A blog by runners. For runners.

The benefits of taking walk breaks in races

the-benefits-of-taking-walk-breaksI’ve run more than 50 races. Save for a handful of 5Ks, I’ve done something similar in every race: I’ve taken walk breaks.

I know many runners see walk breaks as a sign of weakness, and something a “real” runner would never do. I’m not a fast runner by any means, but I’ve shaved 20 minutes off my half marathon PR so I know a little bit about what it takes to get speedier. And one of my tactics is to take walk breaks. During my fastest half marathon – a 1:40:40 – I took ten walk breaks.

I don’t follow a walk/run method in training or racing and I can complete entire races without taking walk breaks, but I wouldn’t want to. I believe walk breaks make me run faster.

This isn’t why I started taking walk breaks. It happened for a much more practical reason. During my first race, a 10K, I tried to grab a cup of water at a fluid station, and I quickly learned I couldn’t drink out of a cup and run at the same time. From then on, I vowed to walk through fluid stations and have ever since.

Reasons to walk
Seasoned runners and coaches alike are fans of regular walk breaks, too – especially during distance events like marathons. That’s because walk breaks can help:

  • Conserve energy: It’s common for runners to go out too fast in the early miles and bonk in the later part of a race. Taking walk breaks early can keep this from happening. You may run more consistent splits or be able to pick up the pace at the end of a race. Walking up hills can also help conserve energy, too. Instead of being worn out by the time you reach the top, you’ll be ready to pick up speed on the downhill – and pass other tired runners.
  • Reduce muscle damage – and lower the risk of injury: When we run long distances, we use the same muscles over and over again. By taking walk breaks, we gives tired muscles a much needed rest which gives the muscle a chance to recover before it fatigues. This reduces overall muscle damage and can help prevent overuse injuries.
  • Speed up recovery: Since less muscle damage occurs with walk breaks, muscles don’t take as long to repair after runs – which will speed up your recovery time.

Walk (break) this way
Experts recommend taking walk breaks early and often – particularly during long runs and races — to gain the most benefits. However, figuring out how often to take walk breaks and how long each one lasts will take some trial and error. Some runners do best with a 30-second walk break after each mile while others may need to walk more or less often.

I’ll admit I’m not a fan of regular, timed walk breaks. I walk when I drink during races and long runs, but other than that, I like taking my walk breaks when I feel like I need them – usually when a hill is too long, I get too hot, or I just need to regroup. Who knows though, maybe not taking regular breaks is what’s keeping me from breaking 1:40!

Are you a fan of walk breaks? How often do you take them?

Written by Jen Matz.