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Is Walking During Runs Really So Bad?
Enough with the negativity around needing a walk break.
Whenever someone who doesn’t run finds out I run marathons, their inevitable response is that they could never run that far without walking.
Well, spoiler alert: I do walk. I’ve walked in every marathon I’ve run—even my PR races. It’s not always intentional, like when I was dehydrated at the end of the Colorado Marathon in 2022 and couldn’t contract my quad muscles in the last four miles. But the occasional 10- to 15-second walk through a water station can give my body enough of a break that I return to holding my race pace. I’ve also used walk breaks to break up the mileage when I’m having a mentally tough day—in Berlin 2022, for example, instead of quitting, I decided to let myself walk for one minute and then aimed to keep the rest of that mile under a certain lap pace.
Still, it sometimes feels like “walk” is a bad word in the running world—like admitting you needed a walk break during a 20-mile long run on a scorching hot day is a sign of weakness. It’s not. (And before you beat yourself up, remember that New York City Marathon champion Shalane Flanagan walked at the London Marathon in 2021, and former American Marathon record holder Keira D’Amato did it in her debut marathon!)
I’m not saying you should walk. Most people aim to run as much as possible in a long distance race—so you should also do that training, unless you’re specifically following a walk/run plan (and, FWIW, research published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport showed that a combined run/walk strategy allows non-elite runners to achieve similar finish times with less muscle discomfort). But short, infrequent walk breaks, especially done intentionally, are not going to ruin your workout or your race.
Walking reduces the impact forces on the muscles, joints, and tendons, and it reduces breathing rate and heart rate. And all of that allows you to cover more distance with better form and a reduced risk of fatigue.
Case in point: It’s hot as hell right now. Even when you’re not moving, the heat and humidity are putting excess stress on your body as it tries to stay cool. Add exercise—even the slowest shuffle, to that—and your rate of perceived exertion might be through the roof. So if you feel like you need to walk through a patch of shade or up a hill just to give your body a break for a few seconds or even a few minutes, DO IT. Not only will it not ruin your workout, it might even make the rest of that workout more bearable.
Despite the way some runners look down on walking, it’s experiencing a bit of a renaissance as its own workout. During the pandemic, people started leaning towards lower-impact workouts outside the four walls of a gym. I know, I know, why walk if you can run? But you can’t run all the time. And walking offers its own benefits—benefits that support running.
Since I started wearing the Oura ring, which automatically tracks workouts, I’ve started paying a lot more attention to how much I walk during the day—mostly because it counts my walk to and from the grocery store for snacks in the afternoon as a workout. I also noticed that my HRV increased and my resting heart rate lowered on the weeks where I incorporated more walks.
Back in 2021, I wrote about a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise which found that people who do one hour of aerobic exercise daily but take fewer than 5,000 steps per day outside of that workout are more likely to experience something called “exercise resistance.” When the researchers cut a participant’s number of steps to between 2,500 and 5,000 per day for just two days, it led to a 16- to 19-percent decrease in fat oxidation and a 22- to 23-percent increase in “postprandial” (after a meal) plasma triglycerides. Essentially, you’re sabotaging your own fat metabolism if you just sit around all day post-workout. (Meanwhile, taking at least 8,500 steps per day outside of a workout, the researchers found, protected the subjects against exercise resistance.)
The effects are clear on social media, too. Strava users who regularly upload walks record around 2.5 to 4 hours a week, and two-thirds of walkers on Strava also run or ride, according to the company’s 2021 Year In Sport report; plus, cyclists and runners who walk were 16.1 percent more likely to still be active six months down the road than those who don't.
Walking between 2.5 and 4 miles per hour (or 24 and 15 minutes per mile)—not your mom’s spandex-clad power walk, more like a conversational-but-have somewhere-to-be pace—counts as a low- to moderate-intensity activity, according to the U.S. government’s Physical Activity Guidelines.
Surprise: This kind of walk can help build your aerobic base. Sustained, low-intensity training increases your cells’ production of mitochondria, which leads to adaptations that transport oxygen to the working muscles more efficiently— all of which will eventually help you run faster for longer using the same amount of energy.
And, for the record, 15 minutes of walking was shown to be as beneficial as five minutes of running in a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. I’m not saying it replaces running, but using walking as a way to up the amount of time you spend on your feet without putting as much stress on your legs can be a smart addition to your training. You could walk for active recovery immediately post-long run, you could walk as a second workout for the day, or you could walk in lieu of an easy run if you feel like your bones, muscles, and tendons need that break.
The point is, walking isn’t a dirty word, and it doesn’t make you less than as a runner. Running is hard, and sometimes your body just needs that mid-workout or mid-race break. And that’s OK! There’s no reason to feel guilty or shameful about stopping your run to walk. Instead of getting sucked into any stigma surrounding walking, think instead about using it strategically to help you reach your running goals.
New Balance FuelCell SuperComp Trainer v2
Thank god New Balance didn’t mess (too much) with a good thing. The SuperComp Trainer was my favorite show release of 2022, and the latest iteration improves on the first: the foam is lighter and less dense, which takes weight (one whole ounce) off the shoe without sacrificing springiness, and the new engineered mesh upper has a more comfortable tongue and collar combo. But it still has a carbon fiber plate sandwiched between two layers of foam, and even though the stack height was reduced (from 47 to 40 millimeters under the heel), it still feels as plush and bouncy as the OG. While these weren’t designed for racing, I did run the NYC Marathon in the first version (my feet were so happy), and these seem even more race day-ready. I see a lot of miles in these in my future.
COROS Heart Rate Monitor
When COROS’ brand-new heart rate monitor first showed up in my mail, I was pretty confused. Instead of a chest strap, it was an arm band. Huh? It still uses an optical heart rate sensor like the watch, but avoids the accuracy issues caused by the lack of deep tissue there; the company says the arm offers the sensor an optimal amount of blood flow to gather heart rate data with accuracy equivalent to that of a traditional chest strap. I don’t have a chest strap to compare it to, but the data was pretty identical to that of my Oura ring. Otherwise, I liked that it automatically connected to my watch as soon as I put it on. Do most runners need this? Probably not. But if you do train by heart rate and want more accurate data, this is a relatively affordable (at $79) add-on to whatever watch you wear.
Is Running Getting the Netflix Treatment?
I haven’t really gotten into the whole Formula 1: Drive to Survive thing, but I’d love to see running get that kind of screen time! Camera crews have apparently (I say apparently because I don’t always trust TheDaily Mail) been following the track and field circuit this season, with a focus on 200m champions Dina Asher-Smith and Noah Lyles and 100m world champion Fred Kerley. The World Athletics organization did confirm “there are a number of documentary film crews following our sport and our athletes,” but there are no other details at the moment. Honestly, running needs more mainstream coverage, so fingers crossed this comes to fruition.
Hydrate Before You Exercise!
This sounds like a no-brainer, but I am exceptionally bad at doing it so… A recent scientific review published in Sports Medicine confirmed that hyperhydration—i.e. increasing your total body water above that of normal levels—before working out “may improve exercise capacity during constant work rate exercise due to a reduced heart rate and core temperature, stemming from an acute increase in plasma volume.” Essentially, it helps offset some of the sweat loss you can’t make up for by drinking during exercise in hot conditions. Since we’re all living in hell at this point, take this as your daily reminder to drink more.