Walking is Actually Pre-Running and a Sport All on it’s Own

I know I maybe talk a little bit too much about running on here and in life. Here’s a dirty little secret runner’s don’t want to admit walking is actually pretty much as effective as running in pretty much every way! In fact in some ways it’s even better. Sure there are a few caveats but it’s so close it hardly doesn’t matter. Saying I’m a runner is one thing but saying I’m an avid walker is really just as good. Whether you eventually want to become a runner or not that’s totally cool. I’m here to tell you that walking is the way to start. While you’re here I might even convince you that even if you never go on to run a single mile walking is more than enough and makes you a bad a$$ athlete all on it’s own!

Why walking is a great place to start

In a lot of ways walking is a great place to start for many it might even be better than running. In fact it’s so good if you never get around to being a runner that’s okay too. Even if your goal is to start running, then run far and finally run fast walking is a great place to start for these reasons:

  • It causes way less stress on you joints
  • You burn more calories per mile walking
  • It’s not as hard as running
  • You can still progress and get faster
  • Most races welcome walkers

If I could go back and tell new runner and lapsed runner me one thing it would be not to be so hard on myself. I lapsed from running several times in the first 10+ years I ran. It was the easiest to get back into it when  I was fast walking 5 miles every morning with my friend in my undergrad. That time getting back to full running status was pretty dang easy. And we did walk it was in miles because she was American. 

But… lots of people still want to be a runner eventually right? That’s cool walking is still a great place to start. It will help you drop excess body weight. Get you comfortable getting out there in the right gear and have you carving out time to run when you’re ready. Lots of newbie runners think that they should be able to run a whole mile or even for 5 minutes at a time. Perhaps the most incredulous lie is that runners never walk. Nothing could be further than the truth. I always walk when I’m drinking or eating, when I have to adjust my phone or clothes and often on bit hills for a bit. If I’m really tiered or I want to reset my pace I walk for a bit too. I’m not the only one either there are even whole training plans to run/walk a marathon

When you should definitely start with walking

Running is really hard when you start, I think we’ve established that but there are other good reasons to start with walking. One good thing is that it helps you stay a bit safer. You get to discover your favorite routes and you’ll be more aware then when you are huffing and puffing. You’ll also get to scope out all the places you know and can pee, get water or take a break along the way. There are A LOT of things that you have to figure out that are personal to you. Everything from how to carry your phone, the right sports bra, how to dress and where to carry your water. It’s not to say some of that won’t change as you pick up the pace but you’ll have a pretty comfortable base to build from with all that. Running at first can be really hard on you body, this is more true if you carry excess weight. Most new runners can expect to deal with shin splints, foot pain, intense muscle soreness and general feelings of doubt and ineffectiveness. You’ll minimize all of that if you start with walking. I used to walk with a friend in school and we both ran separately (that’s weird right??) Well her running pace was only seconds faster per km than her speed walking pace so you can potentially even cover the same ground walking. If you have stride, pronation issues or shoe issues you’ll sort them out in the walking phase and be ready.

How to start walking

You might think it’s easy just get up and walk right. It is really but if you’re a bit smarter about it there’s a much better chance it will stick. It’s also designed to get you ready to start running at some point so you might as well start preparing now. We want you to stay safe and happy so here’s how you do that.

  • Check with you doctor if you have any underlying medical conditions.
  • Decide how long you want to spend exercising each week and find some time. I would recommend starting with half an hour three times a week.
  • Starting off go as slow as you need to in order to feel 100% comfortable. There’s no reason to intentionally push the pace in the first month.
  • Experiment with gear and clothes to find something you like. Here’s some ideas for picking stuff up for cheap.
  • Let go of what you ‘should be doing’ just moving your body is a the focus for now.
  • Take some water with you, trust me!
  • Find something to listen to like music or a podcast.
  • Track it on GPS using any number of free apps. If you want to eventually run pick one that works for that too.
  • If you find yourself getting a bit bored plan a new exciting walk in a new place.
  • Pay attention to you body and any signals that it’s sending you and take them seriously.
  • The quality of walking shoes doesn’t have to be as high as running shoes but… you will appreciate a nice pair and running shoes feel amazing for walking too.
  • Start reading running blogs if you want. A lot of the problems you might deal with overlap.

How to push your walking to get more fit

Pretty soon you’re pace and distance from those first walks will feel like no big deal. Depending on where you started a few months on you’ll be selling yourself short if you don’t push yourself a little. By tweaking just a little what you’re already doing you can make it more efficient and reap more rewards. Plus if you are pre-running on your way to become a runner these are great next steps.

  • Extend your time to 150 minuets a week in line with most government’s suggestions.
  • Increase your walking pace every two weeks then maintain it.
  • As you get more endurance aim to walk at a pace where you don’t really want to talk to someone, but you could. That’s the sweet spot for aerobic activity. 
  • Add some running training ideas to you walk like hills, long walks and fast ones.
  • When you’re walking as fast as you can and you still feel chatty or you can maintain that don’t want to chat pace the whole time you might be ready to start adding some light running if you want.
Some walkers will actually pass runners on race day and that’s totally cool with me!

How to transition to running if you want

I previously mentioned that walking a lot made the transition back to running easier. It did not however feel totally easy. It’s probably best to think of this transition a little bit like starting over so that your expectations are realistic. Let’s aim to underpromise here and overdeliver. Finally give yourself some time, wait two months before you decide how you feel about it. By that point, after all that pre-running, you’ll probably be 5k ready right around then. Isn’t that crazy!?! So here are some great first steps to transition from pre-running to the real thing:

  • Seriously, follow a couch to 5k it’s a run/walk plan that is designed to help you with exactly this. Though you can find free charts its best delivered by smartphone app.
  • Be okay with walk breaks since you already rock at that.
  • Remember for all of us no matter how long we’ve been runners it’s always a process and never perfection.
  • Now could be the right time for some new sneakers or other gear so give yourself a bit of a budget. 
  • Know that runners almost never give an all out effort while we are working out, aim for that same conversational pace or easy effort on your run intervals. There is no need to sprint.
  • Realistic run intervals starting out would be about 30 seconds to a minute, that’s it!
  • Running form can be kinda personal and that’s totally okay but… watch a few videos on running form because it’s easier to create a good habit then break a good one.
  • Read some ‘what to expect’ and ‘new to running’ articles because being informed rocks and you know makes life easier in general.
  • Use an app that tracks some running personal records because right now you’ll be breaking those left and right. That’s super motivating!
  • Running progress is faster than you think but bad runs do happen from time to time. Resist the urge to evaluate your progress after every run. However check in with your data every two weeks or so because I promise you’ll see lots of progress then!

For some silly reason runners have this image of being super tough, super fit super intense people who you should aspire to be. It’s seen as a really hard form of exercise that everyone should aspire to do. While walkers are thought to be little old lady types who stroll along ever so slowly. Generally a dedicated walker isn’t viewed at all as an ‘athlete’. That’s all just super wrong! Speed walking is a sport all on its own after all. Just as a point of reference walking is defined by gait, specifically the fact that one foot is always on the ground and for running that’s not true. The world speed walking marathon record is about three hours which is less than one hour more than the fastest runner can cover the distance. It’s also about two hours faster than I could run and cover 42.2 km!

Not only are the health benefits virtually the same so are the mental health benefits! Make no mistake walkers can be every bit the bad a$$ athlete a runner can be. Hell, lots of speed walkers can pass the majority of runners out there! As for the concept of ‘a runner’s body’ all of the dedicated walkers I know have one too. If you want to start running the best way is definitely to become a walker first. If you do go on to become a runner that’s great but if you stay a walker for life that is exactly the same level of accomplishment so don’t sell yourself short!

Let’s work together to rebrand walking away from being a ‘just’ sport to a ‘real’ one! While walking or pre-running is pretty much the perfect stepping stone to starting running it is more than enough on it’s own too. Did you start walking before becoming a runner? Are you a diligent walker who feels like your sport doesn’t get the respect it deserves? Leave it in the comments below!

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