The long walk/run to freedom

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When running we all tend to be quite proud. We look down our noses at “the walkers” (except when they pass us on the hills as just happened to me this weekend) and curse them at events when we get stuck behind them at the start line. To a “runner” walking feels like giving up or cheating. That’s why we tend to sneak our walking in on a quiet stretch of road and pick up the pace for an audience.

Coach Parry is a big advocate of the run/walk strategy and it really came into the spotlight when an athlete he trained, Caroline Wostmann ran/walked her way to victory at not only the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon but also the Comrades Marathon in the same year in 2015.

The main theory behind the strategy is breaking up a run with short walks BEFORE you actually feel fatigued;

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It allows the muscles in your legs to continue firing, but fewer muscles are recruited and they fire at a different rate.

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It allows your heart rate to come down and gives your cardiovascular system time to recover.

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Walking at predetermined intervals, before you feel that you are tired and need to rest, means that you are walking on relatively fresh legs and your overall pace doesn’t suffer.

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One of the suspected mechanisms behind muscle cramps is that the stretch receptors in your tendons aren’t activated when the muscle is in a sustained shortened position (or sustained contraction) during an activity. The different stride length of walking may well activate these stretch receptors to cause a relative relaxation of the muscles and delay or prevent the onset of cramps.

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Finally, and very importantly, the eccentric load (muscle work done to decelerate your leg and absorb the impact as your foot strikes the ground) is greatly decreased during a walk as opposed to a run. This major benefit of interspersing your run with short walks becomes especially useful in a largely downhill race where the eccentric load on your muscles is high.

When I first got back into my takkies I did a couple of short runs, only walking when I felt I needed a rest, or feared my heart would explode. When I compared these runs to my first more regimented “run/walks” I realized very quickly that my over-all time was faster during the latter. By adding pre-determined walking intervals I was running faster during my run splits and walking faster during my “breaks” as well. I feel that this strategy is a safe and effective way to start running when you are starting from the couch. It allows you to build up mileage slowly while decreasing your risk of injury.

A run/walk strategy makes it far more likely that you will be able to run equal splits between the first and second half of the race. The goal being to be buggered when you cross the finish line, and feel like you left it all on the road, while still running a similar pace in your last km to that which you ran in the first. Obviously the longer the run, the more useful, even necessary, this strategy becomes.

As with every aspect of your run; nutrition, hydration, equipment etc, race day is NOT the time to try something new. The same goes for your run/walk strategy so its important to replicate your race day strategy in your training runs as well. The exact splits you decide on will depend what level you are running at and what feels manageable to you. It can be time based or distance based so play around and see what feels comfortable for you.

Employing this strategy just helped me to run my personal best 21K- and first one in three years and since having two children! Read about that run here. Why don’t you test it out and see what it can do for your running.

Good luck!

Mama on the Run