Posted by: thehungryrunner | January 8, 2008

Have you always wanted to run? Worried that you have to do so for long intervals?

This theme will come up often on this blog, given it’s a cornerstone of my running philosophy. 

Full disclosure:  I myself enjoy running distances generally in the vicinity of 5-7 miles.  Sometimes I run less, sometimes (though not often) I’ll run more.  But in addition to my continuous runs, be they general in nature or purposeful (i.e. speedwork, lactate threshold, etc.), I also enjoy run-walk intervals, particularly on days when my body clearly needs a lower-intensity or lower-impact workout. 

What surprises me, though, is that I find that there aren’t many programs or guidelines out there advocating a long-term program of run-walk intervals.  Sure, the above program — continuous runs with run/walk intervals sprinkled in from time to time — is not uncommon, either in athlete reports or in experts’ recommendations.  But there is a large portion of the population for whom, for various reasons, the goal of a continuous run is not suitable for them.  And yet these same individuals could benefit tremendously, both physically and psychologically (the joy and satisfaction of running, I believe, is something we can all experience regardless of how long we run at a time), but keeping themselves on a long-term program of run/walk intervals.

Indeed, there is much written and spoken about run/walk intervals.  But they’re often referenced in a context that suggests they’re “merely” stepping stones to “bigger” running goals.  Certainly, if a person becomes comfortable running a few minutes at a time and develops a desire to pursue it further, that’s great — there are many ways to do so.  But what about those who aren’t interested, necessarily, in exceeding short durations of running — say, 30 seconds, one minute or two minutes at a time?  It’s that group that I believe is underserved in the running and fitness fields.

Because if you happen to fall into that group, where you’re a beginning runner and you feel a bit timid about ever wanting to run longer intevals than that, I’m here to tell you, not to worry!  There are plenty of benefits to be gained in maintaining a long-term program of, for example, 45-minute run-walk workouts, in which you run for a minute, then walk for three, run for another minute, then walk for three.  Do ten of these run/walk cycles, add a little room for a short warm-up and some cool-down stretches, and voila!  You have a comprehensive, enjoyable, and extremely effective cardio workout you can use for however long you wish.  No need to move “up the ladder” unless you want to!

So let’s re-examine the requirements of a running program.  While there is much to be said for long, continuous runs, let’s not ignore all of the excellent alternatives!

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