Real Runners Don’t Take Walk Breaks. Or Do They?

Jeff Galloway
Jeff Galloway says walking is GOOD! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When it comes to walk breaks, there are two camps.

The first camp views walking during runs/races as weakness.  You only walk when you are transporting yourself to the start line or after you bonk, hit the wall, or are sidelined with a debilitating injury.

The second camp embraces walking as an essential, healthy part of a running training program.  Walking will better prepare you to hit the starting line injury free and to greet the finish line with great success or even a negative split.

You might think that all of us here at Salty Running are rabid members of the first camp and intrinsically anti-walking. But you’d be wrong.

If you’re that person making statements like “the point of running is TO RUN” and you snub our nose at us who mix in walking, then I think you should be ashamed.  Just like those speedist runners who look down on those of different speeds and abilities, looking down on those who choose to mix in walking only hurts the sport. I am a firm believer that those of us who take walk breaks are just as much runners as those who don’t. In fact, I’m here today to not only stick up for my walk-break-taking sisters, but to tell you why taking walk breaks might actually make you faster. True story!

An animated gif of a walk sequence.
Walking towards the glory of your next PR (hopefully with more clothes on!) (Photo: Wikipedia)

When I advocate walk breaks, I am talking about the Galloway method.  Jeff Galloway is an accomplished runner who coaches runners to take walk breaks during races and long runs (and short training runs) to prevent injury and reduce fatigue.  The length and number of breaks are determined by your individual fitness level and speed, but he advocates that you begin taking walk breaks from the very beginning of your run/race at regular intervals to maximize your results.

How I do it.  When I started running longer distances, I would walk one minute for every ten minutes of running during my races and long runs.  Now, I take a 30 second walk/jog every 15 minutes or two miles during my long runs.  These breaks have helped me so much that I’ve chosen not to take the breaks for the last couple of miles of my races, and have some pretty amazing negative splits.  Incorporating walk breaks even helped me to beat my half-marathon PR by over twenty minutes at the Syracuse Half-Marathon in 2011!

Avoid Injuries. Additionally, walk breaks have kept me healthy. I am prone to shin splints and have had runner’s knee and hip pain.  So I take walk breaks to reduce the likelihood of injury while I build my endurance.  Using this method, I was able to run/walk 24 miles on Saturday in preparation for the Seattle Marathon, which I will run on November 25.  To me, walking breaks have been an essential and healthy part of my training plan. Avoiding injuries and training consistently over the long term is the way to get faster and make big gains in your running performance. Strategically using walking breaks can help you achieve that!

Stay Fresh.  If you are a new or injury-prone runner, I definitely recommend that you consider taking walk breaks early in long runs and even races.  I also ask you to keep an open mind.  I know there is a contingent of runners who think that if they take walk breaks they are not “real” runners.  I vehemently disagree. Taking these pre-planned short walk breaks can give the running muscles a break and it will allow you to mentally break up your long runs into manageable chunks.  The walk breaks I took during my first marathon this summer led to a debut marathon time of 3:47.  Not too shabby for someone who some would consider not a “real” runner! I was pretty darn proud of those times.  I find it outrageous that someone might tell me that my marathon time doesn’t count because I walked. Regularly.  Up until the last 2 miles. The walk breaks saved my legs so I felt fresh enough to hammer the last two miles and negative split! If you find you’re consistently falling apart at the end of your long races and underperforming, you might consider working in some early regular walk breaks and see if that helps you finish stronger and perform better.

Salt Lake City Marathon
My first marathon where I ran (and walked!) to a 3:47 finish! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Walking is a great way to build up to running continuously – if you are a new, old, middle or green runner, don’t EVER feel bad about taking walk breaks. Do what you need to do to optimally cover the distance.  During longer races, I just walk through the water stops, which is a great way for me to give my muscles a break and drink the liquids I need because I refuse to carry water.

And now I’ll run AND walk off of my soap box.

What do you think about walk breaks?

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Ultrarunner, adventurer, academic, and feminist. Running Across the USA in 2021. I write about ultrarunning, adventuring, and the intersection of endurance athletics and life.

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8 comments

  1. Last summer (well, last last summer now!) when I was deep in the throes of marathon training and it was hot and humid for every long run I started taking more breaks. I told myself it was for the bathroom or to get water, but they were more to break the run up mentally, looking back. I was struggling to get through 20 milers mostly by myself, in the heat, on the verge of being injured and having a pace goal to hit to boot. It wore on me and those breaks made the runs possible. There was one, in particular when I was at about 18 miles and I wanted to cry I was so over the run! But I took a break, drank some water, gathered myself and I got it done. But I see no difference between strategic walk breaks or gel breaks or water breaks or bathroom breaks or whatever. It’s just what we call them.

    Oh! And the first time my husband broke 3 hours for a marathon, he walked the water stops. In his previous failed attempts he was foiled by calf cramps, and the walk breaks (many of them walking backwards) enabled him to get to the finish cramp-free!

    That being said, the goal of running the entire distance of a race or a run is a worthy goal too! There are no rules for what makes a “real” runner other than the person needs to run. They can mix running with walking, drinking like the hashers, etc. As long as there’s running involved it’s all good 🙂

  2. Thank you so much for this post! I have always beat myself up or felt really guilty about taking walk breaks during my training runs. I would be telling myself, “How do you know you can run the race if you have to stop and walk for a minute while you train?” This post is refreshing and informative!! I will probably always walk through the water breaks on a race, due to sheer lack of coordination that required to run and drink, but this post will allow me to stop feeling like “not a real runner” when I walk during my training!

  3. I am a run/walker and sort of sit at Jeff Galloway’s feet on the issue. I admire those people who can run and run and run. I’m amazed by people who can literally run 26.2 miles and every step is literally faster than I can run any given step. I can’t run a 1/4 mile at a 6:00 pace let alone 26.2 miles worth of those. When I first started running I struggled through a couch to 5k program. I made it up to 30 minutes running at a time and every run ended with my feeling like I would literally die. It was not fun. It was hard. And painful. And I limped around for days.

    Then I stumbled over Jeff Galloway’s site and books and it was like the holy grail to me. I follow his recommendations on run walk intervals during training and during races so my ratios are generally between 2:00 run/1:00 walk and 4:00 run/1:00 walk. And you know what? It became fun again. It is not painful. I don’t feel like dying when I’m done (except when it’s 100 out).

    I feel strange and almost in the closet about it. I feel weird in races like people think I’ve already failed when I take the first walk break after 4 minutes. I feel like I’m not a “real runner.” And when I start thinking that, feeling that, I remind myself that if I hadn’t found run/walk I don’t believe I would be running as a hobby and I wouldn’t be running races and I wouldn’t be as healthy.

  4. When I started running I was always one of those in the “walking is for the weak” camp. Running trails has made me switch sides! It’s so awesome to walk up a hill during a race and no one encourages you to start running again, they just walk with you!

  5. I don’t take walk breaks (well, at least not Galloway method… sometimes to get water). I think whatever works for people is fine. If you run, even a little, you are a runner!

    That said, I would appreciate it if people would get over to the side of the course before starting a walk break. Coming to a dead stop because your watch beeped and it’s time to walk is NOT cool.

  6. I recently changed my mind a little over this. I admit (shamefacedly) that I’ve always looked down on those who walk in races. I’m not fast but I kind of assumed the goal was to run the race and for me walking was (and still would be) failing my goals. But I have a lovely friend in her 50s who runs half marathons and she walks a minute every 10 minutes and it keeps her injury free and on the move. I hope I’m that sensible if and when the time comes.

  7. I’ve been a failed runner for 20years.in the gym I’m strong as an ox but running?awful..I’ve now signed up for my first half marathon and I’ve started adding the 1 min walks in.my god the difference,actually managed to run 8miles last night with my time dropping a min p mile because of the walking inbetween.briiliant idea..

  8. I hate it when I am marathon training and on my 6+ mile when I pass someone who has just began to run. That person is walking when I pass while I am jogging at my own pace. Then a minute or two later that person is racing past me at a pace unattainable for distance. I pass that person again, doing my own pace. And you guessed it, like there’s a target on my back, that person is sprinting past me again, only to get winded and walk once that person passes the target (me). I hate this with a passion and will be confrontational with that person. Like, “Why don’t you just run at your own effing pace. I am on my 9th mile.” I hate this with a passion. I have been training for under 3 months and push myself hard. I push harder than most and because of that I get really pissed when people use me as a target. I am just minding my own business and trying for a PR against myself. I just completed 10.7 miles at 10:40 min/mile pace. I have my 5K time under 8:15 min/mile. I am up to 30-40 miles per week. I am 205 pounds and 5’10”, used to be a chronic pot smoker (all day every day) and ate horribly.