Race Day Advice to Run/Walk a Marathon

Strategically planned walks intervals could help you run your first marathon or achieve your best time.


John Hamilton

As chief training officer of Galloway Training Programs, an Atlanta-based coaching company specializing in the run/walk approach to training and racing, Chris Twiggs has seen firsthand how planned walks can help runners. He’s witnessed run/walkers achieve everything from new PRs to faster recovery times to improved relationships with the sport. As a practitioner himself, he’s also personally experienced these benefits in his own running.

To that end, if he had thought another method would have helped him qualify for the 2023 Boston Marathon, he would have happily ditched the walk intervals altogether.

“It was really important for me to qualify,” Twiggs says, noting that both his son and wife had gained entry that year, and he was determined to compete alongside them. “Even though I work for Jeff Galloway, if I thought my best chance was to run continuously, I wouldn’t have told anyone what race I was running,” he says with a laugh. He would have left his Galloway gear at home, collected his qualifying time of 3:22:18 without using 5-minute run and 30-second walk intervals and kept the details of how he did it under wraps.

“I didn’t do that,” Twiggs says. “I did a marathon using run/walk, and I wore the Galloway stuff because I absolutely know, no question in my mind, my best chance of running fast is to use the method.”

This is just one of the personal anecdotes Twiggs shares when people express skepticism about incorporating planned walking intervals into training runs and races. He’s not alone: Runners at all experience levels use the run/walk method to train for and race marathons, and they reap the rewards of racing longer and faster. Here’s how you can do it too.

Benefits of Using the Run/Walk Method in a Marathon

The most common misconception about the run/walk method is that it’s only for slow or beginner runners. Marc Burget is a Galloway pacer who has completed about 20 marathons and used a run/walk approach to run a 2:41 marathon.

While it’s not his fastest time on record (he ran a 2:35 continuously in 2015), he believes that interspersing timed walk intervals allows him to continue to train aggressively and race within six seconds of his PR almost 10 years later at age 50. “I think that’s one of the benefits of the run/walk. I’m able to run with very few injuries,” Burget says.

Of course, there is no guarantee that walks will safeguard you against injury, but they can help reduce the stress that long-distance running imposes on the body. Todd Buckingham, Ph.D., exercise physiologist at PTSportsPRO in Grand Rapids, Michigan tells Runner’s World that many recreational runners finish marathons in four to six hours. “Running the entire thing is going to be very difficult and taxing from a muscular endurance perspective,” he says. “That’s why the walk [intervals] can be helpful because they decrease the impact on the legs.”

Walk intervals inject brief recovery periods into your long runs, which not only benefits your muscles, but also your heart, keeping your effort sustainable and mediating fatigue. This affects how you feel and, therefore, your performance. “If you’re running too fast, blood lactate starts to accumulate, and you get that burning sensation in your muscles from the hydrogen ions that are associated with the blood lactate. You’re not going to be able to maintain that pace for much longer,” Buckingham says.

Because of these recovery periods, some runners also find that walk intervals allow them to run faster during run intervals, resulting in better race times overall. “We see people that are able to get their PRs that way. We see people that are able to qualify for Boston or go sub-three hours or sub-two-and-a-half hours in the marathon that way,” Twiggs says. “[Run/walk] opens the door to performance that was closed to them before.”

How to Use the Run/Walk Method to Train for a Marathon

There isn’t one set run/walk interval ratio for every runner. Typically, a run-to-walk ratio is based on pace: The faster you run, the less frequent you walk.

For example, someone who runs a 7:30-minute kilometre may run for one minute and walk for 30 seconds, while someone who runs a five-minute-kilometre may take 30-second walks every four minutes. Additionally, you will adjust your intervals according to the type of training run you’re doing. You may do fewer walk intervals during a short tempo run than during a longer endurance run.

Know that it may take some tinkering to find your rhythm. After playing with different formulas, Burget found that running for 0.5 kilometres, walking for 20 seconds, and then finishing out the kilometre worked best for him. “You can’t go wrong,” he says, explaining that adjusting your walk breaks isn’t like switching up your shoes or nutrition plan last minute. “You have to experiment with it and see what works best for you.”

That said, there are some universal tips and guidelines to keep in mind when using the walk/run method to train for a marathon:

1. Practice Accelerating and Decelerating

Some people avoid the run/walk method because they don’t like the idea of stopping and starting over and over again. To master smooth transitions, Twiggs recommends doing the “acceleration glider drill” at least once a week during your long runs.

During this drill, you start at a walking pace, gradually accelerate to a long-run pace, then to a half-marathon pace, and then to a faster race pace. From there, you gradually work your way back down to a walking pace. The point is to not “stop and start,” but to instead, glide between walks and runs.

2. Don’t “Save” Walks for the Very End

Unless it’s a tried-and-true strategy that you know works for you, don’t plan to take all of your walk intervals at the very end of a run. “If you run the first half or first three-quarters of a race and then you start doing walk breaks, you’ve already got so much fatigue built up on your legs that you’re going to be walking very, very slowly,” Twiggs says. “If you want to run eight or ten kilometres continuously, make them your last eight or ten kilometres. Then you’re going to be passing people, and you’re going to feel great as opposed to feeling defeated because you’re ‘forced’ to walk at the end.”

Run/Walk Method Tips for Marathon Race Day

1. Be Aware of Your Surroundings

As you slow down for your walk break, make sure you’re not cutting off your fellow runners. “When you take your walk break, get over to the side of the course so that you’re not in anybody’s way. When you start running again, merge back into the flow of traffic smoothly,” Twiggs says.

2. Use a Pacer

Marathons often have pacers and you can use them even if you run/walk your race. Simply stay behind or just in front of the pacer so that when you running you don’t get too far ahead of them, but when you walk they aren’t get out of sight.

3. Focus on Overall Time

Sometimes runners worry that their race times will look different on the official count with run/walks, but races are chipped so either your total time or distance splits will be recorded, not your run/walk intervals, Twiggs says. All runners have a pacing strategy and whatever strategy they use, only one official time is recorded. That holds for run/walkers, too.

4. Finish Fast

If you pace the majority of your marathon and still feel strong at the end, it’s likely you will be able to run the entire last kilometre at a fast pace. Don’t hold back.

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