Some women take up running with the aim of running a fast 5K, while others seek to conquer the 26.2-mile marathon distance. In between lies the half-marathon, now the fastest-growing distance in the country. The half is long enough so that finishing is a serious accomplishment, but short enough so that you don't have to kill yourself in training. Mixing walk breaks into your training runs is a proven way to help get you to the finish line of a 13.1-mile event.
The Walk-Run "Movement"
In the early 1990s, former U.S. 10,000-meter Olympian turned running author and coach Jeff Galloway single-handedly not only legitimized but popularized including planned walking breaks in a long race such as a marathon. While up to this point most marathoners were "old-school" types who saw the event as one in which you ran all the way to the finish or fell on your face trying, Galloway preached the message that it was not only acceptable to alternate walking with running both in training and in races, but for less gifted people might indeed be physiologically advantageous. The idea that -- gasp! -- walking in a race is for wimps and inadequates has largely disappeared, and really, if you pay your entry fee and don't bother anyone, what you do on the course is no one else's business.
The ratio of running to walking you decide on is a function of both your current fitness and personal taste. Alternating a mile of running with a minute of walking is convenient, but lies toward the high end of the difficulty spectrum. Realistically, since most races are marked clearly at every mile, you should plan to run a mile, walk for a minute and then run to the next mile marker. This means that with the exception of the first mile and the final mile -- which you'll start tackling at a run close to 12.1 miles into the race and complete when you stride across the finish line -- your "miles" will actually be closer to 0.95 miles, depending on how fast you walk during your breaks.
Working Up to 13.1 Miles
So how exactly do you put this idea into practice? Jeff Galloway, building on the popularity and success of his "Gallowalking" programs for the marathon, has created training schedules aimed specifically at finishing a half-marathon. Galloway recommends having some basic conditioning under your belt before starting his plan, which includes a 17-week build-up to the race. Every week, you'll do two 30-minute runs, an easy walk and a weekend run alternating between a shorter, quicker run of three to five miles and a longer run-walk effort increasing from six and a half to 14 miles by adding one and a half miles every other week. Galloway suggests keeping the walk-run ratio no higher than about seven to one in training, but you can adjust this to suit your needs as well and on race day.
If you've completed or exceeded the full half-marathon distance in training using the scheme provided, you're more than ready to do it in a race. It may be helpful to partner up with someone with similar goals so each of you has a ready source of spiritual support -- that goes for the training, too. Take care not to start out too quickly, a frequent bane of less-experienced runners. If it's warm, be very careful to make use of every available water station even if you don't feel thirsty. Use a lubricant such as body glide or petroleum jelly on areas where chafing might occur, and use sunscreen if the day demands it. One final word of caution: Never wear brand-new shoes on race day, unless your goal is to incur a world-class blister. And don't forget to enjoy the experience -- you've earned it.
L.T. Davidson has been a professional writer and editor since 1994. He has been published in "Triathlete," "Men's Fitness" and "Competitor." A former elite cyclist with a Master of Science in exercise physiology from the University of Miami, Davidson is now in the broadcast news business.