Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The Strange Secret of How You Can Run Faster by Walking More

It seemed like a gorgeous spring day in Rhode Island today -- sunny, no snow, hardly any wind -- so I went for a long run on the East Bay Bike Path, a 10 mile run to be precise. Well, strictly speaking it wasn't a run because I was walking for 25% of the time. I was using Jeff Galloway's unique training method based on taking "walk breaks." I ran three minutes and walked one minute, and repeated (almost) ad infinitum until I had completed 10 miles.

Why does Galloway recommend walk breaks? Here is what he says...
By using muscles in different ways from the beginning, your legs keep their bounce as they conserve resources. When a muscle group, such as your calf, is used continuously step by step, it fatigues relatively soon. The weak areas get overused and force you to slow down later or scream at you in pain afterward. By shifting back and forth between walking and running muscles, you distribute the workload among a variety of muscles, increasing your overall performance capacity.

Walk breaks will significantly speed up recovery because there is less damage to repair. The early walk breaks erase fatigue, and the later walk breaks will reduce or eliminate overuse muscle breakdown.

His method is not only about using walk breaks during training. He recommends them when running races at long distances such as the marathon and half-marathon too. He says you can and will run such a race faster by talking walk breaks.
Most runners will record significantly faster times when they take walk breaks because they don't slow down at the end of a long run. Thousands of time-goal-oriented veterans have improved by 10, 20, 30 minutes and more in marathons by taking walk breaks early and often in their goal races. You can easily spot these folks. They're the ones who are picking up speed during the last two to six miles when everyone else is slowing down.

Sounds counter-intuitive doesn't it? Slow down to go faster? Strange.

Does it work? Well, it worked for me.

I ran my first marathon in 2005. I used a traditional marathon preparation program that involved running longer distances each week during the training up to a maximum of 20 miles. Then on race day I just ran at what I thought was a comfortable pace, but I ran out of gas at the 20-mile mark, my leg muscles kept cramping, I spent several painful episodes sprawled on the side of the course trying to ease out the cramps, and I hobbled and staggered the last six miles of the race to finish in an appallingly slow time.

I ran the same race again in 2006. This time I used the Galloway system, taking regular walk breaks during the long training runs, the longest of which was 28 miles. During the race I took a one minute walk break every mile. I arrived at the 20-mile mark five minutes earlier than when I had run all the way the previous year. More importantly I didn't suffer a repeat of the agonies of the last six miles from the previous year, and I finished the marathon almost 30 minutes faster than I had in 2005.

So, it worked for me. I'm a great believer in the Galloway system now.

I'm not training for a marathon this year. My plan is to be prepared to run a half-marathon by early May, and then if that goes well to run some more half-marathons through the year. Last weekend I sat down and planned out which half-marathons in New England would fit around the Laser regatta schedule. Sailing is still my priority!

The 10 mile walk/run went well. Galloway says that you should do the long training runs at least a couple of minutes per mile slower than your target race pace. His theory is that these runs are to build stamina and you will achieve that no matter how slowly you run. And you will recover much faster from a long slow run. At my age, I like slow. Slow suits me just fine.

It's the first time I've run that far in six months. Right now I'm feeling a bit weary, but in a good way. All those endorphins coursing through the body sure make you feel good.

So that's the strange secret of how you can run faster by walking more.

How strange is that possum?


BeachComber said...

I read another review of this book a couple of months back. A little counter-intuitive, but ultimately it makes sense. Presumably, once you're finishing below a certain time, it makes sense to just run the whole thing, right?

My alternative? Don't do a marathon, but an international length triathlon instead! That way you get a swimming and cycling break.

Tillerman said...

I think Galloway claims that you will achieve your optimum marathon time by using his run/walk system, no matter how fast you can run. But many other running experts would disagree.

The O'Sheas said...

Do you mix up your training routine? I do long on the weekend, recovery run on Monday, tempo runs two days during the week, hill run on Thursday evening, and track workout on Tuesday.

I think this approach is similar to what you're doing, in that it mixes up the intensity, speeds, breaks, and lengths, and always results in my negative-splitting right up to the end of my races. Well, did. I'm not racing anymore. Just trying to get back to fitness. :)

Tillerman said...

Yes, I vary the workouts. Galloway advises only three training runs per week for somebody my age, plus some cross-training. The long runs are only every other week. If you're aiming for a time goal half-marathon there is interval training on the weeks you're not doing the long runs.

Mark Hendy said...

Can I just congratulate you on actually getting out and doing it. It's all to easy just to not bother. You may just have inspired me!

O Docker said...

I showed this post to my boss and tried to convince him that I would be more productive at work if I took a two-hour lunch, but he's not buying it.

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