Training for your first 5K: Shifting from walking to running

While preparing to walk your first 5K, you might feel restless in your routine, like you’re not getting a rigorous enough workout. It might be time to start running.

But just because you start running, that doesn’t mean you’ll stop walking. An effective training method is to add short running segments to your walk routine, says Jeff Galloway, an Olympian and running expert who has directed the KP Corporate Run/Walk for 30 years.

With this technique, you start walking for a few minutes to warm up and then alternate five to 10 seconds of running and one to two minutes of walking. After about 10 minutes of alternating, close out your workout by walking for five to 10 minutes.

Galloway has been teaching the walk-run, method for decades, and has seen hundreds of thousands of walkers make the transition to running.

Walking is an ideal exercise for many people, and some choose to stick with what works. Still, there are benefits to running. You can condense the time needed to exercise, burn more calories and experience the euphoric feeling many runners feel when they hit their stride.

“You can control the amount of running and walking,” Galloway says. “You never have to hurt or get too tired.”

Galloway says there is no reason to get so tired you can’t speak naturally. “Don’t let the level of exertion get to to the point that you are huffing and puffing,” he says. “You want to be able to talk or sing as you walk and run.”

A gradual approach reduces risk of injury, along with attention to form. “Use more of a shuffle,” Galloway advises. “Keep feet low to the ground, touch lightly and use a short stride.”

After one day of alternating walking and running, Galloway suggests a short walk the next day. On the third day, you can alternate walking and running again. Increase the walk-run segment by a few minutes each time, until your workout reaches 30 minutes.

It’s important to be consistent in your workouts. “If you run, even a little, every other day, your body makes the adaptations and starts to look forward to the experience,” Galloways says, adding that if you can’t exercise every day, you should skip walk days.

Runners who maintain this schedule for three weeks have a high likelihood of continuing for six months, Galloway says. And those who keep running for six months often become lifelong runners, he says.

Keep your walk-run interesting by trying a different course or recruiting a different running partner. “The goal is to make the run more fun and less tiring,” Galloway says.

It’s tempting to set a goal of running several miles without taking walk breaks. Galloway doesn’t agree. “I suggest you adjust the ratio of run-walk to how you feel on a given day,” he says. “I’ve been running for 50 years, and I enjoy running more than ever because of walk breaks.”

Even if you take walk breaks, you’re still a runner. “One of the wonderful aspects of running is that there is no definition that you must live up to,” Galloway says. “You are the captain of your running ship.”

About this series: Training for Your First 5K appears Wednesdays and features expert advice for all aspects of preparing for a 5K. Created by the Kaiser Permanente Run/Walk & Fitness Program, the goals are to inspire metro Atlantans to get fit and to promote workplace wellness.