Drummer Neil Peart told me, “Playing a 3-hour Rush show is like a running a marathon while solving equations.” In the fall of 2013 I was actually running a marathon while solving equations.
I had 5 miles left in my Boston Marathon qualifying race and, like the driver of a Red Barchetta trying to outrun a pair of gleaming alloy air cars, every nerve was aware; aware, and screaming at me to make the pain stop.
So I stopped to walk. My goal time was under 3:25. I did some math and allowed myself two-and-a-half minutes of recovery so I could continue running. With just over a mile left I had to walk a second time, this time my calculations permitted me only a minute of recovery. My math was tight, as I crossed the finish line with only 29 seconds to spare.
The other two marathons I’ve run had no walking, but they were also significantly slower. Sometimes, you need to stop and walk during a race because you’ve been pushing so hard that taking a short rest is the only way you can continue. I spent less than 2% of that BQ race walking, and the other 98% at a brutal pace that landed me in the med tent afterwards hooked up to IV fluids and oxygen. I puked twice.
That’s an extreme example. Another example of the usefulness of walking is for getting started. I know many who transitioned from walkers to runners. They walked. Then they walked with a little bit of running. Then they ran with a little bit of walking. Then they just ran.
For gaining speed, interval training is valuable. This can be done by running very fast followed by running slow, and other times it can be a brutal sprint interval that so intense that you must walk in order to recover from it.
But I want to talk to you about what may be the most important role of walking for the runner who endeavors to improve.
Couch James almost won today. He was in a battle with Runner James, and Runner James was losing.
But Runner James decided that a tired, slow run that would include some walking was better than giving in and deciding to be Couch James for a day.
So Runner James went and did 10K. Two of those 10 kilometers were spent walking. The other eight weren’t that fast.
But Runner James kicked Couch James’s ass. And so, while it was not fast, and there was a lot of walking, it was a victory.
It was a slow run. It was not a bad run.
Many ambitious runners lament every time they have to walk. Any time I see a runner stop to walk I don’t think about how they gave into fatigue, but about how they earned that fatigue. And that perhaps they were tired and sore and didn’t want to run today but went out anyway.
A run doesn’t have to be fast to be a victory. A run doesn’t have to have zero walking to be a worthwhile.
Some days, even if there is lots of walking, it’s just about the miles.
Take that, Couch James.
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James S. Fell is an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of Lose it Right: A Brutally Honest 3-Stage Program to Help You Get Fit and Lose Weight Without Losing Your Mind, published by Random House Canada. He also interviews celebrities about their fitness stories for the Los Angeles Times, and is head fitness columnist for AskMen.com and a regular contributor to Men’s Health.