In distance running, walk breaks allow runners to go farther than if they ran at a continuous pace. Runners generously applying them to either their daily runs and/or weekly long run will find their endurance increasing by leaps and bounds.
Though they have been recently popularized by former Olympian Jeff Galloway in his successful marathon training program, the modern father of walk breaks is Tom Osler. Osler, a math professor at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey and an ultramarathoner,
rediscovered the use of walk breaks while researching the
accomplishments of professional runners in the late 1800's. In 1976 he completed 114 miles in 24 hours around the Rowan University track by running seven laps and walking one. Since in 1967 he won the national 50-mile championship, this convinced him that walk breaks can
effectively double the distance anyone can run at a constant pace.
The best way to use them is to run by time. The body doesn't care about how many miles it goes. It only relates to effort over time. Whereas a five-mile jaunt may take anywhere from 35 to 45 minutes, an hour is an hour is an hour.
Once out on the roads, the choice of run/walk intervals is varied. However, the easiest way keep track of them is to use five-minute or ten-minute segments. For example, my daily ( well, almost daily) runs of 30 to 40 minutes are done at an interval of four minutes of running, one minute of walking. If I'm getting ready for a
5K or 10K road race, I'll bump this up to 9/1.
However, they become truly useful on long runs. In training for a marathon or longer, walk breaks taken from the beginning of the run help you go farther with less strain as well as help you recover faster after the run.
In my case, about three summers ago I ran four to five hours every Saturday or Sunday morning, leaving before dawn, returning just as the sun cleared the trees. I ran these at a 4/1 pace, roughly nine minutes a mile, giving me 25 to 30 miles for the day. Unless I
left too late and let the Central Florida heat and humidity turn me in to blood jelly, I felt good enough after a smoothie, a big stack of whole wheat banana pancakes and some huevos rancheros to go out for a second run that evening. Usually, though, I just mowed the lawn and played with my kids. I'd run a few times for less than an hour during the week using anywhere from 4/1 to 9/1 to 7/3 intervals.
A few months later a did a 50K race on a winding, boar-rutted trail near Sarasota, Florida in 5:19, the slower pace due to having a stomach flu the week before. The 4/1 pace I kept, however, got me through it with a positive, expansive attitude.
Lately, despite running perhaps only once or twice a week for the last two years and in order to prevent deliveries to my midsection by the belly fairy while concentrating on lifting, I've started getting out three times a week for an hour at a 3/2 to 4/1 interval and have felt no ill effects.
Whether you are an experienced runner or eager beginner, give these a try. You may be glad you did.