Walk don’t run

In the last in this series about mixing running with Sport Walking, the only thing that remains is to lay out the positive role walking can play for runners.

The concept of ‘run walking’ has been around for ages, largely thanks to the work of Jeff Galloway and its benefits (for runners) in training is well accepted. Whether that be because you’re starting out and building endurance or used tactically, in regulating heart rate to be able to go further, mixing walking with running really works!

But this article isn’t just about the benefits of mixing the two together in training, we want to look at how walking and Sport Walking in particular can be of benefit to runners in itself, both in preparing for endurance events or ultramarathons and, as a way of continuing to participate in endurance challenges when your body has had enough of running, even if you haven’t.

On this latter point, we’ve had numerous messages from runners and especially endurance trail runners, whose knees or other body parts would really rather they stopped doing it and who have found that Sport Walking allows them to extend their participation in challenging trail events. 

Without venturing into specialised biomechanical territory, it seems, from these people who’ve contacted us, that they find Sport Walking is kinder on the joints and so relieves that impact stress, so they are free once again to frolic along single track or push on at pace along a woodland path.

Yes they are probably traveling more slowly than when they were running but if there’s a technique you can adopt that allows you to continue taking part in something you love, that’s no bad thing and of course with good technique you can still move through the terrain at a good pace.

But giving a work around to knee or joint issues is just one small part of how Sport Walking can help runners. The far bigger suite of benefits relates to tactics and endurance gains.

Building endurance
The rule of thumb is, generally, that to build endurance (something you need in spades if you’re going long), you should go slow and steady over longer distances. Now if you’re training to run longer than a marathon, clearly you need to do plenty of this work by running but you can also do great things by adopting a Sport Walking approach to at least some of your sessions.

Let’s say you’re able to sustain running for two hours comfortably but that’s about your limit. We’ve worked out (completely anecdotally) that most people could potentially walk fast for up to five times the distance or duration of their run limit, assuming there are no injuries or conditions that preclude walking rather than running. This means that there’s huge potential to make endurance gains by swapping out some long runs for even longer Sport Walking sessions.

If you’re Sport Walking in the true way, you’re walking at the highest pace you’re able to sustain. Many people (mainly men) think that walking is easier than running. It’s not. At least, it’s not if you do it right in this context. 

It’s less intensive than running and there’s less impact but in terms of aerobic effort, maintaining a strong Sport Walking pace can be equivalent to a fit runner on a really easy run. But many runners struggle to run really easily in training, even if they know they should. It’s so easy to slot into your comfortable pace but if you’re mainly used to doing 10ks, that means your comfortable pace is too fast if you’re training for an ultra.

This is a sweeping generalisation but runners are renowned (especially men) for not doing very well at those long slow runs that are so key to building endurance. These runs are dull and feel like you’re under performing compared to your true potential. They feel counter intuitive – “I can run faster than this”.

So if you need to go long and slow (in running terms) why not swap out some long runs for Sport Walks at a high pace? Sport Walking is, by nature, a steady state process – you hold a comfortable but fast pace on the flat and then seek to minimise your speed loss on the climbs (which is when you do the harder work).

The net result is that you feel at the end like you’ve had a really good strong workout. You can sustain this for probably twice the distance you might run (probably more), so you’re doubling your workout duration (with the endurance gains that brings)and because you’re walking, you don’t have to worry about going too fast. Your walking form will naturally regulate your pace.

Sport Walking gives you the opportunity to do something different, possibly even turning the session into an adventurous day out, where you’ll accrue the gains you’re seeking in a more challenging and beautiful setting than if you choose simply to knock out a long easy run. 

But perhaps the most beneficial aspect of adding Sport Walking to your training mix if you’re planning to run an ultra is that you’ll be learning an extremely valuable tool to actually help you in the ultra itself. 

The tactical tool
If you are trained in Sport Walking, you can mix running and walking tactically during the ultra to great effect, helping you manage your effort and staying in better shape for longer. You have two options to keep your pace as high as you’re able, it’s not simply a question of running until you can’t run any longer and then walking because that’s all you can manage.

So often when we Sport Walkers encounter (and then pass) runners on the trail who are “ just walking for a bit” – because walking to them in that moment equals rest – they’re not focused on how they’re walking and so their pace falls off a cliff. It’s all about recovering and the easier the walk, the more recovery they feel they’re getting but this means they’re losing time unnecessarily.

A good sport walker will often easily pass a runner on a climb who’s started to walk because, up to that point, the walker will have been using less energy with good form and a fast high cadence. The climb is their moment to dig in and push hard, knowing they can recover at the top. The practical application is rather like interval training – putting in a big effort on the climb and then recovering when the terrain eases.

There’s no need for the Sport Walker to reduce their normal flat land pace either in order to recover when back on the flat because recovery comes automatically with the removal of the incline, allowing them to keep their overall pace high.

Runners will obviously catch and pass Sport Walkers on the flat or downhill sections but they’ll likely be caught and passed once again on the climbs. It’s this steady state motion that makes Sport Walking so effective the longer you go, so if you can adopt this method and bring it into your own run plan, you’re giving yourself the best opportunity to get a great result.

When you actively use Sport Walking as a part of your training, when you learn about efficient technique, about how to climb, how to descend, how to sustain a fast walking pace on the flat and how to adapt your walking technique to the most effective form, walking becomes a tool for you to use tactically. So, when you need to walk, you can keep moving efficiently and with greater pace, while still recovering, so you lose less time and, most importantly, feel better about your performance.

The key is always to make the switch from running to walking before you feel you really need to. This will allow you to maintain a high walking pace as you switch, rather than needing to walk more slowly to recover and let your heart rate drop.

This is all about efficient speed and energy conservation overall. Be driven by what is the most efficient technique in that moment, to conserve energy and maintain the fastest pace. Don’t just beast it up climbs because you can because you’ll pay for it later! 

If you’re planning to ‘run walk’ your ultra but to run as much as possible, you’ll probably have figured out that there will come a point when you may need to walk the rest. In this instance, using a performance walking technique that will maintain a good pace and enable you to come home strongly, rather than limping home tired and dejected, is of huge value.

During the ultra itself, if you view Sport Walking as just a different method of traveling fast, you can switch between running and Sport Walking to fit the trail conditions and the topography of the moment. For instance you can run on the flat or on descents, then Sport Walk any inclines (even shallow ones), returning to running once your heart rate has dropped after the climb.

You can tactically switch to walking on the flat too, as a means of managing your overall effort, knowing you’ll be minimising your pace loss and it’s far better to do this as a tactical move rather than waiting to walk because you absolutely need to.

So, in training, use Sport Walking for an endurance boost and to give you variety in your long sessions, when all you really need is time on the trail at a steady pace. Sport Walking can cover off your endurance needs easily and the variety you’ll get from mixing up your training in this way will keep you motivated.

And then planning to actively switch from running to walking in your challenge gives you control over your effort. You can decide that your approach will be to switch to Sport Walking whenever the terrain gets harder, in order that you can hold more in reserve to finish strongly.

It’s highly likely, in fact we’d probably say it’s almost guaranteed, that this hybrid approach in a challenge – tactically using both running and Sport Walking – will give you a better finishing time than if you just run as much as you can and then walk when you can’t run any longer. 

Remember, a fast Sport Walker can complete 100km in under 15 hours. Sport Walking works as an ultra technique – it is arguably the most efficient way you can cover the distance – so why not inject a little bit of that efficiency into your endurance event approach?

Look at walking differently. Don’t see it as the thing you do when you can’t run anymore because that will mean that the time you spend walking will be far longer than it needs to be. You’ll go slower than you need to because you’re using walking to recover, rather than using walking fast as a tactical approach to achieving a strong overall pace and a great time.

Don’t see walking as your dirty little secret or think that walking is weakening your run. See it as just a different technique. When you make this change, you’ll open up a world of potential for longer endurance events and give yourself the opportunity to achieve better times and to have greater fulfilment from your challenges, which is, after all, the whole point.

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