It’s time for us to run faster — by ending walking breaks

If we want to run fast, we must vow never to become a walker, run from the concept like it’s one of the Walking Dead. (Image via

Can we get faster by going slower?  Occam’s razor and I say no.

Occam’s razor is the philosophic principle that suggests the best answer to any dilemma is always the simplest.   That is, it seems pretty logical that you don’t run faster by, say, slowing to a walk.  This hasn’t stopped people like Jeff Galloway from building a huge following by encouraging people to run-walk their way to fitness.

And I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that if all you want from running is to be fit.

But if you want to be fit and fast, which is a whole other thing altogether, you cannot allow yourself to become an intermittent walker.  You must flee the whole business of walk-run workouts like Officer Rick and his comrades flee the dreaded “Walkers” on the AMC television show The Walking Dead. 

Here’s the problem:   Periodic walking does, in fact, allow us to “run” longer, if “running” means just a sustained period of forward motion on our feet.  And if the alternative to this is returning to your ergonomic office chair faster, have at it – run/walk all day.   But don’t believe this is ever going to make you faster.

“Walker” — it’s just bad imagery all around! (Image from

There are two things that make us faster. The first is running faster.  (Occam’s razor, again.)

The physics of running fast aren’t the same as the physics of running slowly, and we have to teach our bodies to move that way.    I repeat:  The only way to learn to run faster is to run faster.

The other thing is this:  Running with walking breaks increases our aerobic fitness, but does nothing to build the mental toughness that we cannot develop when going slow.  Walking, in fact, erodes our inner steeliness since we tend to take walking breaks when we get uncomfortable.  In the language of 12-step programs, walking is an enabler, a comforting deceiver that whispers we’re getting better when actually we’re not.

Last year, The Wall Street Journal announced “It’s Time for Women to Run Faster,” and on that, all Salties agree.  We can’t do it by taking walking breaks.  I’ve taken far too many this year, and one of my New Year running resolutions is going to be to stop.

SALTIES, do you take walking breaks?  Do you feel ashamed, like Mace, when you when you need to stop and walk?

I'm a single mother of four who has been running injury-free for 27 years, astonishingly without ever losing any weight. I'm a writer and editor near Boston, and author of "Honey, Do You Need a Ride? Confessions of a Fat Runner."

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  1. I’ve got to disagree with this on a certain level. I agree that in a race, running is faster than walking. However, one thing I’ve discovered through trial and error, if all you do is push yourself to run fast, you don’t allow your aerobic threshold to move. It is necessary to do speed work, however, if you don’t allow your body to recover with slower running, and dare I say it, possibly walking, your body doesn’t adapt to the higher aerobic levels.

    1. Points well taken. I’m not planning on running fast all the time, however…. if I did, I’d probably stop running within a week out of sheer despair. I will still alternate the speed of my running, but just cut out the walking which, for me, has become a crutch.

  2. You’ve just hit on one of my biggest questions or many of my biggest questions. I currently take walk breaks and do Galloway but I also want to run faster. There are Galloway folks who do run fast. I think Chris Twig who is the national Galloway training program director did a 3:09 marathon this year doing regular walk breaks (maybe 6:1 or 6:30 or something) but for me, I’m still slow. That said, I’m slow without walk breaks too.

    The other night I was chatting with a friend/runner and she was asking about my speed and I said I wanted to get faster. She weighs about the same as me but runs 1:30 or 2:00 a mile faster and I’ve been thinking that my weight is part of my problem. She said basically what you’re saying. Specifically her instruction was that I’ve got to start running at least 3/4 or 1 mile without walk breaks as fast as I can at least once a week. So she was saying 3 x 1 mile as fast as I can one workout a week.

    I’ll admit that it sounds daunting. I’m torn between my wish to be faster and my comfort level in feeling that the run/walks are doable. It’s a hard workout but I don’t lie on the floor and cry each Sunday afternoon.

    1. Debra! I don’t even think you need speed work. All you need to do is get up to regular continuous running and you’ll get faster. Keep it up for 6-12 weeks and you’ll see big improvements. What’s your current walk/run ratio?

    2. This is fascinating, that you weigh the same but run so differently…. it challenges my longstanding assumption that my slowness is all about my weight.

  3. I also think it’s important to not that it’s not just about running fast all the time. If you’re constantly running fast during every run you’re more likely to experience diminishing returns or get injured. You have to integrate slow recovery runs with your speed runs

  4. I am with you, Mace. I say that with the qualification that I do think there is a totally appropriate place for walking while running – particularly when starting out and building up endurance. BUT if you are talking about getting faster, or more appropriately, moving toward your own peak performance/personal best, I think you’d be best served by eliminating walking and running more.

    I also agree that you cannot always run fast. You’ll get burnt out and injured. Most runs should be at an easy or aerobic pace (e.g start out with one speed workout per week) until you can build up to more of it.

    I also agree on the mental thing. If you are used to giving yourself a walking break, it is probably a lot easier when the going gets tough in a race to walk rather than powering through. Walk breaks may help you improve as you build your base, but once you get there – focus on the run and I bet you’ll be surprised at where it can take you.