How to Do the Run Walk Method

Whether you're new to running or a veteran runner, the run/walk technique can be a powerful, effective tool for safely improving your endurance and pace. Ultimately, you may be able to improve race times if you choose to participate in them.

Most beginner runners start out using a run/walk technique because they don't have the endurance or fitness to run for extended periods of time. Some experienced runners also use run/walk as a strategy for increasing their overall mileage, completing endurance races, and reducing their injury risk.

How to Do the Run/Walk Method

The run/walk method is simple and can be an effective method to avoid injury, boost motivation for running, and improve endurance.

Follow these basic steps and then add pace variations (below) if you choose.

  1. Warm up with a five-minute walk, then complete a few dynamic stretches. When your warm-up is complete, run for a short segment and then take a walking break. Beginners might start by alternating very short run segments with longer walks. For example, you might use a 1:7 ratio (one minute running followed by seven minutes walking).
  2. Keep repeating your run/walk pattern until you've covered your goal distance or time. For example, if you want to run/walk for 16 minutes, you can run/walk at a 1:7 ratio for two cycles. Make sure that you use proper form on both your run and walk segments.
  3. Start your walk portion before your running muscles get too tired. This will allow your muscles to recover instantly, which extends the time and distance that you can cover. If you wait until you're very fatigued, you'll end up walking slowly and it will be difficult to start running again.
  4. Use a watch or other device to time your intervals. A simple running watch such as the Timex Ironman has an interval timer feature. Another product that is a favorite among run/walkers is the Gymboss, a small, easy-to-use interval timer that can clip onto your shorts, shirt, jacket, or hat. It beeps loudly to signal when to start and stop your intervals.
  5. Keep a good pace on your walking segments. Make sure you're not taking a leisurely stroll. You should use good walking form and pump your arms so that your heart rate stays elevated. That way, you'll still be getting a good cardiovascular workout and it will make the transition back to running easier. If you relax too much during your walk intervals, it can be tough to get back to running.
  6. As you continue with your run/walk program, try to extend the amount of time you're running and reduce your walking time.
  7. Once you can successfully run for long stretches, don't feel as if you have to abandon the run/walk method. Some long-distance runners use it in training runs and races to help reduce muscle soreness and fatigue.

Optimal Pace During Your Walk/Run Workout

How fast you run and how fast you walk during each interval depends in part on your reason for using the walk/run method. Some use the walk/run method to build enough endurance to eventually run continuously. Others, however, use the walk/run method to improve race finish times.

Building Endurance for a Steady Run

If you are a new runner (or someone returning to the sport after time off) you may use the walk/run method to build the endurance needed to run for longer stretches of time. For example, you might set a goal to participate in a 5K race and run the entire distance with no specific goal for pace.

In this scenario, the goal would be to keep the run segment relatively easy. Some coaches recommend keeping it to a low-intensity jog. Then the walk should be brisk enough to maintain a moderate intensity. Since there isn't a big difference in the intensity between the jog and the brisk walk it becomes easier to eventually blend the two together into a steady jog.

Walk/Run for Better Race Times

There are prominent coaches, including Jeff Galloway, who recommend the run/walk method to improve your race time. According to Galloway, you'll run 13 minutes faster in a marathon if you take walk breaks (as opposed to running continuously).

He recommends using walk/run method until mile 18 in a marathon or mile nine in a half marathon, then reducing or eliminating the walk segments as needed.

If this is your goal, then your run pace is determined by two factors: your fastest one-mile pace (Galloway calls this your Magic Mile pace) and the distance of the training run or race. He uses a calculator to assign values to each interval.

As an example, if your best mile time is 8 minutes/mile, then you'd complete your run intervals at a 12:24 pace during long runs, an 8:33 pace during a 5K workout, a 9:12 pace during a 10K workout. Your marathon run pace would be 10:24 and your half marathon run interval pace would be 9:36.

During the walk segments, Galloway recommends that you should walk slowly with a short stride as longer strides can cause shin irritation. Also since the purpose of the walk segments in this scenario is to allow for recovery, your walk pace can be a little bit slower.

How to Use the Run/Walk Technique During Races

You can use Galloway's method or any run/walk method during a race. To do so, simply use the same intervals you've used in training. Or some runners like to use longer run intervals to reach the finish line faster.

For example, you could take a 30-second walk break at every mile marker or every water stop. Then continue running after the walking interval is over.

Be sure to use caution and practice good running etiquette when doing run/walk during races. When you stop to do your walk interval, make sure there aren't other runners behind you because they may run into you when you slow down. Get over to the side of the road, or an area of the race where you won't be annoying other racers.

Downsides to the Run/Walk Method

While the run/walk method is a smart technique for some runners—especially those who are new or those who are returning to the sport after injury or illness—it doesn't work for everyone.

For example, some people enjoy running because it gives them a mental release where they can focus on their thoughts. Some even refer to running as a meditative experience.

If you are watching a stopwatch and changing your activity every minute or so, it is not likely that you will get into a meditative or flow state. In addition, it may be harder to focus on running-related form issues such as breathing or posture.

Also, if you use the run/walk method in a race it might impact your motivation. If you are running well and feeling strong, it might be difficult to slow to a walk only to watch runners from behind pass you by.

Lastly, the walk section of the run/walk method can disrupt your rhythm during a long run or race. Some runners rely on a continuous pattern of breathing and foot strikes (called locomotor-respiratory coupling) to guide their training runs and races. If you change your pace regularly, this rhythm will be hard to reach and maintain.

Tips to Begin the Walk/Run Method

If you've decided to give the walk/run method a try, keep these tips in mind to make your program effective.

  • Drink water at the end of your workouts to rehydrate. If it's hot and humid, you should also drink some water (about 4-6 ounces) halfway through your workout.
  • Use your breathing as your guide during your running segments. You should be able to carry on a conversation while running and your breathing shouldn't be heavy. Not only will you be able to run/walk longer, but you'll also prevent side stitches.
  • Make sure that you are properly equipped with running shoes and a running watch.

Run/Walk Training Schedules

A Word From Verywell

There is no right or wrong way to be a runner. For some people, the run/walk method is the smartest way to get and stay in good shape. Whichever method you choose, remember that consistency is the key to reaching your goals and avoiding injury. Give the run/walk method a try. You may find that it is the key to maintaining an enjoyable and healthy running habit.

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