Marathon Run Walk Strategy – Is It Good For Your First Marathon?

You may have heard of “Run Walk Strategy” for marathon or “Galloway Run Walk Run Method”, and wonder if it is useful in accomplishing your first marathon goal.

While the run walk run method can be beneficial to beginners and veteran runners, in this article, I will explore this method to focus on beginners and more specifically for first time marathon runners like you.

Run Walk Strategy In a Nutshell

The Run Walk Strategy was popularized by American Olympian and renowned running coach Mr. Jeff Galloway, hence the name “Galloway Run Walk Run Method”.

In 1973, Mr. Galloway designed this method with a purpose to help beginners to start running, and “help non-runners enjoy the benefits of running” as cited in his website. The method was experimented with a group of previously non-runners in finishing a 5K or 10K race successfully and without injuries. It was then further developed and enhanced ever since and still be using by numerous runners in the world.

Simply speaking, the method is to insert regular walk breaks into short runs for a designated duration starting from the beginning of the exercise. Based on the “magic mile”, which is the time of running one mile at harder than the normal pace, a formula is derived to predict the pace using the run walk method to finish a race like 5K or full marathon, together with the recommended duration of short run and walk breaks in the run walk cycle.

In general, for each run walk cycle, faster runners (lower pace) will run longer and take shorter walk breaks, slower runners (higher pace) will run shorter and take longer walk breaks.

The theory behind is to have walk breaks early in the running will “erase” fatigue, and avoid muscle breakdown in the later part, thus the runner can endure for a longer distance than entirely running. As for a marathon, inexperienced runners will usually slow down dramatically after 20 miles, run walk run method can help runners save the time loss during the last 6 miles.

Key Benefits Of The Method

Improve performance – a survey on veteran runners using this method in their race showed they have completed the races with improved finish time by an average of 13 minutes, with reduced injuries and faster recovery after the race.

Easier to adapt at first – as walking is the natural movement of human beings since childhood, adding walk breaks in between short runs can make beginners adapt more easily to complete longer overall distance than non-stop running.

Lower cardiac strength needed – as it is more demanding on cardiac strength for greater intensity and longer duration of exercise, adding walk breaks to short runs is less exhausted on the cardiac muscles than non-stop running.

Reduce damage to muscle and joint – impact to the body during walking is less than running, muscles and joints have time to rest during the walks, leading to less fatigue, reduced risk of injuries, as well as faster recovery.

Less boring – non-stop running can be burning out to the mind. Adding some variations like walk breaks can improve mental endurance for longer distance during training and the race.

Criticism About The Method

Some runners criticize about the run walk method in “dumping down” the running sport and disgraceful about the “running” race.

Inserting walk breaks between short runs is less effective in building up the strength and endurance of muscles than running long distance.

Switching from running to walking in the race can be a disruption to those runners behind due to sudden slowing down, especially in areas where the runners are congested.

While some experienced runners claim that they complete faster than non-stop running for the race, it is hard to validate if adapting to the run walk run method is the only cause of the improvement in the finishing time.

Is It OK To Walk In A Marathon?

You may be thinking of marathon as a running race, and wonder if it is OK to walk in the race.

Unlike race walking which have 2 strict rules on the form and movement of the foot and leg during walking as shown on Wikipedia, marathon races do not have such rules on the form of running. So it is absolutely fine to walk in a marathon.

There is no need to feel guilty or disgraced in walking in a marathon, especially during the later part of the race when most first time runners will feel exhausted, and walking is the only way to move forward.

Audience will respect for the “marathon spirit” to complete the race, whether it is running or walking, and they will applause to encourage runners who are burnt out and yet keep walking towards the finish line.

Some marathoners actually walk briskly for the entire race and finish faster than a slow runner.

Run Walk Strategy For Your First Marathon

Run walk run method can be an option for beginners who want to finish a marathon, adding regular walk breaks to running is less tiring than non-stop running, and it is easier to adapt by non-runners.

Personally, I do prefer non-stop long runs as it is more effective in building up your strength and endurance both in the body and mind, and to develop your habit of running as an exercise in your daily life.

Here’s my recommendation to benefit from adding run walk cycles in your first marathon.

If you are a beginner to running and find it really hard to run for the 3 miles in the start of the training, use the run walk run method in the first 4 weeks (the adapt phase), so you can develop the habit of running and complete the required mileage in the training. However, you should try for non-stop running 1 mile x3 on Wednesday of my 16 week marathon training schedule.

In the “build up” phase in week 5 to week 13, following the training plan on non-stop running as far as possible, so you can build up your muscle strength and endurance to prepare yourself for the race.

Once you have built up the strength and endurance in the training, you will become less tired in running for longer distance, and can actually enjoy the running.

As for the race day, run at your normal pace and insert regular walk breaks at water stations for 2 to 3 minutes. Your muscles will then have time to rest, you will feel less tired as compared to your long run training. It will be easier for you to drink and eat during walking with less risk of choking too.

Plan walk breaks strategically on some part of the course, such as uphill to avoid draining of your energy, and downhill to prevent injuries on the joints and knees.

Once you take the benefit from adding walk breaks to running in the training and the race, you will have a better chance to safely cross the finish line of your first marathon race.

If you have any feedback or experiences to share with us, I would love to hear them. Simply drop a comment below and I will be sure to get back to you.


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2 thoughts on “Marathon Run Walk Strategy – Is It Good For Your First Marathon?

  1. I’m not a long distance runner by any stretch of the imagination. I do run shorter distances and don’t thing the run walk would help me in longer distances. I might as well sit down for a while and then start running again.
    I feel walking spoils the whole point of gaining running muscle and cardiac endurance

    • Hi Stewart,

      Thank you for visiting my site.

      Running non-stop will definitely build stronger running muscles and cardiac endurance than run walk. I do prefer continuous running for long distance, and I’m doing same in my marathons too.

      Yet, the run walk method is easier to adapt by beginners so they can more likely to develop the habit. Sitting down after running is more comfortable than walking for sure, but some studies indicate some people have risk to pass out sitting after running. So walking will be a better alternative if a runner is not able to run continuously.
      I don’t try the run walk method myself, as I actually enjoy running. But the run walk method has been using my runners for more than 40 years certainly has its own merits.

      Hope someday you will enjoy running, as it is an exercise good to your health.

      Best wishes!

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