Walking was my first favorite workout, before running stole my heart. There is so much that a good walk can provide–time to clear your head, pray, have a good conversation with a friend, smell the roses, feel the breeze. Or read a book. That’s how I started my walking journey–on a treadmill reading book after book. I studied through college and grad school while walking on a treadmill, and I planned out my thesis mile after mile. Some of my favorite memories are hikes and walks around the neighborhood with my mom. Walking is good for the soul. It’s also really good for running.
I transitioned from being a serial walker to being an obsessed runner during my training for my first marathon in 2013. I had never run on a treadmill until near the end of my training when I realized that only running on the weekends wasn’t going to cut it anymore. Shortly after that, I was hooked on running, but I have maintained treadmill walking at an incline as a staple of my week.
Walking to increase strength and endurance
We all know that exclusively running has its set-backs, like injury. So adding walking to the regimen is a great way to increase endurance by providing time on your feet and strengthening your legs where they need it. It serves as a way to cross train without stressing the joints that sustain the greatest stresses during a run. When I’m not walking outside or hiking outside, I set my treadmill to an incline up to 15% and walk, walk, walk.
All of my ultra buddies know that running an ultra marathon involves hiking,especially on technical terrain, so having the ability to transition from running to walking is a very necessary skill to finish strong. My very first ultra marathon was the Sky to Summit 50k, and I had not trained for it (I was actually using that race to train for a marathon the next month), but I attribute my treadmill “hiking” for giving me the strength to climb the technical trails for over 7 hours to finish as second female.
Walking through an Injury
I recently had surgery, and the surgeon told me that I could walk as soon as I got home from surgery, encouraging me that walking helps promote blood flow, which also speeds up healing. For the first two weeks, I was limited to only walk or cycle, and this provided me with a great outlet to work out and promote the healing process.
Walking was also a great way for me to continue running through pregnancy because it gave my joints the break that they needed and it kept me in shape to continue running postpartum. Most of my weekday pregnancy runs ended up being half running, half walking by the end of the 39 weeks. I used incline to increase the intensity of the work out.
Walking as Recovery
If you are anything like me, you barely squeeze in your run before hopping in the shower and rushing off to the day. By allowing your body a proper cool down walk, you keep the blood flowing to the tissues that were just stressed while your heart rate returns to normal. I have found that I am less sore from a workout if I complement it with a good walk afterwards. (There is a lot of research corroborating the value of a warm up and cool down in reducing DOMS.) I walked a few miles after the Boston Marathon to sight-see the other finishers, and while I was stiff the day following the race, I was feeling much better than I expected!
Another good recovery walking option is to walk backwards. For as long as I can remember, my massage therapist, Rena, has told me that I need to be walking backwards to keep me off of her table. I’ve started to do this as a cool-down on the treadmill in the evenings more often, and it feels like a good stretch. (I’ve also tried to walk backwards around my neighborhood, but it makes me feel extremely silly, and I’ve had a few people yell out of their windows to check on me.) Walking backwards reduces the stresses on your joints, relieves lower back pressure, and increases hamstring flexibility. Walking backwards is also said to enhance cognitive control, which makes it a good recovery activity for individuals recovering from strokes. I only walk for a couple of minutes backwards, but I have read that 10-15 minutes is the sweet spot.
Other Obvious Advantages of Walking
I’ve listed a few reasons why walking is one of my staple activities, but for non-runners, it can be a life-saver. The low impact of walking makes it a great activity for individuals already in poor health, obese, diabetic, etc. It helps reduce the rates of chronic illnesses, and the activity releases endorphins, making both mind and body a better place to be.
So as ultra runners, we walk because walking is part of endurance sports. When it comes to the 18th hour of running my first 100 mile race, I’m going to be grateful for the hours that I slowed my treadmill, increased the incline, and settled into a good book.
Is walking a big part of your training regimen?