Tara Parker-Pope has an interesting piece up over at the New York Times Well blog about training for the New York City Marathon with the run-walk method. What is the run-walk method? It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Basically what you do is take your regular timed or distance run, and instead of trying to run the entire length of the workout, you take short walk breaks in between. To be honest, reading this Times article actually gave me some good insight into the way the walk-run method is seen by other runners. Parker-Pope writes,
“I’m using the “run-walk” method, popularized by the distance coach Jeff Galloway, a member of the 1972 Olympic team. When I mentioned this to a colleague who runs, she snickered — a common reaction among purists.”
Now I don’t have too much experience running with other quote unquote “runners,” but I could see how a purist might feel the run-walk method is baloney. Just the idea of running for a minute, then walking for a minute, then running a minute, then walking a minute, and so on, for something like three hours, sounds pretty ridiculous. But it’s not. It’s actually very effective.
One thing I try to tell people who aren’t in the greatest of shape, and are looking to start running as a means to getting fit, is that if you have to know how to run before you can enjoy the act of doing it. It may not be marathon training, maybe it’s just 30 minutes a day to go along with your diet. But you need to know how to run, or else you’ll feel like total crap, get worn down, and incur injuries and just feel fatigued from your exercise. There’s a big difference between running and running yourself ragged.
As a former fat boy, I’m not an advocate of straight running. I can’t even tell you the last time I did a straight run, where I did 6 or 7 miles in a row (granted, not marathon-type training, I admit). At best, you’ll find me running 15 minutes uphill, then breaking for about five minutes of walking, and then another 10 minutes of running, and then a quick 5 minute walk break again. This keeps me fresh and my energy levels steady, my legs don’t get nearly as weary as when I try to do the run straight through. That said, could I do it straight? Yes, I could. And the fact that I still don’t do it says a lot.
Let me give you an example. A few months ago I went to the gym. Normal day there, except I’d gone to bed around 5am the night before, and my legs felt particularly tired. I notice that going to bed after 2am always leaves me in that sort of sluggish zone. But anyway, I get on the treadmill and I just felt that running on an incline on that particular day wasn’t going to be the best idea. So I opted for a flat run, which I think is kind of useless for fat burn, but I’m beyond that point, so it was a moot point. Up until then, on a varying incline between 5-8, I was running a mile at about 7:30. That I was running at 7:30, coming from something like 11 or 12 minutes just a year ago, is saying a lot. But that 7:30 was on an incline. I figured I could beat it on flat surface. But how many miles could I do?
So I started out at a pace of 8.6 mph, which is roughly a 6:58 mile on the treadmill. If the 6 minute mile is the holy grail, for a guy who’s technically not a runner, getting even in the 6 minute range was kind of a thrill. I walked about a quarter of a mile to warm up a bit, and then I knocked out one mile. Then I stopped and walked for a minute to a minute and a half (I wasn’t keeping track really, I just made sure I started the next mile on a whole minute). I continued, ran another mile. Then I walked again. Ran another mile, walked.
Before I knew it, I was keeping up this 6:58 pace, not even remotely tired, and I was about 45 minutes into the run, roughly 5 miles into the run already. I topped out at a little over 7 miles for the hour. The New York City Marathon is 26.219 miles. According to MarathonGuide.com, the average time it took people to finish the New York City marathon was 4 hours and 25 minutes. Now obviously that average is skewed by the people who finish it in much longer times. But just saying, if you can build up your endurance to the point where you can just stay moving on your feet, period, for three hours, the walk-run method should get you through the marathon at a decent pace.