Could walking cut an HOUR off my marathon time?

I know it sounds crazy, but here’s my thinking:

Because I really wanted to avoid walking in my first marathon, yet wanted to make sure I had the stamina to finish, I jogged at my very slowest pace – 12:35 minutes per mile, for a 5:31:05 finish.

Here's Denis running me down in the second half of last Sunday's marathon despite working regular walk breaks into his running.

Here’s Denis running me down in the second half of last Sunday’s marathon despite working regular walk breaks into his running.

But what if I treated each mile as an interval, ran at my normal pace (9:50-10:05 per mile), then took a 15-second walk break every mile? On paper, at least, the math works out:

A 10:00 pace would result in a time of 4:26.2. Adding an extra minute for the walk breaks every 4 miles x 6 = an extra 6 minutes, plus another 30 seconds for the last 2 miles. That takes it to 4:32 and some change – but doesn’t allow for the fact that each 15-second walk break cuts into the overall distance. Not much, but a little. Let’s be conservative and allow 1/3 mile for 6 ½ minutes of walking, which lets me deduct 3:33 (based on my pace) from my overall running time. That puts me right around 4 hours and 30 minutes – an hour off my baseline marathon time.

This is all highly theoretical, of course. But this is something I’ve been wondering about all week while recovering from last week’s Maple Leaf Indoor Marathon, where several run-walkers come in well ahead of me.

I asked one of them, Denis McCarthy, who came in about half an hour before me and then proceeded to cheer me on, for his thoughts.

“I saw Jeff Galloway (the run/walk) guy speak a couple of years ago at a 50 State Reunion meeting,” Denis said in an email. “I had 61 marathons at that time, all running … only walking when I could no longer run. After his talk, about 10-15 of us said, let’s give it a try in the marathon the day after, and every one of us had a better time than our last few marathons, and felt better. That was over 90 marathons ago for me and I have been using it since.”

Denis recommended I try a specific formula—probably 3 minutes running to 1 minute walking or 4:1 —  and do it right from the start of the race.

“What happens is that you run faster when you are running the run walk program than when you are just doing straight running. It happens automatically. The walk allows for recovery before the next run interval, which again is faster than just straight running throughout. Over a longer distance, you retain much more energy and endurance with run walk and do not tend to slow down a lot in last 10k or so. “

But does this method only work for slower runners – or those who purposefully go slow so they can cram more marathons into a shorter period of time? One blogger reporting here on last year’s Maple Leaf race planned to run a 4:40 using a 4:1 run/walk ratio that he planned to switch to a 5:1 at the halfway point. He ran into leg trouble late and had to cut back to a 3:1 ratio, but he still managed to finish in 4:50. That sounds pretty good to me.

Then I found this post by Blaine Moore, a running coach based in Maine, who reported that he shaved  4 minutes off his goal (from 2:54 to 2:50) by using a run/walk format for the first 20 miles of a 2010 marathon and then running it in from there. Now that’s interesting.

Moore used the run 1 mile, walk 15 seconds ratio that led to my own time projections at the top of this post. (He ran his 1-mile intervals in a little over 5 minutes, about half my planned pace.) That may not be the right mix for me. I’ll have to experiment – and ideally I can get my sister in on this. (Her joint trouble makes her leery of marathons, and even half-marathons, but this plan may sway her.)

Anyway, it’s fun to think about, and will be fun to try once I start training again. This past week I only ran once, for 20 minutes, on Saturday. I was REALLY stiff and sore Monday, the day after the race, to the point that I had to lift my left leg by hand to hoist myself into the car, and I came down with a ferocious virus that same day. I felt quite a bit better by Thursday, and on Friday I did 20 minutes on the elliptical and a couple of core weight machines at the Y.

This week I plan to get back at it, although not as hard as when I was training for the marathon, while I plot which race to tackle next.

Denis, who cheered me on the last few laps of the marathon. It was my first -- and his 150th.

Denis, who cheered me on the last few laps of the marathon. It was my first — and his 150th.

This entry was posted in running, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Could walking cut an HOUR off my marathon time?

  1. bgddyjim says:

    I find it interesting, the run/walk movement. We all know running is 90% mental and so is the other ten percent – and the Gallioway crowd always goes into the mechanics of why it works rather than the mental. It works because you only have to run for “x” minutes till you get a break, “x” times.

    All I can say is this: do what makes you happy. Try it all and use what works. Enjoy yourself and stay fit, trim and smiling…

    But I’ll believe it’s faster when the winners start doing it, when I see it in the Olympics. 😉

    • tischcaylor says:

      In the “long run,” I can’t really see myself as a run-walker, but my time was so slow that it makes me interested in trying this as an experiment. But as for happiness … jogging a marathon, slow as I was, made me happy. Cutting an hour off my time, even if I used walking intervals, would make me happy. Getting my sister to do one with me, which would almost certainly require a run-walk approach given her joint trouble, would make me happy. Not ever doing a marathon again would make me most decidedly unhappy!

  2. That’s interesting, it’s comparable to running a race at a slower/manageable pace instead of running faster at first and then having to slow down quite a bit because you can’t keep it up.
    Would it be possible to try your theory? Go for a one hour run one day and for a one hour run/walk the next and see what distances you cover?

  3. I definitely recommend practicing earlier rather than later…it took me about 2 months to find out what the right interval for me and for my goals were, and to get used to moving from a running to walking to running gait efficiently. The trick is to still be moving at a good clip when you are walking; not ambling.

    The reason I went a mile and then walked was that I didn’t have to manage my breaks off the watch; there were mile markers on the course, and I had found out from practice that I could walk about 35-38 steps in 15 seconds so it was easier for me to just count my steps at each mile than to try looking at my watch. My guess (and it’s only a guess, you’ll only be able to tell from practice) is that at your pace you might find it easier to set a dual timer on your watch and go for a specific duration of time instead of a specific distance.

    I think that the biggest advantage of this is that you get to reset your form on a regular basis. At least every mile (going off the 1 mile/15 sec split) you are stretching out a bit and giving your legs a little break, so that when you start running again you can concentrate on having good running form which then leads to less fatigue. You don’t wind up in a multi-mile stretch where you are hunched over and cramping up.

    Just make sure if you use this strategy you start it from the beginning; you can always keep running through the end of the race but if you run the first so many miles before starting, then you don’t get the benefits of keeping your legs and back from fatiguing.

    Good luck, can’t wait to hear how it goes for you!

    • tischcaylor says:

      Thanks for the advice. I suspect you’re right, that your model is probably going to be too intense for me for now, but it was such a tidy way of carving up the distance that it sounded really appealing and made me crunch the numbers in a way that the minutes ratios didn’t. Now that I see the numbers, it makes me want to experiment, so it will be cool to try something new and see what happens.

  4. I think if you read Galloway’s Marathon book, he points out that even Bill Rodgers took walking breaks when he won the Boston Marathon. He took short 5-10 second walking breaks when getting water. I used the Galloway method at the Fort4Fitness half-marathon last year and had a great time. I ran the final 5Ks.

  5. At my second marathon I saw a couple doing this. I thought it was odd to see people walking about 1 mile into a marathon. I thought, they must be having a bad day. But they finished ahead of me.
    Maybe I’ll give this a try on my next long run. It’s worth trying an expirement.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s