Yes, you can run your fastest marathon if you walk at every mile.

When I first started training for marathons, I couldn’t run the whole long run, so I walked for a minute at each mile. But as I got closer to race day, I didn’t think that it “counted” if I walked during the actual race. So for a few races, I trained with walking, but on race day I lined up with the pacers and tried to run it full out. No walks.

This strategy broke the only two rules to running a marathon, which are:

  1. Race like you train.
  2. Run your own race.

It doesn’t matter what “counts.” When you know that walking helps bring down your heart rate, calms your nerves, and gives you a mental mileage break, your best bet is to work with that strategy, not against it. Here’s exactly what I did:

First, I made this simple calculator to say “IF I ran at 8:15 for .95 miles, and walked for .05 miles, what would my total race time be?” This calculator predicts my total race time if I walked a little at every mile. (Note, I tried to do this math in my head on several long runs, which was quite unsuccessful.) You enter all the stuff in blue: your total distance, the pace you think you can run consistently for the running bits, and then the distance you want to run before you walk each time. You can play around with this! But you want your run distance + walk distance to add up to ONE mile (or the calculator gets weird. I’m sure if you’re a nerd like me, you can modify). I did 0.95 run, .05 walk, which is about a 45 second walk. Here’s what it looked like:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1CPUQD-wgX7oS87_5_5HIjqJemh1-4Qml_YCsQBsVkLc/edit#gid=0

Next, I built it the other way (same link), where I said “If I want to hit a 3:40 marathon goal, AND I want to walk for .05 every mile, how fast do I need to go during the running parts?” This helped me see my goal race time with a walk and envision exactly what I need to run to achieve it. Again, fill out the blue parts and the calculator will spit out your paces in yellow.

See that? This one lets you put in your goal race time, and spits out your paces, kind of the inverse of the first calculator. It’s here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1CPUQD-wgX7oS87_5_5HIjqJemh1-4Qml_YCsQBsVkLc/edit#gid=0

Finally, I built my plan as a Garmin Workout, which allowed me to NOT think about these paces on the long runs leading up to race day (race like you train!) and on race day. If you haven’t used Garmin Workouts before, the screen gives you a range — if you’re right in range, the arrow is in the green; too fast or too slow for your goal pace and it’s red plus it buzzes at you. So, all I had to remember was to “stay in the green zone” at each phase.This strategyhas two important benefits:

  1. It gives you confidence that if you follow the plan, you’ll hit your goals.
  2. It conserves your energy for your running, instead of using it up on your mind trying to figure out “OMG AM I GOING FAST ENOUGH RIGHT NOW?” which can create stress and ultimately wear you out. (The Huberman Podcast does an incredible job of breaking down the importance of this here).

Here’s a quick YouTube tutorial on how to build a workout for your Garmin. And here’s the actual workout I built:

Garmin workout pacing for a 3:40–3:50 marathon time.

A few notes & tips:

  1. In the design of the workout, you see 24 reps of the “run-walk” part (instead of 26), which is because I skipped the very first walk and the very last walk of the race. I knew I’d be hyped up on the first mile of the race and not want to walk (this was true), and I hoped I would be all strong and fast and not want to walk at all on the last mile (this was less true).
  2. I practiced this workout on two long runs before the actual race day and I highly recommend this, especially if you’re new to Garmin Workouts.
  3. Once I started the race, I never moved off of the “workout” screen. I just followed the prompts. When it told me to walk, I walked. When it said I was too slow or too fast, I just tried to get back to the green zone. This helped me reduce output of mental energy on my paces and times, and just focus on keeping my body moving.

Ultimately, this was a great strategy for me. I believe my paces were more consistent (not perfect, but I’m a work in progress!) and I finished feeling strong and in control of my race. Here’s how it broke down:

Bonus of using Garmin Workouts: your recap shows the intervals as you’ve programmed them. Pretty sweet!

There are a lot of ways to run a marathon, and I’ve run them with both a “whatever happens will happen” strategy and with an “run your own race” strategy. I’ll take the latter — it helped me feel more confident, more clear, and more in control of my race.

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karenborchert

karenborchert

Founder and CEO of Alpaca. Goals Nerd, Spreadsheet Enthusiast, and Runner.