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By Senior Coach - Lisa Spink
By now most athletes know about run - walk strategies for endurance events. Obviously, it is mixing run intervals with walk intervals – no rocket science in that! But is this strategy confined to the completers or is it a sound strategy for those wanting to reach their absolute potential and why?
Let’s drive into some of science and practical applications of the run - walk strategy.
Initially a run - walk strategy was possibly thought of for those who didn’t think they could cover the distance running the entire way - so to be able to complete the event they used a run - walk strategy and it works.
Then it evolved and we saw elites, such as Jan Frodeno win Kona with a run - walk strategy. “Interestingly for a man with such prodigious speed and strength, Frodeno won more with conservative wisdom than brute power. When recounting his race, he gave much credit to his habit of walking through many aid stations on the run. He explained to Slowtwitch that slowing down to take in the hydration and nutrition and letting his core temperature cool down. Ultra-runners use run-walk strategies in track, road and trail events again with the goal to improve performance not just to be able to complete the distance.
So, I think we can say a run - walk strategy is a legitimate strategy to be explored for improving your performance regardless of the level of competition. For some athletes this will mean losing the ego and doing as Frodeno did, using “wisdom” to reach their potential. Now, I say “explore” because some events and athletes maybe more or less suited to this strategy so as always N=1, but let’s be smart enough to use the best strategy for the event we are racing in.
Why do run - walk strategies work? This is an interesting topic in which an Assoc Professor friend from Universite Rennes II (France) and I have chatted about for several years following research he did involving ultra-running and fatigue (I was privilege to part of discussion group and a guinea pig for his research). So apart from the above important aspects sighted by Frodeno, which included the ability to take in hydration, calories and cooling the core body temp in the notoriously hot run conditions of Kona – there are physiological and biomechanical considerations as well.
The first, is the strategy can assist in controlling the RPE at the start of the run. Many athletes fall into the trap of extending themselves at the start of the run (either in a triathlon or in a straight running event) which can lead to loss of force and soft tissue ailments. In this scenario running speed eventually slows and unless the athlete has spent time running at the slower speeds, running economy can be compromised, running gait can change, which places stress on different mechanics and now both physiology and biomechanics can be affected. The loss of running economy starts the downward spiral of requiring more energy and oxygen to perform movements which are becoming more inefficient that require more energy and oxygen. With the possible change in gait, through loss of force production the risk of injury is increased.
Secondly, changing the gait cycle from running to walking and back again may play a role in conserving force production, muscle contraction and neuromuscular fatigue. Even though from a gross motor perspective running and walking may look similar the muscle involvement and kinetic chains are different and the neuromuscular pathways differ – therefore switching between the 2 modes may assist in prolonging the overall performance at high intensities.
Thirdly and not to be understate is the psychological aspect of the strategy. By the pure nature of the run-walk strategy, the event is broken into small manageable “chunks” for the athlete. The variety of both modes allows the athlete to continually reset and this can greatly assist in maintaining motivation. Again, by the pure nature of the strategy athletes can feel like they are running at a “better” pace while performing a run-walk strategy then the possibly unmotivating “slower” pace and “slowing” pace which can be the result of a continuous run strategy.
These are just some of the “geeky” theories behind the run-walk strategy but what does it mean for you the athlete. Here are a few tips.
Like always “happy athletes are fast athletes – love the journey to living your potential”
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