Do you remember when you first started running and a certain distance feeling totally unmanageable, that now you can do with relative ease?
I remember thinking 3 miles/5K would never feel easy. Ok, right now it doesn’t feel exactly easy, but it has before and it will again.
The reason for that shift is that your running stamina increases and endurance has improved. Improving endurance is one of the main things runners train for – it’ll allow you to run further, or help you to run current distances faster. And there are lots of different ways to go about this. You could try adding more long, slow runs into your routine, doing longer tempo sessions, adding plyometrics into your training routine.
There’s a balance though, between training enough to see improvements and avoiding overdoing it, burning out and getting injured. This is where walking can come in as a great tool for your training. It’s low impact, puts relatively little stress on your body, yet still helps you get in that all-important time on your feet that you’ll see huge benefits from when it comes to your endurance. Especially when it comes to longer distance runs like marathons and ultras.
Can Walking Help Endurance For Running?
Time on your feet
Particularly when you first start running, you’re likely to be limited by how far you can physically run. And even if your fitness allows, it’s important to build up gradually. Too much, too soon is a surefire route to injury. Incorporating walking allows you to up the amount of time you spend on your feet in a gentler way. It also means that when you do start to run further, you’ll be used to moving for that length of time even if running that far is new.
And it’s not just for beginners. If you want to dabble in ultrarunning at any point (I have to admit I have Comrades on my bucket list), it’s ALL about time on your feet. Adding long training walks into your routine will mean you can get used to that feeling of being outside for longer periods of timing and keeping moving when you’d really like to sit down. It’s great training for long races, building mental endurance as much as physical.
Strengthen your joints and muscles
There are certain physiological changes that happen when you run which can’t be replicated by completely different forms of cross training (like cycling or rowing). Walking, however, can strengthen your feet, knees and hips in a similar way. You create the same kind of adaptations and increase leg strength while simultaneously giving you a rest from the pounding of running.
Get used to the hills
Running up hills is hard and it’s often a false economy, especially on longer runs or on trails. Watch a big ultra trail race like the UTMB and you’ll see even the pros hike up a lot of the big hills! Walking up the hills is often a lot more energy-efficient and helps you go faster overall.
Hiking hard up a hill (like mine on the way to work!) is also a way to really get your heart going and feel like you’re properly working out, as you do in a run, in a way that’s sometimes hard to replicate walking. Plus the uphill motion will help to strengthen your glutes – super important for runners.
A big part of being able to run for longer is improving your aerobic capacity. A good aerobic (or cardio, so-called for working your cardiovascular systems) workout basically gets your heart pumping stronger and faster, which moves oxygen-rich blood to all your muscles, organs and tissues. Over time, with regular aerobic exercise, your heart will function more efficiently, allowing you to run for longer.
You don’t need to be running to see these benefits though. A brisk walk can get your heart rate up and your blood flowing in just the same way (especially if you’re hiking up some of those hills described above).
How to Increase Your Endurance by Walking
So you’re sold on the benefits of walking more, but how can you actually introduce it into your training plan? Here are some ideas…
Walk your warm-up
Although we all know we should warm up properly before every run, let’s be honest, it doesn’t always happen. But just five minutes of brisk walking before you gear up into a run will really help your body to warm up, so you’re not going straight from the sofa into a sprint. Similarly, try stopping your run about a quarter of a mile away from home and walking the last section for a cool down.
I’ve talked a lot about what a big fan of run-walking I am. It’s a great way to build up again after time off with injury or illness, or a way to keep your pace and heart rate in check when you want to take it easy. Jeff Galloway coined the run-walk method and you can find more information here from him on how to work out your perfect run-walk ratio. To start though, just try something simple like 4 minutes of running/1 minute walking.
Walk on your rest days
If one of the things you love about running is just generally moving, being outside and getting some fresh air, it can be frustrating to feel like you’re stuck inside on rest days. This is when it gets tempting to run too much and skip rest days. Try a ‘pure walk’ (aka no running!) on your non-running days to help reign yourself in. You might find you enjoy it just as much.
One of the best ways to walk more is to make it a part of your everyday routine. It’s a great way to get places and you don’t have the problem of needing to carry extra kit, shower, etc like you do if you run commute. I’ve been regularly clocking up 20,000+ steps at my new job. Including switching my commute to a train and walk/run rather than driving. That involves usually walking the 2.5+ miles at least four times a week (and it includes a very big hill!) so I hope it’s helping with my return to fitness!
If you’re working from home at the moment, try a fake commute by walking around the block before you sit down at your desk. This is also a good way to make sure you’ve got a days walk in before anything happens to get in your way, like a busy day at work.
Make it social
The likelihood is, lots of your friends probably aren’t going to be up for going for a run with you. But you may be able to convince those people to come for a walk. Try using tools like Komoot, AllTrails or ViewRanger to find a nice route near you, take a picnic and some friends, and enjoy a nice day out. It’s a great way to get more movement into your life without it feeling like a chore. Or having to sacrifice a social activity to workout instead.
Returning from injury
Coming back to running after you’ve been injured can be super frustrating. You’re exciting to be running again, but you’re fitness levels are nowhere near where they were before, and you need to take it easy and build gradually so as not to exacerbate the injury. Try adding in some extra walks instead of runs (as long as they don’t strain the injury!). It’ll allow you to be outside moving for longer periods of times, without risking overdoing it by running too much.
Get a dog!
Okay, maybe this one is a bit extreme, but one big bonus of having a dog is that they force you outside every single day. I LOVE walking with Chester (and Tom), it’s our new weekend habit of finding great walks nearby (preferably one with with a coffee shop nearby!). We regularly walk 5K on a weekend day on top of my run – although I can’t wait until we get the go ahead from the vet that I can start running with Chester!
Anyone else include walking into their training? Do you consciously count your daily steps?