“I ran the whole thing.” That phrase used to signal a big victory to me. It was my celebratory chant after a race, or tbh any old run. I'd tell anyone within ear shot, right after taking my finish-line jump shot.
The truth is that walking breaks are a very important part of my weekly running plan. And yes, I'm still very much a runner when I slow to a stroll. In fact, walking intervals have made me a better, and a faster, runner. (Hello, knocking 25 minutes off of my 26.2 time.)
Skeptical? Take an Olympian's word for it. Running coach and author Jeff Galloway pioneered the Run Walk Run method back in the 1970s (and has trained thousands of runners since). He designed it with beginners in mind, but the strategy works for longtime runners too.
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The "strategic walk breaks allow each runner to control fatigue, virtually eliminating significant running injuries," per the website. Note walk break and runner in the same sentence, again. Get used to it, my friends.
Here are a few reasons why I am no longer going to look at taking walking breaks as a sign of weakness—or that I'm less of a runner in any way.
Walking breaks make runs fun again.
The fun run is officially back, thanks to walking intervals. For me, a walk break lets me catch my breath and catch the sights and sounds around me. Ideally, it's a panoramic view, but a few trees will do, too. I instinctively reach for my phone and actually have a moment to capture views. I can look back on those snaps, remember my accomplishment, and get all the happy feelings again. (Those throwback endorphins are totally real.)
Planned intervals make runs less intimidating.
Run-walk-run is the perfect intro to running. What sounds harder: running for 30 minutes straight or running for five minutes, walking for one minute, and repeating that a few times? I thought so—and both are runs.
Run-walking virtually eliminates injuries.
What if I told you including walk breaks could basically could make you injury-free? You better believe it. Welcome a bit of walking into your run and say buh-bye to aches, pulled muscles, and pretty much every other common pain-point of pounding the pavement. Jeff's Run Walk Run training heralds injury-free running, which he's experienced, as a major benefit.
The technique of running and walking intervals reduces impact on your body and helps you recover more efficiently. By walking at set intervals, you're adding valuable recovery time to your actual run so you don’t exhaust your body by the end and your muscles perform better throughout. You have time to slow down and catch your breath before hitting the next interval refreshed, Jenny Hadfield, running coach and author of Running for Mortals, previously told Women's Health.
Olympians and running coaches approve.
“I think the run/walk method is pretty widely accepted,” running coach John Honerkamp says. "I did it when I trained Karlie Kloss for the 2017 NYC Marathon and we did five minutes of running followed by one minute of walking after the initial first 6 miles, which we ran."
I also happen to be kicking off training for the New York City Marathon with John on Strava and New Balance's team this week, so I'm thrilled to hear he's on board with walking intervals—and that I'm in good company with the model runner.
Walking intervals can improve speed and strength.
Walking breaks can add up to serious PRs. According to Jeff’s Run Walk Run research, runners shave an average of 7 minutes off a 13.1 mile distance and more than 13 minutes in a marathon when they hit their correct Run Walk Run ratio.
Walking just isn’t a sign of weakness.
Jennifer Nied is the fitness editor at Women’s Health and has more than 10 years of experience in health and wellness journalism. She’s always out exploring—sweat-testing workouts and gear, hiking, snowboarding, running, and more—with her husband, daughter, and dog.