Do real runners take walk breaks

Runners tend to be a little crazy. They subject themselves to mile after mile of grueling punishment, pounding the pavement, trail, or track until they’re sweaty, achy, and out of breath.

They go far beyond the limits of what normal people non-runners see as reasonable, and they do it for a really long time without slowing down.

Don’t they?

I used to think so. I used to think runners were these absurdly fit, almost-mythical creatures that could run for hours without taking a break. That if I was the kind of runner who had to take walk breaks, I wasn’t a real runner.

I thought that whatever the distance–whether it’s a mile, 5k, or a marathon–real runners never stop. Real runners don’t slow down. Real runners never walk. Apparently, I thought real runners didn’t get tired.

But you know what? They do. Real runners get tired. Real runners stop running. Real runners slow down. And yes, real runners take walk breaks. 

The C25K Misconception

Couch-to-5K is awesome. There are some issues, sure, but as a whole, I love run/walk interval training programs. I have to, really–they taught me how to run.

But they all give newbie runners a big misconception about running: that to be a runner, you have to run for a certain time or distance without stopping. The goal of a C25K program is, after all, to be able to run for 30 minutes without stopping.

That’s an awesome goal. That’s also a difficult goal.

But once you achieve it, you’re a runner. You can run for 30-minutes (a pretty standard 5K time) non-stop.

That used to be the standard by which I gauged my runs. If I ran without stopping, it was a good run, no matter how I felt or how quick or slow I was. If I hadn’t shown weakness by slowing down to a–shudder–walk, then it was a good run.

C25K gave me that impression. Once I considered myself a real runner, I understood that only newbies and runners-in-training walked. Because that’s what the training program told me.

If you are under that same impression that runners don’t slow down, stop, or take walk breaks, then let me tell you this very bluntly: it’s a bunch of bantha poodoo.

Real Runners Walk

Yep, that’s right. You heard it here, folks. Real runners take walk breaks. They slow down to a mere fraction of their race pace and slog along like typical, common pedestrians.

But why? Why would they do it when the hallowed training apps tell us that our goal is to run without breaking pace or stride?

Well, there are a lot of reasons, actually, but they mainly boil down to a single, fundamental element.

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Running and Walking Use Different Muscles

Because of the differences in stride and gait, walking and running use completely different muscle groups. When runners take walk breaks, they’re able to use fresh muscles while resting tired ones.

Why is that important?

Well, for starters, fresh muscles tend to be faster and more powerful than tired ones–one reason why coaches prefer dynamic/ballistic stretches over static ones for warm ups.

If you’re going for miles and miles, you’re going to get tired. And the more tired you are, the worse your form and posture are going to be. The worse your form in, the slower you’ll be, and more importantly, the more prone to injury you’ll be.

And if you’re injured, you ain’t running nowhere. No way, no how.

5K, 10K, Half, or Marathon…Take A Walk

It doesn’t matter what distance you’re running, you shouldn’t feel bad about talking a walk break. Running is about discipline more than anything, and self-awareness is a close second.

All taking walk breaks means is that you’re aware of what your body needs and are disciplined enough to do it.

Real runners know when they’re waiting on a traffic light that running in place only expends energy they’ll need on the run later. Real runners slow down for a few steps when they take a drink from an aid station. Because that water or Gatorade doesn’t do any good when it sloshes up your nose or on your shirt instead of being gulped down your throat.

Whether it’s at a 5K, a 10K, or even a marathon, you’re going to see runners taking walk breaks. I do it on training runs (partly because of my asthma), and I do it in races.

Does it suck to get passed by folks who slog along with poor form? Yep, absolutely. But I know that by the end of the race, I’m likely to re-pass them again because my muscles and breath are fresher than theirs.

I’m going to feel a heck of a lot fresher than they do, able to bask in the glow of the lovely endorphin cocktail flowing through my veins.

I have personally taken walk breaks in every training run and race I’ve participated in over the past couple of years. From 5Ks all the way to my half-marathon back in October, I’ve walked a couple minutes between certain miles.

The heavens didn’t crash down, the RRCA or USATF didn’t come and take my runner card away. I felt fresh and rested after each break, my lungs didn’t give out, and I was able to finish in much faster times than during my training–because I listened to my body and gave it what it needed.

So the next time you’re out for a run and think you’re not a real runner because you take walk breaks, think again.

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