Adding mileage with bookended run/walk intervals

I recently made another accidental discovery while training.

After cutting back on running for a while, leaning instead on strength and cross training, I started training seriously again after getting roped into joining a couple of spring 10K’s in the Vegas Valley. With COVID restrictions fading back, races (at least on a smaller scale) are coming back to the area.

To see where I’m at and give me an easy, productive training schedule, I had Garmin set me up on a McMillan algorithmic plan. McMillan’s easy workouts are often flexible, e.g. you can run 20 minutes at an assigned pace, or have the option to extend that paced run up to 35 minutes before the cooldown. I wanted to have that option rather than have to run 3-5 miles at pace or bust.

Previously I had been doing runs Galloway-style, with a run-walk approach. I figured out how to program my Garmin Forerunner to give me run-walk alerts on basic runs, and set it to have me run 2 minutes, walk 1 minute, repeat.

This had actually worked quite well in that my cross training helped me maintain more than enough aerobic endurance, but neuromuscularly I was still struggling to run more than 15-20 minutes without sending my heart rate towards the lactate threshold. I was able to easily extend runs beyond 15-20 minutes with the walk breaks.

Still, I figured forcing myself in the short term to combine some 20+ minute runs with some speedwork and ample nutrition/recovery in a training plan would compel my body to catch up.

On one easy training run I was laboring and decided to cut the workout short at 20 minutes, but that after the cooldown and nominal end of the training session I would “Resume” the rest of the run at an easy pace to cover the distance I wanted.

I got to end of the workout, hit “Resume”, and continued running. Within seconds I was surprised to hear my watch chime and tell me it was time to Walk 1:00, just like on my default runs.

I had not disabled the run/walk alerts, and turns out if you resume your run after a programmed workout, your watch reverts to your default features.

My legs were weary with maintaining the needed pace, but I didn’t want to end the workout (I also was about a mile from my car and didn’t want to walk all that way). So I decided to go with it and walk. Sure enough, the watch followed 2:00/1:00 run/walk intervals, and I resumed running after a minute.

After a couple of these intervals, my weariness had somewhat dissipated and my pace on the run intervals improved dramatically. I finished the workout strong, and the light bulb went off.

With my previous training plan, I was able to keep up with its demands, but it wore me out to the point where cutting it short (after the cancellation of races) felt like a relief. What if I didn’t need to run myself ragged like that to train and cover the mileage I felt I needed?

I could decide to run a certain distance on a programmed training workout, and if the training run didn’t cover the distance I could just continue with run/walk intervals after ending the nominal workout. The training run would be a higher intensity, and run/walking would hedge the damage of covering extra miles while still developing my fitness and skill in later miles.

So, from then on, that’s how I’ve done these McMillan workouts. I run however hard/fast I need to in order to fulfill the minimum workout paramters, end the workout as soon as I feel I need to, but then I relax and run/walk until I’ve covered the max distance the workout would have covered.

This approach has worked very well. Despite a relatively high volume of running compared to my current fitness, I don’t feel beat up, unduly sore, or exhausted like I would had I full-out run all of those miles.

And it’s not a bad approach for someone who is growing their base mileage and feels they will struggle to run the needed miles, but:

  • They can’t or don’t want to spend weeks/months slowly building their base mileage each week, bit by bit.
  • They feel they have the fitness to run harder than the traditional Galloway run-walk approach, i.e. run uninterrupted for more extended periods.

For example, you know you can run steady for 30 minutes. You want to run 60 minutes but if you can it will be a tough time.

To start, you can run uninterrupted for 30 minutes, or until you get tired to where continuing is a struggle. Then slow to a walk, and after that continue the rest of the workout in run/walk intervals of your choosing. For best results, however, just be sure to not wait until you’re totally exhausted or hurting to switch to the run/walk intervals. Try to finish your uninterrupted run while you feel you could continue for anothe few minutes at a good pace.

I do 2:00/1:00 run walk, sometimes I do 1:00/1:00 or 0:30/1:00. Galloway tells readers to base their run/walk split on their pace (slower means shorter run intervals, sometimes longer walk intervals), though I’ve switched my pace depending on comfort (or my willingness to handle the lack thereof).

I’ll continue to increase my mileage while sticking to the regular, shorter workouts by bookending them with this new run/walk nightcap approach. It’s worked well for me, and it might work well for you.

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