Should you take walk breaks while running?

Back in 2012 I ran my first travel-based half marathon.

My wife and I had hopped on a plane and spent a long weekend in Las Vegas where the race had shut down the strip and some tens of thousands of runners ran through the Nevada evening basked in glow of more neon than I’d ever seen in one place.

With a burst of fireworks I pushed out of the start line and headed south and outbound, past the famous Welcome to Las Vegas sign, pacing myself for twenty one klicks amongst the hoards of runners. I was feeling good. I was running strong. Everything was great. The air. The music. The vibe. The colours. The lights.

Then my watch beeped …and I took my first walk break.

Y’know. Just like I’d been training to do.

Ten minutes running followed by one minute of brisk recovery walk, repeated until the end of the run. It’s how I’d practiced. It was my race plan. It was intentional.

It was only after a fellow racer dressed as Elvis Presley pulled up alongside to ask me if I was alright and a couple other concerned folks patted me on the shoulder to encourage me to “stay strong buddy” did I realize that how my Canadian run club had been training me for the previous few years was not the universal approach… even a few hours away just down in the States.

Nearly ten years later, and even this morning on our fourteen kilometer run through the spring river valley, we still tend to take walk breaks on our long and simple training runs.

Ten minutes of on-pace running followed by one minute of brisk recovery walk.

Ten and ones.

I’m sure there is some science that could be found online about the training benefits of walk-run intervals, the value of mid-run recovery, the advantages of training for time-on-feet versus pace, or even how it’s tough to take a water break without choking if you don’t stop and slow down for at least a few steps.

And I have many personal anecdotes about passing fellow racers on the back half of the course, runners who leapfrogged past me on my first couple walk breaks but who faltered in their pace an hour or so on. I’ve even raced both with and without breaks, and invariably I always do better with my regular recovery walks worked into the pace.

Or, I could just tell you how nice it is to enjoy the scenery of a minute-long walk through the woods or across a bridge, maybe snapping a photo or two to remember the moment.

There are reasons.

None of those reasons matters much, of course, other than to say I’ve got my own list of rationalizations for why taking walk breaks on long training runs has worked well for both my crew and I over the years. It was how we were taught by the store-based club we started running out of. It’s become habit. We’ve all had a decade-plus-long running career backed by an interval setting on our watches. I don’t see it changing. Also, I like it.

Walks are not for everyone, of course. Highly competitive racers likely turn their noses at recreational runners like us. (Those folks are not reading this advice anyhow. ) If you’ve found this post because you searched for advice on if it’s okay to take breaks while you run then you’ve come to the crux of my point. Yes. It’s fine. Better than fine, in fact, if it means you can run longer or further than you could without those breaks. Maybe walking is even a good idea, if by walking you even slightly reduce your chance for injury by overstress. Walking is okay.

This is not meant to be advice. Every runner is different. Every training program is unique. Every kilometer run has a purpose and a challenge. Do your own research and learn your body.

That said, I do believe from years of personal experience that walk breaks can find a place somewhere in that mix and interval walk breaks might be the ingredient you need to train longer distances or simply find enjoyment of the sport through the blurry push for always faster and ever harder.

I finished that Las Vegas half marathon strong. I’ll never actually know how Elvis found himself managing his own pace in the second half of that twenty-one kilometer race. Part of me likes to believe that in one of the fifty-or-so white sequined jumpsuits that I passed through that evening’s run was that guy who (as nice as he was for stopping to check) thought I’d buffed it ten minutes into the race.

Cuz I didn’t.

I was just taking a break, enjoying both the race and the neon.