“Walking? Are you kidding? I’m a runner. Why would I spend the 30 glorious minutes I have today moving half as fast as my running legs can go?”
That was my internal conversation for many years. I was a runner. Runners don’t walk. Conversely, we take pride in running the entire thing, even if it hurts us – or get this – even if we are running slower than we could walk!
Today I’m a walker, hiker and runner. I include all three in my weekly workout schedule. I believe that by including walking and hiking in my life, I will be able to continue running for the long-term. Here’s why.
I’m a former professional triathlete. My #1 goal at every triathlon was to “run the entire run.” That’s a great goal when you’re racing for money, but when my triathlon career ended and my training dwindled to “normal person” levels, I was able to see how the other side lives – and it’s a pretty awesome life!
I first discovered the power of walking in a race setting. I was doing a trail half marathon and while I was (barely) running up the face of a ski slope, I was passed by a walker. What the?! Turns out walking is a well-known tactic of ultrarunners as there is a point of diminishing returns when the trail gets too steep. Walking is more efficient and preserves your leg muscles. True to form, that walking-runner finished well before me.
In general, walking allows your running muscles to rest. Plain and simple. Take the Jeff Galloway Marathon Training as an example for how walking can improve your running endurance. His program suggests that allowing yourself walking breaks at regularly scheduled intervals can actually improve your endurance. I think it’s both mental and physical. I have met many runners who have used this method to complete marathons and more – and they are more likely to avoid injuries, which is the key to longevity.
Ready to take your walking to the next level? I define hiking as an off-road, up & down version of walking; it’s like “walking strength training.” For some of you without access to hiking trails, this may not be possible, so you’ll have to get creative. My husband (Tim DeBoom, Ironman Hawaii World Champion) has always prescribed hiking as the cure for what ails you.
Whenever we have an inkling of potential injury, we stop running and hit the hiking trails. Tim is a firm believer that the uneven surfaces and conscientious footing encourages our bodies to use different support muscles, tendons and ligaments. A good hike can “turn on” muscles that have been ignored through repetitive run training. This is clearly not a scientific explanation, but it makes sense. Our bodies need variety to keep our joints firing fluidly. Plus hiking is beautiful!
Cross-training is not just about throwing weights around. Walking and hiking are not just for old people who can’t run anymore. They’re amazing strength-building alternatives to break up your running routine that will allow you to be an old person who still runs!