Run, don’t walk

Continuing on from the last blog about Speed Hiking and in the second post in a series of three, let’s look specifically at the benefits of running in training if you’re a Sport Walker.

Now before you get too worried that if you introduce running into your Sport Walking training, you might become infected by the running bug and then just leave Sport Walking behind completely to become a runner (perhaps eloping with running to Gretna Green for an elicit conversion ceremony), don’t panic! It’s likely that your preference for running or walking is already fixed one way or another.

Whichever activity your prefer or if you even like both equally, you’ll most likely have a limit on what you can tolerate before thoughts automatically turn to the alternative method of movement and you switch naturally. So, you’re most likely either to have a preference for running and need to introduce walking tactically into your training or challenge plans (which we’ll look at in the next blog) or you have a preference for walking, can run and even possibly enjoy running shorter distances but feel a strong desire to revert to walking once this wears off.

But whatever your own personal triggers, your own personal situation, it doesn’t matter because, in the end, this is all about how running might benefit you as a Sport Walker if you choose to introduce it into your training regime, it’s not a “which is best – running or walking” scenario.

To set the scene a little, Sport Walk’s founder – Roger Burlinson – likes to run, especially on trails but only for shorter distances. He finds his limit is around 16km or 10 miles but this isn’t a physical or aerobic limit, it’s a mental one. After about 10 miles of running he’s done with it and wants to revert back to walking fast. It’s a curious phenomenon, where a man who can walk 100 miles non-stop (OK, with short refuelling breaks) can’t tolerate even 50 miles of running.

Physically and aerobically, he really ought to be able to at least run a marathon, given his Sport Walking capabilities but it’s not about being capable, he just doesn’t get that kick necessary to keep him motivated after about 10 miles. Walking on the other hand, feeds him and so he can just keep walking fast all day and all night!

Anyway, we don’t really have time in this blog to delve too deeply into Roger’s psychology to understand why this is, so lets just leave it there as an example of how it’s possible to be committed as a Sport Walker and still value and enjoy running shorter distances and to use it for training. Like we say, it’s not a competition, you can have your cake and eat it, if you like this particular type of cake!

How running can help Sport Walkers

When you introduce running into a Sport Walking training plan, you’re gaining a few quite specific benefits. The first one, rather obviously, is that you can complete your training distance in around half the time, meaning your workload has less impact on your daily life, which is a significant factor if you’re training for an ultramarathon but there’s more to it than that.

Running, being a higher intensity aerobic activity than walking means that your fitness levels will increase faster and by more, by using running as a significant part of your weekly program. There are also the physiological benefits of running – the strengthening of knees and other ligaments – so often referenced and the extra workload for the same overall effort will help to make your legs stronger.

Physiologically, one downside of walking (normally) compared to running is that your legs are under constant stress when you walk because of that smooth rolling motion – your legs are ‘always on’, which can lead to greater muscular fatigue or even injury, if your technique isn’t dialled to walk as easily and efficiently as possible. Over the training week, if you’re not careful, this can lead to tightness in a number of areas from the groin to the hamstrings, just through that natural accrued fatigue. 

It’s one of the reasons we advise strongly to make the ‘Three Step Adaptation’ to your walking style and to practice it until it becomes second nature because then you will have the technique to withstand the muscular stresses of walking fast.

Running on the other hand, allows you that ‘bounce’ which gives you a kind of ‘micro rest’ with every step because you have that push/float motion and although running is certainly not without injury risk (Ilio-tibial band syndrome or ‘ITB’ for short being one), when you’re using it to train for Sport Walking, its difference to walking can be a really helpful factor.

One thing running in training gives you, is the ability to divide your efforts – to cover your main training load and to make aerobic gains with a different technique to your core walking technique. This then frees you up to focus solely on refining your walking technique outside of your main training sessions. So, for instance, the time you save by running your base mileage instead of walking it in your weekday training sessions (Mon-Fri), can be used for practicing and refining your walking technique afterwards, perhaps as a warm down.

You’ve probably worked harder aerobically in the session than if you’d walked and you’ve made small additional improvements to your leg strength and robustness in that session as well and then, once you’ve finished, you can warm down by doing slower, more focussed walking technique work.

As the weeks pass, your Sport Walking technique improves significantly through these highly focused technique sessions. You acquire a higher cadence, shorter stride and power your walk with your Gluteus Maximus (Glutes) through an efficient leg drive and your aerobic fitness and leg strength improves through your running. The net result is that you’re aerobically fitter and your muscular resilience to possible injury is higher, so you can walk faster and stronger and, most importantly, more efficiently.

Now, we’re not saying Sport Walkers should always run their weekday training sessions or even that they should run at all but for those who are inclined to run or have run in the past just for fitness, introducing running into a Sport Walking training program can be a really effective way of making training gains fast.

Of course the caveat is that it’s always really important to make your weekend training a Sport Walk because these sessions, when you naturally have more time and can potentially travel further from home to beautiful locations to walk, are supposed to replicate what you’ll experience in your challenges. That’s why we reserve the weekends for walking because you then have a kind of mini challenge every week and that keeps you motivated and actually encourages you because you see how your strength, fitness and technique efficiency is improving.

But for those main sessions in the working week, if you’d like to either fast track fitness gains, add intensity or simply save time on the base mileage you need to complete, to allow you some dedicated time to work on improving your Sport Walking technique, running could just be the key to all of this.

It’s not for everyone and certainly if you’re at the start of your Sport Walking journey, you should certainly go carefully and, for some, this will be a non-starter – they simply hate running – but for everyone else, it’s an option you can use tactically if you want to. It won’t change what you are and it won’t detract from walking being your main activity, it’s just a different way to train.

In the next blog, we’re going to flip things round and discuss how Sport Walking can be beneficial to runners and, in some cases (we’ve had the messages confirming this), it can give trail runners a way to continue moving fast on the trails when otherwise they might have to stop.

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