So, you've decided you're going to give this whole running thing a solid try, just to see if maybe this time you actually like it. You arrive at the park, pop in your earbuds — you've even made a running playlist. You start trotting along and are already feeling yourself. Then, around the quarter-mile mark, your lungs feel like they're engulfed in flames, your quads are screaming, and you really just want to slow down and walk. Walking feels so good, but that means you still haven't really "run," right? Wrong.
There's a common misconception that taking walking breaks while you run is "cheating," but that's far from the truth, says to Corinne Fitzgerald, NSCA-certified personal trainer and running coach at Mile High Run Club in New York City. First of all, "there are no rules to running," Fitzgerald says. "Each run is defined by no one but yourself." And while walking can feel like a cop-out, it can actually be beneficial to runners for a few very good reasons.
Taking walking breaks will help make longer runs feel more manageable, Fitzgerald says. "There is a huge mental aspect to distance running, and taking small breaks allows you to feel like you have more control over your run," she says. Whether you're just trying to run one mile or are attempting to train for a marathon, stopping every few minutes to walk can help to break up the distance, so you can actually finish strong.
Walking can also be helpful from a technical perspective: When you're fatigued, your form typically starts to deteriorate, Fitzgerald says. "This very often leads to chronic injuries and a lot of frustration." So, when you feel yourself getting sloppy or sense your legs are getting tired, it's the perfect time to walk. You can start running again when you've regained your energy to really focus on the form, instead of slogging through for the sake of keeping up your speed.
"I always suggest starting small and building your way up," she says. For example, if you're a beginner runner, start with one minute running, one minute walking, she says. If you're more experienced, you can try five minutes running, five minutes walking. A running app makes this easy to track. Or you can just use the "huff-and-puff rule," Fitzgerald says. "When you hear more huffing and puffing, take more frequent walking breaks." (Of course, you should talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise routine, and if you are having difficulty breathing, that's not a good sign.)
Believe it or not, form matters when you're walking, too, explains Natalie Johnson, a NASM-certified trainer and running coach. Concentrate on keeping good posture, maintaining arm mechanics, taking shorter steps, and walking through your big toe, Johnson says. "You may feel like you want a bum bag and visor pumping those arms like you would if you were running, but believe me it sets you up for better running mechanics," she says. Paying attention to your form also keeps you from zoning out: "You want to allow yourself to [walk] without losing sight of the purpose of your run," Fitzgerald says.
Next time you decide you're going for a "run," make a choice to walk, too. Keep in mind that it might take you longer to complete your run than anticipated, Fitzgerald says. And if people on the running path or nearby treadmill throw shade at you for walking (they shouldn't), just ignore them and follow Fitzgerald's advice: "If adding a few walking breaks allows you to run farther, stronger, and makes it more enjoyable — where's the downside?"