My girlfriend and I have taken several vacations that involved walking, hiking, or standing for most of the day. Following these vacations, I noticed big improvements in my running times. My most recent example follows our trip to Barcelona. We did what the native city dwellers do and walked most of the time.
We wandered tree-lined Las Ramblas, explored the colorful Picasso Museum, climbed the spires of the Sagrada Familia cathedral, toured the shocking Dali museum, browsed curvy Modernist houses, and hiked the mountain trails of the Montserrat Monastery. We were on our feet for eight to ten hours every day and went to bed sore and tired. We didn't swim, bike, or run—just walked.
A couple of days after returning home, I ran my usual 1.6-mile morning loop. My average time for running this loop prior to our trip was 15:17. That's an average pace of 9:33 per mile—no, I'm not a fast runner. My best time was 14:19. Two days following our walk-filled vacation, I ran the same loop.
Although I hadn't run at all for 16 days, I felt like I was flying. My stride was longer and bouncier. My time was 13:20 (8:20 per mile), almost a full minute faster than my best time.
"While walking takes longer, it will bestow the same endurance as running, while reducing injury risk."—Jeff Galloway, U.S. Olympian
Nor could it have been a result of tapering; I hadn't been training much prior to the vacation, running perhaps 10 miles a week.
One of my running friends also noted the benefits of walking. Sandy Kweder, a physician who runs about 12 miles a week, told me that when she returned to running after taking almost a year off, she started by walking her dog for about a mile and a half every morning. Then she would go out for her run. She noticed a vast improvement. Said Kweder, "It was remarkably easier. The difference in the runs was striking."
What Do the Experts Think?
"By increasing your endurance during your long walking days in Spain, you created a number of physiological benefits internally that only come from extending the distance, while using your legs and feet," said Jeff Galloway, the biggest advocate of incorporating walking into a running routine, and a former U.S. Olympian in the 10,000-meter run. Galloway, the founder of the Walk-Run program, believes that "while walking takes longer, it will bestow the same endurance as running, while reducing injury risk."
Galloway uses walking so that injured athletes can continue their training. He cites one runner who was so injured that he was forced to walk training distances of 15 to 21 miles. The walking allowed the injury to heal, and he was able to return to running. The runner's marathon time "was within a few minutes of the time predicted at the beginning of the program before injury."
Adam Spector, a podiatrist and runner, believes that both running and walking "stimulate muscles but not the exact same ones." He believes that the biomechanics are different; runners run on the ball of the foot while walkers use their entire foot, moving from heel to toe. He believes that my improvement following my trip to Spain came from the rest rather than from the long walks. He thinks that the walking kept me reasonably toned, but the rest was equally beneficial. Spector observes that runners benefit from resting. He maintains that it is better to be 20 percent under-trained than 1 percent under-rested.
Daniel Brafman, owner of RaceTrain Fitness, says that he "absolutely" recommends walking as a part of training for runners. The walking can either be used as "active recovery," or for older or beginner athletes, as the workout itself.
Brafman recommends that the athlete should walk fast enough "so there is a noticeable difference in respiration." Spector says that cadence for both running and walking should be 180 footfalls per minute, as studies show that the cadence should be the same for both activities. But he warned that walkers often overstride, which can lead to injury.
Danny Pereles, an orthopedic physician and triathlete, came up with what may be the best reason to incorporate walking into a running routine. He says that runners tend to start having knee problems after about 25 years of running because of the wear and tear on the knee joints. Since "walking is not injurious to joints," incorporating walking into a running routine can keep you running long into old age.
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