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We’re all run/walkers now

30 March 2021

Ten years ago, when I was called a jogger instead of a runner, I got very pissed off. So pissed off I started this blog. My twitter handle is @notajogger. My instagram account is @notajogger. I was pretty serious about not being a jogger.

I still wouldn’t call myself a jogger, but I wouldn’t cry if you did. Because these days, I’m not always a runner. Sometimes – ok, most of the time – I’m a run/walker. What does that mean? Well, it’s a technical term that means I run for a bit and then I walk for a bit to get my breath back and then I start running again.

Seriously, run/walking is an official thing

Run/walking is not just for speed training, but for every run – and even for races. Jeff Galloway calls it “Run Walk Run”, and the principle is that every run becomes a form of interval training: warding off injury, speeding up recovery, and “bestow[ing] joy on non-stop runners who had given up”.

When I, aged 10, was learning to run with my dad, his only piece of running advice was “you can slow down, but you must NEVER walk”. This was firmly lodged in my brain for years. The minute I walked, by definition, the run was over. I could jog a bit to get home, but the main work was done; I had failed as soon as I started walking. Aged 35, I thought it was normal to ask if it was “ever ok to walk?“.

On one level, this still makes sense. If I am training for a race and want to push myself, I need to know that I have the physical and mental toughness to keep going when I want to stop. However, after 25 years of running I don’t need to build this toughness again, because I already have it. Whenever I need it, I can call upon a memory bank of runs where I conquered the urge to walk.

This won’t always work. At the 2018 London Marathon I walked and it felt like a failure because I had no other choice; I walked because I couldn’t run another step. And it didn’t even make me feel better! But one race like this will never destroy the toughness I’ve proved in hundreds of others.

Walking doesn’t have to be a failure, it can be a choice.

During a long run these days, I am more likely to take walk breaks in the first half of the run when my body is still warming up. Once I’ve got going, the pace usually feels easier and I forget to walk. The ultra running trick of walking up all the hills doesn’t really work in the fens, but I can use it for the parts of the route I don’t like instead: the muddy edges of a field, railway crossings, and busy paths where I get stuck behind a queue of people.

Making a tactical decision to walk, when I want to but before I need to, has helped me enjoy my running more this year, and I think it’s helped me stay injury-free.

Running in a global pandemic, is it ever possible not to walk?

Over the last year, I can count the runs where I haven’t walked on two hands. No races, no pressure, no reason not to walk. Sometimes I stop my watch, but more and more these days, I don’t. Who would I be stopping it for?

The “elapsed time” feature on Strava is controversial, but I think it has liberated a lot of runners. We can no longer pretend we can get through a run without stopping at the lights, changing our music, taking photos, tying our laces, having a chat: all excuses we use to have a rest and then carry on running, enjoying it that little bit more because we gave ourselves a break.

I talked to my dad, now 75, about my new habit of taking walk breaks. “You wait,” he said, “when get to my age, you’ll be taking run breaks”.

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