Shortcuts get a bad rap, especially when it comes to health. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard someone say, “You’re only cheating yourself” while lecturing tediously about diet and exercise. Sometimes cheating really is bad – like in the case of my non-running friend who told me that running a six-minute mile is so easy anyone could do it and then proceeded to run 1/2 of a mile at a six-minute pace, declaring himself correct. When I pointed out that he hadn’t completed the mile and that anyone can run a six-minute pace for a minute or two, he stubbornly insisted that he could have done it, he just quit early because he was bored with the whole thing. Still burns me, that one.

But there are times when taking the easy route is the best. Take, for instance, the granddaddy of all athletic achievements: the marathon.

Fitness Hack: You’re allowed to walk.

Let’s face it, walking makes running a whole lot less intimidating and a whole lot more people would run races if they knew they could walk. I remember the first time I realized that I wouldn’t get tackled by the race judges (they have judges right?) for walking. I was talking to my friend Gretchen who has run tons of marathons. I said something to her about not knowing how she could run 4+ hours straight that many times and she looked at me like I was dumb, “Well I walk some.”

The whole concept of “walking” a marathon was foreign to me. I mean, races are for running right? But apparently there is a whole category for people who just walk marathons. And I don’t mean that weird cross-breed sport of racewalking that everyone likes to make fun but is probably ridiculously hard to do. Not that I would know, I’ve never tried it. (Hmmm… future Experiment perhaps?)

But what about people who want to mostly run a race but maybe need to walk a little bit? Is it cheating? Can I still call myself a runner if I walk? Will other runners silently mock me as they lope past on their gazelle legs? Yeah, some might but it turns out that walking during a race is a well-respected training regime. It might be the best kept secret in running! There are several methods to work in some walking:

  • One marathoner friend swears by walking through each water station. This has the added bonus of letting you finish your drink and throw the cup in the garbage can instead of just splashing it in the general direction of your pie hole and only realizing it was Powerade once your bangs are gelled straight up.
  • Another option, creatively named the run-walk-run, is to walk a certain amount of time (anywhere from 15 seconds to two minutes) of every mile. The rest allows your legs and lungs some minor recovery so that when you resume, you’re that much faster. Lest you think this method only works for newbies, elite marathoners have ran personal bests using this method and trainers across the country are implementing it.
  • Your last option is to walk when you feel like it. You’ve been there – that feeling where you think you just. can’t. run. another. step. So don’t! Walk. Walk until you feel like you can run again. And don’t feel the least bit guilty about it!

One caveat: be careful when you stop to walk. Pulling up short in the middle of the road is bound to get you cursed at, if not run over. Just move to one side as you slow down.

What do you think about walking during a race? Do you do it? Does it bug you when you see other people do it? Do you have a favorite fitness cheat? Have you ever been in a tornado (my greatest fear since moving here to the Midwest)??

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