Like many native and local New Yorkers, I grew up watching the NYC Marathon and being inspired by the athletes as they crossed the finish line. When I moved to Manhattan, I had an apartment with the best view of all, First Avenue!
Every November, I went down and watched and cheered for hours, being inspired by all the “regular runners” not usually shown on TV and wondering what it might be like to be a NYC Marathoner one day. The fact that I couldn’t run even one block didn’t stop me from thinking about it!
In 2019, looking to make some changes, I decided to try running with the goal of completing a 5K. I quickly caught the running bug and moved on to a 10K and began to contemplate a half marathon and whether I could actually run a full marathon, but longer distances seemed impossible to even consider.
Impossible, however, only until I saw a group of Flyers using the run/walk method and became curious. I looked into it and spoke with many who used run/walk, tried it out, and discovered how much it could help me. To my surprise, after using the method I started to become a stronger and faster runner who could take on longer distances. Could I take on the NYC Marathon? Only one way to find out. I threw my name into the Flyers lottery for club bibs and won. Oh man! Now I am running the marathon! My first marathon and it would be NYC!
As it turns out, life (and Covid) had other plans for me as it did for many of us, and the marathon was canceled – but I continued to work on my running and my run/walk strategy. I ran my first half marathon, and then in the fall of 2021, I got to run my first marathon on a hot and humid October day in Chicago. Throughout the race I found so many others run/walking right along with me, and thanks to this method I never worried about being able to finish.
So What is a Run/Walk strategy?
You may have heard about it, you may have heard it called the Galloway method (more on that later), and you may have seen people practicing it on runs through the park and races throughout the city. It’s an interval pacing strategy used by many runners that consists of alternating running segments followed by short walk breaks, repeated throughout the course of a run.
But why? Some do it to boost endurance over a long run or to reduce the risk of an injury, while others find it less taxing on the body so they recover faster. Some run/walk athletes even find it improves their long run pace and it’s now incorporated into training plans by coaches Bobby McGee and Jim Vance for their Olympic athletes.
So where did this all start?
No one actually knows when and where this method originated, but it became very popular in the 70’s when former Olympian Jeff Galloway was seeking a less intimidating way for non-runners to get into the sport. He started both running and walk/run clinics from his running store in Atlanta and eventually wrote several books. Today there are articles, books, blogs and lots of other information on the topic. Many charities affiliated with large full and half marathons now even offer run/walk pace groups for their runners and you can find run/walk training groups in a lot of cities.
So I want to get started. What should I do?
For something that seems so obvious (I mean just run then walk, right?), there's a lot of work and strategy behind it:
- First you will need to determine your run and walk segments. There is no set segment for any one person. If you follow a Galloway method, he has a “Magic Mile” formula that can help you determine your ratios based on pace, but most people choose their own paces and ratios based on what feels most comfortable personally. No matter what method you use, it takes patience, practice and evaluation. You may find that you need to change it up regularly based on injury, weather or the length of the race/training run. The most common ratios athletes use are runs of anywhere from 45 seconds to 4 minutes followed by a 30-second to 1-minute walk. Longer and shorter walking segments are also used.
- Second is to work on transitioning from the walk to the run and back to the walk again. Moving back and forth between them abruptly is taxing, slows you down and can cause injury. A solution is to learn how to “glide” or “stride” into the run/walk change. Using 3-5 seconds to slow down or increase your pace will help your transition.
- Third is to consider your racing strategy. While there are no hard-and-fast rules about using a run/walk method in a race, there are a few courtesies to help avoid collisions in a crowd:
- Try to stay to your right, raise your right hand when you prepare to walk and if necessary call out that you're walking as others may not be paying attention. In a crowded race before everyone has spread out this can be especially important for your safety as well as others’.
- You’ll want to consider your pace when deciding where in the corral to start. Slower runners or those with shorter intervals may want to consider starting in the back of a corral, but some runners are quite fast with this strategy and are better off in the front. It all comes down to your comfort level and knowing your pace and your ratios.
What about those hills?
Oh the hills you say? Well, this again comes down to your personal preference. You can either continue a run/walk ratio for the uphill and the downhill or you can walk the uphills and always run the downhills. There are different personal thoughts and preferences for both.
For the first it can be helpful to always follow your ratios no matter the hills which can help train your brain and your legs to keep moving every time you hear the timer. This is especially helpful at the end of a longer race such as a half-marathon, marathon or longer.
With the second strategy you may find that you have an easier time conserving energy and gaining more speed by walking up short hills and running down them and ignoring your timer. This is especially helpful if your goal may be running a long trail race or an ultra where it is very common to do just this.
So how do I know when to run and when to walk?
There are lots of different tools to time your intervals. The most popular one is a Gym Boss. You may see this clipped to the shirts of many runners. It is a simple, small device that beeps audibly and/or vibrates at whatever intervals you set. It costs about $17 - $20 and can be good for group workouts.
- You can set multiple custom timers on it
- It’s inexpensive
- It can be set to vibrate so it’s good to use in a loud race
- It requires one battery that lasts a long time
- It can be a bit bulky and it’s another extra thing to carry
Your Garmin Watch as well as many other fitness devices can also be set to vibrate at certain intervals, alerting you when it’s time to transition.
- Having it vibrate is easy in a loud situation like a big race such as a marathon
- There’s nothing extra to carry
- Depending on your watch, in a long run or marathon you could drain your battery quickly
There are also many apps available for your smartphone, including the Intervasl Pro, Running Distance Timer, Running Distance Tracker Pro, Interval Timer Plus, Simple Interval Timer, Run Interval Timer and Map My Run.
- You can set multiple custom timers
- You can get voice prompts through your earphones and bluetooth
- Many will give you 5-second heads up so you can “transition” between run/walk easier
- They range from free to $8
- They may drain your phone battery quickly so on a long run or race you may need a back up
- You need to carry your phone
Sounds great! How can I practice and learn more?
Come on out to Thursday night Flyers group runs and join us! I lead a small but dedicated run/walk group that completes a 3-4 mile distance.
I love showing other runners who are scared about trying running or anxious about longer distances what they can do with this method. If you are curious, come out and give it a try with us!
We meet at the Maine Monument at Columbus Circle at 6:30 PM each Thursday. I hope to see you there!
As for that NYC Marathon….I’ll see you on the start line this fall.
- Wendy M.