Solo female runner at night running through a finish chute at Ironman

Not Able to Run? Try wogging Your Way to the Finish Line

What Was I Thinking?

I signed up for my first Ironman ever this past year. Then had to figure out how in the world I’d get to the finish.

No way would I be able to actually run during the race, between a nasty disc or two in my back, and some hip issues. But with only 17 hours to cross the finish line (minus a 90-minute swim and a 7-hour bike), I couldn’t simply walk, either.

Introducing the Run-Walk

I dug back into a method I’ve used before as a bridge on the way back from injury: the run-walk method developed by Olympian and running guru Jeff Galloway in 1973. Originally created to help beginning runners, the run-walk gives short walk breaks during a run. There’s a formula for the number of minutes of running versus walking. There are also charts to help determine the recommended combination of running versus walking in order to finish a race in specific amount of time. I ended up caming up with my own formula that worked for me during training.

In Good Company

Until the weeks right before Ironman Arizona 2017, I was embarrassed about my plan to walk part of the run. I saw it as an indicator that I wasn’t really an athlete. That I didn’t belong at this race. That all changed in the last weeks leading up to the race.

Many Ironman race participants comiserate, share training plans, and generally keep each other excited about the upcoming race through Facbook pages dedicated to that specific race city. And Ironman Arizona was no different.

Just weeks before the race, a number of athletes began posting about their personal run-walk plans. As it turns out, each of us had our own recipe for how this would play out. Some were planning to run 5 minutes, then walk 30 seconds. Some were planning to run 3 minutes, walk one. There was even a report of some guy planning to sprint for about 30 seconds, then walk about the same time!

I was overwhelmed by how many of us there were. I was definitely not alone!

Famous People That Walk During Their Runs

I felt so comforted to know that so many Ironman athletes were choosing to run-walk. With some additional research, I also embraced that many professional athletes have incorporated this concept into their races.

Let’s start with the most obviousJeff Galloway. THE quintessential developer/proponent of the Run-Walk concept. He also happens to be an Olympian- not too shabby. So if you choose this method, you’re in pretty good company! He has a training website and numerous books on the technique.

Meghan Kita, a 17-time marathoner and editor of Runners World Magazine also gave it a try, finishing a half-marathon in 1:43-ish.

And finally, my own daughter (OK- not famous, but hey, she’s my daughter!) used one of Jeff Galloway’s books to complete her first half-marathon, despite a history of nagging shin splints.

The Olympics

And let’s not forget that Race Walking is an official Olympic event. Yes- I KNOW it isn’t the same thing. Race walking officially has lots of rules and stuff that wouldn’t apply to the Run-Walk method. But if Olympian Maria Michta-Coffey can finish a mile in 7:18 race walking, or Tom Bosworth can set a world record race walk 5:31-ish per mile, there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed about adding some walking time into a run.

Surviving the Ironman Run

Wogging

My farthest training distance for the marathon portion of the Ironman race was about 13 miles. Yep- that’s it. Between my bike crash, long recovery, and full time work in the months leading up to the race, 13 miles was the farthest I hade gone. All of my Ironman training for the run was done with a walk-jog (affectingly called wogging in our home, now). With my injury, running had become out of the question. So I adopted a lighter jog, nestled between fast walks. Generally, I’d jog for 2-3 minutes, then walk for 1-2 minutes, depending on how I felt.

Metronomed Jog Training

To reduce the normal pounding from running (which my injury could not tolerate yet), my physical therapist taught me to jog using quick short strides at about 170-180 beats per minute. We used a metronome until the beat was fixed in my head. My walk stride was also quick short steps., not a broad reach, which may aggravate a hamstring.

A Whole New World

I felt so much better at then end of wog workouts than after my old run routines. Don’t get me wrong! The 13-mile training wogs were exhausting by the end. But my body recovered so much faster. And I didn’t suffer the typical post-run muscle aches, spinal discomfort, and joint throbs.

The True Test

During the actual Ironman race, I waited until I came back from the 112-mile bike ride to assess how my legs felt. The wind on the bike ride had left my legs very emtpy. I also knew I had double the distance of any of my training wogs still ahead of me. I decided to flip my usual recipe and start with a 3 minute walk, 1-2 minute jog, and see how I felt after the first 5 miles or so. With that, I could maintain about a 15-minute mile and finish the race in plenty of time, if I could keep it up for the entire 26.2 miles.

During my walk segments, many runners flew past me, only to get passed by me when they burned out to a slow walk before trying to run again. By mile 16-18, I was clearly re-passing them over and over. A couple of them began recognizing, and encouraging, me. A few remarked how they didn’t understand how I was passing them again while walking. But compared to their tired walk, my quick foot turnover had me going at a pretty good pace. By mile 20, I passed many of them for good.

Also around mile 20, my body started to tire out. I dropped to17-minute miles and was tempted to change my run-walk timing pattern, but knew that might spell disaster. From that point to the finish line, it was all about will power. It was about pushing through the tough part. And about listening to the far off cheering ot the finish line to find something to hang on to.

Wogging Saved My Race. Literally. 

Two runners in a race, jogging between wogging moments

I can tell you, when I crossed that finish line and was given the title Ironman, I was as proud as I would have been if I had run the whole course. Actually, if I had run, I might have hit a wall of pain and exhaustion long before the end, and may not have finished at all. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have made it to the starting line- my joints wouldn’t have tolerated all the pounding from miles and miles of training.

Finding a Yes for Each No

I am in no way an expert in this run-walk method. But I am always looking for ways around some of the barriers in life. And after having tried this run-walk (or what became wogging for me), I am a firm believer that adding some kind of walking breaks to training runs not only reduces the wear and tear on the body, but can help maintain a reasonable average speed. I love that wogging allowed me to finish one of the biggest goals in my life.

If you want to learn more about folks that have tried run-walking, here’s a good article from Runners World: https://www.runnersworld.com/racing/this-17-time-marathoner-tried-run-walking-a-race-heres-what-happened . If that inspires you to learn more, check out Jeff Galloway’s website at http://www.jeffgalloway.com .

Happy Wogging!

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