Monday, May 25, 2015

Embracing Run:Walk Intervals

I discovered Run:Walk intervals by accident. And I am glad that I did, because they have been the most effective component of keeping my neuromas from flaring up and causing numb feet during my runs.

Goal: Non-Stop Running

When I first started running again a little over three years ago, my goal was to increase the distance I could run without needing to take a break to walk. I viewed stopping to walk as a sign of weakness, and I wanted to be strong like I used to be in the races I ran 20 years ago. I felt a real sense of accomplishment when I finally ran a 5k without stopping to walk at all.

But when I ran both the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run and Nike Women's Half, the numbness in my feet was so severe that I had to keep stopping over and over again during the early miles to loosen my laces and stomp my feet. I lost a lot of valuable time and felt incredibly frustrated.

Diagnosis: Neuromas

I ran for a couple more months with the numbness becoming more of a factor during my runs. Finally I went to see a foot specialist and learned I had neuromas in both my feet. I found some relief through SuperFeet inserts, LockLaces, and wider shoes. And then in September I stumbled upon Run:Walk intervals.

Accidentally Discovering Run:Walk

How does one just stumble upon Run:Walk intervals? Well, I had been wanting to go to the regular Thursday night fun run at Reston Potomac River Running for a long time, but I was often working in DC on Thursdays and just couldn't swing it. Then, finally, I had a Thursday telecommute day and made it to the run.

I ran with the Reston Runners BFFs (Best Foot Forward), who happen to do Run:Walk intervals of 4:2 (4 minutes of running, followed by 2 minutes of walking). And I was hooked! I found that taking regular walk breaks seemed to help ease the pressure building in my feet and help keep the neuromas from flaring. I also discovered that I was just as fast with the Run:Walk combo. Win-win.

Using Run:Walk During Races

Since then, I've trained & used 5:1 intervals for several other big races: Army Ten-Miler, Philly Half, the 2015 Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run. I've continued to improve my speed, and the neuromas are far less of a factor than they used to be. It's not a miracle cure - the intensity of race pace puts more pressure on my feet than training runs and I do find I still have to stop to loosen my laces at some point during the race. But now, it is typically only one stop. An added bonus from the walk intervals is that I have a built-in opportunity to sip water and take fuel on a consistent schedule.

The Experiment

About a month ago I had an unanticipated test of Run:Walk vs. Run. I had runs planned on both Saturday and Sunday with different people. Both runs ended up being the same four mile course. On Saturday we ran intervals. On Sunday, the women I was running with didn't really want to run intervals, so we just ran straight through. I had to stop and loosen my laces several times. I couldn't feel my left foot for last the two miles. My body was giving me clear signals that I was ignoring and I didn't really enjoy the run. And you know what? My average pace for both runs was pretty much the same.

If there had been any doubt in my mind about what works best for me, it was settled that weekend. Run:Walk intervals clearly work the best for my body. And I no longer see walking as a sign of weakness. Incorporating the walk intervals gives me strength and makes me a better runner.


  1. Run/walk intervals are great and helped me a lot during my ultra marathon last year. Not sure why they have a bad rep because they can help keep people on the road/trail.

    1. I am still in awe of your ultra marathon. It makes sense that run/walk was a good strategy for parts of that epic experience :)

  2. I use run/walk a lot of the time - especially when training for longer distances. I use a 4/1 interval though. Glad this works for you!

    1. I'm glad to know that you use this in your training sometimes, too!

  3. It's great that run walk intervals have helped to allow you to run longer distances. Marathon here you come!

    1. Thank you Deborah! I am so excited about the marathon. (PS - I looked into the comment plug-in and it is for wordpress. Blogger doesn't seem to have a good option. boo.)