to share with me?