You started your run out strong, fast, and ready to cover new ground. But a few miles in, all you can think about is stopping and walking for a bit. You’re not alone in that desire to slow it down. Many people use walk breaks to bring their heart rate back down and build endurance. Or simply to catch their breath and then keep moving.
So, should you stop for a stroll on race day? Well, it really depends on whether it’s your body or mind telling you to cut back. To help you figure it out, we chatted with Aaptiv trainer Rochelle Moncourtois to get to the bottom of walk breaks during a race.
Should I take walk breaks during a race?
It really depends on a few factors. “Usually, taking a walk break during a race depends on the length of the race, your fitness level, how you feel that day, and how well you trained,” Moncourtois says. “It’s definitely OK to take walking breaks—especially if you’re running a half or full marathon.” Lots of people hit a wall during these longer distances, which can mean cramping or nausea. That’s certainly a sign to slow it down. “Listen to your body,” Moncourtois continues. “If you’re just feeling tired, don’t walk. That’s probably your mental game telling you that you can’t do it, but physically you can. It’s super-important to recognize the difference.”
When You Should Walk vs. When You Shouldn’t
One situation in which you shouldn’t dial down your pace is if you’re trying to set a personal record. “When you stop your legs from that running motion, it’s really hard to get them started again,” Moncourtois explains. “Keeping your legs in motion is the best way to get that PR!”
On the contrary, take your speed down a notch if you are recovering from an injury, have actual pain anywhere, or your time isn’t so important and you just want to feel good. “If you’re taking walk breaks during a race, try to use that time wisely and really make sure you’re recovering and hydrating or fueling,” Moncourtois says. “Take some deep breaths, and think about your next set of intervals. Or just focus on getting to the finish line.”
How Can I Avoid Walking?
Simply put: Follow your training plan to a T. Coaches design training plans to prepare you for the big day, so you can overcome fatigue and keep a fast pace. “Training days are there for a reason, so if you’re having a bad training day and need to walk, that’s OK. That’s why runners train,” Moncourtois says.
Every runner has good and bad days out on the road. Don’t get down if a slow day comes your way. You may experience a not-so-good run if you’re not properly hydrated, you didn’t recover well from your last run, or you didn’t get enough sleep (just to name a few reasons). But if you work through the tough times during training, you’ll learn how to push through and listen to your body better. You’ll also be able to better recognize when you need to push through mental exhaustion or take a break to address physical fatigue.
“If you’re having a really tough training day and your body is fatigued, go ahead and take those walking breaks. Your body is probably telling you something,” Moncourtois says.