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article imageYou have to walk-run before you can run

By Joe Duarte     Jan 23, 2014 in Health
Running is one of the best, and probably one of the most cost-effective, forms of exercise, but many beginners give up on it before they have a chance to benefit from the physical and mental health rewards it bestows.
The reason is that they try to jump right into the deep-end of running instead of dipping their toes in to let their bodies slowly get accustomed to it.
You know that old adage about crawling before you walk and walking before you run? Its use dates back to the 14th Century and it’s taken on a figurative meaning about the slow, steady pace of progress. However, when it comes to running, it definitely applies in the literal sense.
When it comes to starting a running program, most coaches agree you should walk before you run and many are preaching the merits of that to beginners and seasoned runners alike.
Perhaps best known in Canada is the program called 10-to-1 (10:1), implemented at The Running Room. It was fine-tuned by Running Room founder John Stanton from his own experiences as an overweight, chain-smoking food-product executive who ran in the pre-dawn hours so his neighbors wouldn’t see the “chubby little guy who could only run from lamppost to lamppost before taking a walk break.”
That running method lead Stanton to develop the Running Room’s core training philosophy — run for 10 minutes at a pace at which you carry on a conversation, and then walk briskly for one to aid recovery while keeping your heart-rate up.
Olympian, author and entrepreneur Jeff Galloway developed a similar coaching method called run-walk-run, as a means of exposing more people to the enjoyment of running. In the beginner clinics at his Phidippides running store, Galloway quickly realized the people he wished to help enjoy running wouldn’t be able to run continuously.
“During the first lap around the track I realized that walk breaks would be crucial if I wanted each class member to finish either a 5K or 10K without injury or exhaustion,” he writes on his website. “As I ran with each group, I focused on breathing rate. The ‘huff and puff’ rule emerged: when you hear huffing and puffing, take more frequent walk breaks and slow the pace.”
Runner’s World columnist Jenny Hadfield says the body actually interprets the increase in activity in a negative way, rather than the positive attitude with which the newbie runner is entering the exercise program.
“Your body interprets this significant jump in activity as stress and will protect you by showing signs of overtraining, including lack of sleep, weight gain, aches and pains, lack of motivation, crabbiness, and more,” she writes in her Ask Coach Jenny column. “Alternating running with walking decreases the amount of impact on your body and allows you to go farther with less stress. And this is vital as you get started and progress.”
The benefits of run-walk are that it allows runners to increase endurance while reducing the chance of injury (usually due to overtraining); it allows runners to finish more refreshed, making longer run completion less unpleasant; it makes it easier to run even for runners who’ve had previous injuries to knees or have joint problems; and, it makes it easier to complete long runs because mentally, runners are just trying to run for a short time to get to the next walk “break.”
It also helps one of a runner’s worst enemies — starting too fast. Forcing a slow-down 10 minutes into a run, for example, helps steady the pace. It also provides an opportunity to take in fluids and it shifts energy consumption to different muscles, so muscle groups such as quads and hamstrings in the upper leg aren’t as fatigued during the later stages of the run.
Many variations of the run-walk strategy exist, with the widely held belief that running and walking shouldn’t be held to strict time or distance intervals but should vary according to the energy being expended.
“You should 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,” explains Christine Luff in About.com. “If you wait until you're very fatigued, you'll end up walking slowly and it will be difficult to start running again.”
“Most if not all ultrarunners use a run-walk strategy for training and racing,” writes Hadfield. “They go by the terrain – they walk the hills and climbs and run the flats and downhills. This strategy helps them conserve energy to run stronger for longer.”
And different weather conditions often warrant different running strategy.
“Let’s say you’re using a 4:2 run to walk ratio and it is 80 degrees outside and very humid,” explains Hadfield. “You can modify the ratio to 3:2 or 2:2 and finish the workout with better quality instead of fighting the heat. On a hot day, walk a minute every mile and give your body a break in the heat.”
And that’s probably the best characteristic of a run-walk program – you don’t have to strive to be like an Olympic marathon champion running sub five-minute miles consistently over the distance.
“The other powerful use for the run-walk strategy is it can be easily modified on the go,” concludes Coach Jenny.
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