Learning to Walk continued...
Galloway says he first started using walk breaks intuitively as a way to get poorly conditioned runners into marathon shape. He eventually developed a more sophisticated program after hearing how ultradistance runners would walk part of the time in races that go on for 50-odd miles.
When you take walk breaks, Galloway explains, your legs use different muscles, allowing them to recover and remain strong for a long race. He compares the effects to bending a wire: Keep twisting it, and the wire breaks. Just bend it from time to time and the wire holds up longer.
Not Just for Amateurs
The ratio of walking to running depends on your own fitness level, but the basic principles at work are the same whatever level you're at.
"You need to start taking breaks at the beginning of the race," says Galloway. "This way you can erase fatigue progression before it's too late."
For newcomers to running, walk breaks have shown dramatic benefits. At the request of a Los Angeles radio station, Galloway spent six months getting some 250 couch potatoes ready for their first marathon.
"Only one didn't finish," he says.
But Galloway says that even highly conditioned athletes can benefit. Like their out-of-shape counterparts, elite runners can take walk breaks to ultimately run faster.
"I've had guys come up to me and say 'I hate to admit this, but the breaks worked,'" he recalls.
But What About Winning?
Despite Galloway's success stories with beginning marathoners, don't expect the lead finishing group to walk in tandem anytime soon.
"I think it's a great way to start training," say Jonathan Cane, who puts athletes through their paces at City Coach in New York. "But I'm not as convinced that accomplished runners will see faster times with walk breaks."
Adds Anderson: "When you're walking, you're obviously moving more slowly than running or jogging, and therefore it broadens your overall time."
A problem with walk breaks, some say, is that the rest your muscles get from walking will be cancelled out by the extra amount of energy you have to burn trying to catch up to those who passed you. This extra effort can quickly drain your body's store of glycogen -- the fuel it needs to keep running.