The first few miles were a bit rocky. Not literally rocky, but just a bit difficult for me. My body was rebelling. For some reason, I just couldn’t find my groove. As I rounded the corner at about mile number 2.3, leaving the busy highway for the steep incline of a side street, I felt it. I hit my stride. Easily bounding up the steep hill, I felt good. The apple orchards on either side of the road are hives of activity. It is harvest time. As I gingerly dodge tractors hauling apple bins, school buses full of farm workers, and straddle trucks hogging the road, I feel almost as though I am floating. Oh yeah, this is good.
I can feel the heat of the day beginning to radiate up from the pavement in waves. Thankfully, there is a gentle breeze that when combined with the moisture of effort on my skin, provides a lovely cooling effect.
This is the second time I have run this route. As I am passing milestones along the way, I am happy to note that it seems easier this time. Five miles done and feeling strong! I climb and descend up and over another hill . When I arrived back at the main highway, a simple crossing of the road would lead me back home and to the completion of the 7.5 mile route I had run a few days before. I felt so good, that instead of heading home, I turned the opposite direction on the highway and added a hill climb and an additional two miles. Other than some slight tingling and numbness in my backside, I felt really good. My energy was good, my knees felt good, and my legs felt absolutely invincible.
At right about mile 8.5, unfortunately, I found myself slipping into an “old man shuffle“. Really? I had to speak sternly to myself to garner the necessary effort to actually pick up my feet and move at a decent pace throughout the last mile. It has been over ten years since I have run this far. Truthfully, since I never thought that I would run again, this run, even with the old man shuffle, is no less than miraculous.
Partially due to my “bonkiness” during the last mile of my run and partially because I was bested during a race by others who were using this technique, I decided to look more deeply into the run/walk philosophy and see if there was an advantage to using a walk to recover during a race or is it faster to just struggle through the fatigue with a slow shuffle. In my previous post about the Warrior Race, I mentioned a young couple who had been leapfrogging with me for most of the race. I was employing my “don’t walk at any cost” philosophy, and they were walking for periods and then running. They beat me across the finish line. Their time was only a few seconds better than mine, but they walked… and they beat me. This has me really thinking about my strategy. I decided to do some research. I am really curious. Which technique would actually get me the fastest race result?
In my research, one name comes up repeatedly with regard to the run/walk strategy, and that is Jeff Galloway. His basic idea is that during a longer race, it is difficult to hold your pace during the last half, due primarily to fatigue. Walking at specified intervals prior to reaching that fatigued status, he claims, will enable you to hold your race pace and both finish the race and recover stronger and yes, even faster. He further claims that personal records (PR) for marathoners are common once they begin to incorporate a run/walk strategy. One website claims, “According to numerous surveys, you’ll also run faster–13 minutes faster in a marathon with walk breaks than in a continuously run event.”
I decided to put the theory to the test. Will this technique work for shorter races as well as marathons? Two weeks ago, my morning fitness group ran a 5K for time. There was no walking allowed, but we incorporated slower jogging intervals to recover. This morning, my curiosity piqued, we headed to the track for a little experiment. I set my gymboss timer for 5:00 and 1:00 minute intervals. Then I set the overall timer to record our time for the 5K distance. So we ran for 5 minutes and then we walked for 1 minute.
The results really surprised me. We all posted faster times. Our times for a 5 Kilometer run dropped by 1:16, 1:21, 00:23, AND WE WALKED!
As we jogged back to the gym, all wringing wet from our time at the track, we chatted about the experience. I personally, did not find this to be easier effort-wise than jogging straight through. Undoubtedly, this is because when I am employing my “don’t walk at any cost” philosophy, my slower jogging pace allows for more recovery than the walking intervals. But, and here’s the clincher, and it is evident by our results today, when walking short intervals to recover as opposed to doing the “old man shuffle”, the overall running speed, and therefore our overall pace, is faster.
This was an interesting experiment. I cannot say that I will completely give up the “old man shuffle” in my training, but in the future, I will undoubtedly look at those who walk during a race with an entirely new perspective, and a lot more respect.