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

Sun, 28 Nov 2004 09:31:14 -0500

Time Travel


(rerun from November 1999 RC)

Time is precious to any runner. It's how we keep score in this sport, so we glory in every second saved and worry about each one lost in the race against our pace goal.

Phil Uglow from Toronto likes the idea of taking walk breaks during his long runs. But he wrote, "Could you talk about how to calculate run-walk times into minutes per kilometer or mile? I train with a number of run-walkers and they are all baffled, as am I, on how to set various paces."

Uglow and friends were training for a four-hour marathon. They worried, as most new walk-breakers do, about falling behind their intended pace while walking -- or at least having the breaks play havoc with their splits.

Let the time "run" on during walks to simplify split-taking and pacing, I told Uglow. If you think it's a complication to include walk breaks in total time, think how confusing it becomes if you punch out during the breaks.

I recommended that he not check his pace at the usual one-kilometer or one-mile intervals. Some K's and miles might include two breaks and others none.

Instead, take splits at longer intervals such as every 5K to five miles. This equalizes the number of walks per timing period and gives a truer picture of how the pace is going.

Despite the walking, or maybe because of it, brief breaks cost less time than you might imagine. If you walk for one minute in every mile, how much time do you think you'd lose against someone who runs nonstop?

Your first guess might be a minute per mile. That would be the right answer only if you screeched to a dead stop during the breaks. But remember that you're still moving at about half your running pace, so this cuts your overall slowdown to about 30 seconds per mile (slightly more for the fastest runners, slightly less for the slowest).

Realize too that the walks affect your running pace in two good ways:

1. Run-walkers tend to go slightly faster in the run segments than if they tried to run without pause. Notice the people beside you who don't stop as you take your break. You're likely to catch right back up to them as you resume running... and to leave them behind as the distance adds up.

2. Run-walkers tend to hold their pace longer (or even increase it), while nonstop runners are more likely to meet a wall sooner. The walks also act as leg-savers and energy-extenders, which help you avoid a time-wasting slowdown late in a run or race.

The longer the distance, the less the difference in pace between run-walk and run-every-step. A four-hour marathoner like Philip Uglow might lose no time at all by taking his breaks. He might even save some precious seconds per mile -- which multiply into minutes in a marathon.


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