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

Thu, 27 Sep 2012 04:46:10 -0400

Break Time

RUNNING COMMENTARY 956

(The latest, and probably last, home for my magazine column was Marathon & Beyond. That seven-year stay ended in 2011. Now I have permission to republish those pieces. This one comes from the May 2009 issue.)

This is a test to see if you want to read to the end of this chapter. Ask yourself: Would I want to go five to 10 times longer than my average daily run? Would I want my legs to feel better than I thought possible on the longest distances? Would I want to slow down less in the late miles of a marathon? Would I want to recover faster afterward?

Who wouldn’t? But like all sounds-too-good offers, this one comes with a tradeoff. Now ask yourself: Would I sacrifice a half-minute or more per mile for these benefits? That’s the cost of taking frequent walk breaks to go longer, easier, more often.

If you feel that walking is cheating, stop reading here and move on to a writer who agrees with you. But if you want to know how much difference the walk breaks make, read on. It’s both more (in distance gained) and less (in time penalty) than you might think.

Walk breaks are standard for me now – as is Jeff Galloway’s near-standard pause of one minute – at any distance even moderately long. I’d go so far as to say I wouldn’t, or couldn’t, last much longer than an hour without these walks. With them, I still finish marathons, which is my only remaining goal there.

My practice is to run nine minutes and walk one at the low end of that training (say, in the second hour), and then as little as four minutes between breaks later on. This means I spend 20 percent of marathon time not running.

You might think is a gigantic waste of time. It’s 48 minutes of a 4:00 marathon, a full hour in an event lasting 5:00 (which is about how long mine take these years). You might think that walking this much would turn 10-minute miles into 12s, dragging a potential 4:22 marathon out to 5:12.

But this isn’t how the walks work. The obvious reason is that you don’t screech to a halt for the breaks. You keep moving, now at roughly half your running pace (more for faster runners, less for slower ones). This means that you might walk 10 to 20 percent of the TIME, as I do, but only about five to 10 percent of the DISTANCE.

So how much difference to these breaks make? Half as much slowdown as first suspected? I couldn’t have answered that until recently, when I finally ran the math. The results surprised even this walk-break believer as I compared run and walk pace.

Running pace is whatever it is. Walking isn’t a RACE walk but a restful 15:00 to 20:00 pace. Split the difference and it means you walk only about 100 yards in a minute.

Intervals of time are simpler to use than distance because miles usually aren’t marked on training runs, and fractions of miles never are. You can set a watch to signal precise starts and stops. (If you wear a GPS watch, a one-minute walk equals about 0.6 mile.)

The table below projects results from a wide range of run/walk combinations. The faster you run, the greater the difference between nonstop and walk-break pace, and vice versa. These calculations are add-ons to 11-minute miles up to seven minutes.

RUN/WALK – SLOWDOWN PER MILE

10/1 minutes – 18 to 29 seconds
9/1 minutes – 20 to 32 seconds
8/1 minutes – 22 to 36 seconds
7/1 minutes – 25 to 40 seconds
6/1 minutes – 29 to 46 seconds
5/1 minutes – 34 to 54 seconds
4/1 minutes – 40 seconds to 1:05
3/1 minutes – 50 seconds to 1:22
2/1 minutes – 1:06 to 1:47

Say you’re in the middle of that range, running at 9:00 pace. With 10-and-ones you’d total 9:24 pace; with four-and-ones, 9:52. Find how much your slowdown would be. Then ask yourself: Am I willing to take that much more time to go longer than I otherwise might?

UPDATE: I don’t require or even strongly recommend walk breaks to the marathoners I coach. It’s an option that few of them intentionally adopt – though many end up walking unintentionally on race day.


[Many books of mine, old and recent, are now available in three different formats: (1) in print from Amazon.com; (2) as e-books from Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com; (3) as printable and shareable PDFs from Lulu.com. The other titles: Home Runs, Joe’s Journal, Long Run Solution, Long Slow Distance, Marathon Training, Run Right Now, Run Right Now Training Log (not an e-book), and Starting Lines, plus Rich Englehart’s book about me, Slow Joe (e-book only). The middle book of the memoir series, Going Far, is being serialized in Marathon & Beyond magazine, starting with the September issue.]
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