Monday Mailbag with Coach Joe: Run/Walk Intervals | The Sisterhood of the Shrinking Jeans LLC


Hello sisters. It’s time for our next installment of ask Coach Joe about running and fitness. We have one question this week that has to do with run/walk intervals Get your questions answered here every other Monday, by writing in or commenting on a post.

Jen, who is training for a half-marathon, brings us her question this week:

I am finally really getting the whole running thing – sort of – I have fallen into a rhythm with 1min running: 1 minute walking intervals. Is this lame? I feel pretty comfortable and strong with the 1:1 intervals – a little nervous about changing this up but I know I should….do you have any suggestions?

Good question Jen. The first thing that I’d always want to look at are your goals. There’s nothing “wrong” with doing 1:1 intervals — or any interval strategy for that matter. So, before we change things let’s think about what you’d gain. The most obvious thing is going to be speed. As you eliminate the walking intervals, you’re bound to speed up. So if your trying to get faster then this is a good way to do it. But if you’re happy with the ways things feel and you’re not concerned with your finishing time then there is a no reason that you have to change something that is working for you.

Generally speaking, run/walk intervals help new runners in a number of ways. They help both mentally and physically by giving the body a break to recover and by giving the mind a target to point at. The mantra “only one more minute” or “I get a break every mile” can help the mind focus and keep going when it might feel overwhelming to try to run the entire distance without a break. There are many programs that encourage walk breaks even for intermediate recreational runners and many runners really like taking a walk break at a regular interval — for example breaking for one minute every mile. I’ve also seen that some runners actually run faster when given the prospect of taking these short walk breaks. One particular runner I coached was a solid back-of-the-packer when she was trying to run continuously. Once we started giving her walk breaks, she sped up considerably (even despite the walk breaks) and move up into the middle of the pack. It was a quite a remarkable difference.

So all of this to say that run/walk is not necessarily a “bad” thing that we have to eliminate, but once we start focusing on time goals then it becomes an obvious place to look to decrease your finish times.

How would you move forward from 1:1 to something else? There are two ways. A very conservative way is to start by increasing the run interval on just one run each week. So while you’d keep your 1:1 interval for most of your runs, you’d change one run to 2:1 (running two minutes and walking one minute) in the first week. Then you’d change two runs the next week to this ratio. When you get to three or four in a week (which may be all of your runs), then increase one run by one more minute to 3:1. Keep progressing over time and you’ll be running more and more.

A more standard approach that I use with runners that don’t have weeks and weeks to eliminate their walk breaks is to use a progression that increases the run intervals and decreases the walk intervals in chunks. I use this approach with most of my new runners and it seems to work well. Every once in awhile, a runner might need to pause at a particular combination for 2-3 weeks and then keep moving and this is totally fine. But this is the road-map that I work toward. This takes a short run workout and moves the runner toward continuous running over about a ten week period.

The numbers shown below correspond to the Run Interval, Walk Interval, Number of Repeats and the Total Minutes:

Line one says “2 4 4 24″, which corresponds to: Run 2 minutes, Walk 4 minutes, Repeat 4 times, Total 24 minutes

2 4 4 24 3 3 4 24 5 2 ½ 3 22 ½ 7 3 2 20 8 2 2 20 9 2 2 22 9 1 2 20 13 2 2 20 14 1 2 30

30 0 1 30