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Run-Walk Marathon Method – Can I Beat My Run-Walk 2:45? (Part One)

It’s been six years (WTF!?) since I completed my famous (in my mind) run-walk marathon experiment where I used my own version of the run-walk marathon method in one marathon and then ran non-stop (old school) 5-weeks later.

To get yourself up to speed on my run-walk marathon method, check out my original blog, or listen to my most recent podcast on “Running with Dr Will”.

Back to my run-walk experiment. What was the result?

I ran 2 min 34 sec faster running non-stop compared to run-walk.

Run-walk Marathon (Hawkes Bay) = 2:45:52 (Garmin file)

Running Non-stop Marathon (Wellington) = 2:43:18 (Garmin file)

While running a marathon without walking was faster by 2 min 34 sec. I believe my times are equivalent because I had much better conditions in Wellington (non-stop) for the first 30 km compared to Hawkes Bay (run-walk). Hawkes Bay was a point-to-point race, and I had a staunch headwind for the majority of the way. The conditions for the last 10km were nearly identical, and I was a lot faster in Hawkes Bay (run-walk) than in Wellington (non-stop) for that part of the race. Both races were run on entirely flat courses, and data from my Stryd running power meter was similar, 323 W (run-walk) vs 333 W (non-stop), which sits within Stryd’s range of accuracy (± 2-4%).

The reason I did this experiment was to show the mass running population that there is more than one way to skin a cat or, in this instance, train for and run a successful marathon. That’s why I’m bringing back the run-walk method for 2023. I think it’s time to remind runners that the “walking is cheating” mindset is BS 💩. I’ll be giving the run-walk marathon another crack on April 16th 2023 (Christchurch Marathon).

Run-walk isn’t necessarily faster – It’s safer

The run-walk method shouldn’t be looked at as something that will allow you to run faster than your ability or current fitness level. Instead, it acts as a safety net that stops you from ruining your race. What I mean is that most runners start a marathon too hard and slow down at the end. By using the run-walk method, you can eliminate, or at least significantly reduce, the risk of blowing up by using walking breaks to force yourself to slow down over the first ½ – ⅔ of the race.

The other potential benefits of walking are that you’re better able to absorb fluid and nutrients as well as recruit different muscles and lower your heart rate (cardiovascular load), all of which may help to give you that little boost at the end. If you look at the splits of my last 5km, you’ll see what I mean. 19:13 min for run-walk vs 20:32 min running non-stop.

The catch is you need to run faster

Running faster becomes more and more important the faster you run and is the main reason you won’t see a lot of fast runners using this method. This is where the determination of how long each run-walk block should be becomes very important. Galloway has suggested 6 min and 30 sec for those who want to average 4:20min/km (7min/mile). He doesn’t reference anything faster than that. However, I’m not convinced 30 sec is enough time to reduce the load on all physiological and biomechanical systems in play. Plus, there’s the added demand of repetitive stop-start, which is more pronounced at faster speeds. As a protocol for a runner looking to complete a marathon, Galloway’s protocol is ok, but as a competitive method, there’s too much walking. Therefore, I’ve developed Dr Will’s 19 and 1 protocol. At a run-walk ratio of 19 min running and 1 min walking, I believe there is adequate opportunity to get all the benefits of the run-walk method as well as still being able to run fast.

With a goal finish time of 2:37 I would have 18 walking breaks using Galloways’ 6:30 – 30 protocol, and I’d need to run 7.5% faster during my running sections to make up for the 9 min of walking. Using my 19 – 1 protocol, I’ll have 6 walking breaks and only need to run 2.4% faster compared to running non-stop.

Implementing the run-walk

If you’re keen to give run-walk a try, check out my run-walk training bundle for an exclusive webinar and multiple training plans (just $49nzd). – Available HERE

Implementing the run-walk method in training is easy. In a race, there are a couple of factors you need to consider to optimise your run-walk system for faster times.

In basic training, you simply walk for 1 min after you’ve run for at least 9 min (I typically use 14 min – 1 min in training. Otherwise, you only get 2 or 3 walks in a standard run.). You don’t even worry about trying to adjust your pace to offset the walking break. My bet is that your average pace for your run will be the same as when you run non-stop. If you’re a little bit tech-savvy, you can set a basic interval workout on your watch (or app), which automatically gives you run-walk notifications.

In a race or a race simulation run, you want to know how much faster you need to run to offset your walking breaks. Typically, you only have to run about 2% faster. Remember, you’re not stopping for 1 min you’ll still cover 100 m @ 10 min/km (16 min/mi).

For a race, you’ll want to plan ahead and check out the location of the aid stations and any downhills. If the aid stations are within 2-3 min of 19 min, then it’s better to walk through the aid stations rather than running through, spilling all your nutrition and then walking a few hundred metres down the road. Similarly, If there is a large downhill that falls during your walking break, it’s better to continue running to leverage gravity and walk at the bottom of the hill.

If you’re aiming for 4 hrs or faster, I recommend running the final 10km. With a quarter of the race left, you have done what you need to do to delay fatigue, and the process of transferring momentum from run-walk-run may be more costly than pushing through until the end.

It may be a good idea to skip walking breaks if there is a headwind. If you have the opportunity to run in a pack and negate the impact of wind resistance, it may be a good option to draft behind other runners. However, you’d want to be sure the pack you’re running in is running within your limits. Once the headwind section is gone, you should return to your 19 – 1 protocol ASAP.

Stay tuned for Part Two, where I’ll recap my 2023 run-walk marathon! In the meantime, here’s some more run-walk content for you to get amongst.

Run – Walk Training Bundle
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