Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Fri, 30 Aug 2002 12:33:23 -0400

A Break from Walks


In the great walk/don't-walk debate, I think you can guess which side I'm on. If not, check the recent defense of Walker-in-Chief Jeff Galloway (RC 421).. or see my July Runner's World column ("Gimme a Break")... or scan almost any of my books that sing praises to this practice.

One of my latest advice-seeking letters asks about taking walk breaks during marathons and long training runs. I didn't tell this runner whether he should walk or not, but how he might do it.

Some of my best friends are run-walkers. I know hundreds of people who swear by the breaks, saying they couldn't (or wouldn't) finish marathons without them. Run-walk has contributed more than any other force to the surge in marathon numbers over the past decade.

I've walked intentionally in every one of my marathons since 1980 -- about a dozen in all. I've stopped to walk during every long run in those years, and more daily runs than not recently. I've beaten the drum for this practice in writing and speaking for decades.

But now comes a confession: I don't do much walking these days, and none at all as planned walk breaks for the past year.

Does this mean I've crossed over to the other side in the great debate, joining the run-only purists? Does this make me a liar in print and a traitor to my walking friends?

No, I haven't parted ways philosophically with my "second brother" Jeff Galloway. I don't say that any of his devotees are wrong.

As recently as last week I wrote again in praise of walking, this for two chapters in the book Fitness Running. One targeted people breaking into running. The other advised runners recovering from injuries.

I don't say I'll never walk again. When long runs -- by my definition, any lasting longer than an hour -- return to my routine, I won't hesitate to restore the breaks. If I try another marathon, I'll again lean heavily on the walks. And if in a weak moment I'm tempted back into interval training, I'll walk the recovery laps.

But for what I'm doing now, I don't need to or want to walk. The switch came last fall, as many of my changes do, without warning or forethought.

This was a snap decision to simplify my running. I would run about the same amount each day, and would simply run the whole way.

First change: Over several months, the length of runs nearly doubled (which sounds a little more impressive than saying that each one was a few miles longer). Second change: Overnight, the walk breaks disappeared.

One day I took them, the next day not. The rationale came later: I wanted to feel more like a runner. The best way to do this was to spend all my allotted time actually running.

I'm running slower than ever, but this pace seems to grant many of the same run-prolonging and injury-protective benefits as walk breaks.

I've realized since dropping them that the walks may "protect" too well. They can act like pain-killing drugs, masking a problem and letting me push on with a run that should have ended early.

If I need to bail out those days, that's it. I take the ultimate walk break -- all the way back home.

Nowadays I plan walks only as brief warmup and cooldown, and as the preferred substitute activity on my weekly non-run day. The only midrun breaks are unplanned -- while waiting for traffic to pass, or for my dog Buzz to drink, water a bush or fertilize a field. And these aren't walks but stops.
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