How I Apply the Run-Walk-Run Strategy to Work

I’m in my fourth decade of life.

Beyond the impact of COVID, things that were easy in my 20s and 30s are now getting difficult.

One such thing has been running. 

I haven’t always been a runner. But I have always played sports that relied on endurance. Football (soccer) in particular.

So, I started looking for endurance and speed training strategies that can help older, worn out people like me.

A strategy I found is run-walk-run. I’m not sure if Jeff Galloway came up with the idea. But he certainly made it popular. And he certainly has helped older athletes and novices of any age go from sedentary to quick endurance runners using this approach. And he also reports the strategy works for elite athletes.

What is it? Simple. Run. Walk. Run again. Generally, I’m running for 4 minutes and 30 seconds, then walking for 30 seconds.

It has been awesome for maintaining my endurance, while also increasing my speed without causing injury (although I am not overly injury prone). And although the academic research is limited, there are reports suggesting this type of training:

In the run-walk-run method adherence to the walk, following the run, is easy. The break is welcomed. But started running again is hard(er). And the constant pace-changes make the run feel disjointed. Many amateur runners I talk to find this strategy hard to implement because of this disjointedness. But, for me, there was an immediate increase in overall pace over 8 km when compared to running. That was enough to get me to use it regularly.


So, with my personal experience and the research data in mind, I decided to apply this training method to my work. That is, have periods of intense work followed by short breaks. Essentially, I applied the pomodoro technique. But VERY strictly. Just like run-walk-run I assumed the breaks would be essential to an overall quicker time. i.e., I’d get more done as a result of taking breaks than I would if I tried to power through. I also assumed I’d be less fatigued at the end of a day.

In my experience, we say we do pomodoro but what actually happens is we rarely stop when the timer goes off because we are “in flow”. And if we take a break, we rarely get straight back to work because our breaks are too distracting (e.g., making a meal, not just eating a snack) or we don’t want to stop mid “break” (e.g., listening to music, hanging out washing).

With this very strict approach in mind, I have been applying the run-walk-run strategy to working. Here’s what I can report:

  1. Finding a good app was essential to making things happen for me. I use Pomodoro Timer by AppFX. I didn’t spend ages looking for a perfect app. I tried a few and settled on one. I like it because it is simple. Work (pomodoro) and rest periods are adjustable. And you can automatically set them to start, one after the other. So, no need to fiddle with the app every change in action. Just make sure you start/stop with the app chime. It also keeps track of your pomodoros per day. But there’s no historic data. I can tell I’ve had a good day when I get 4 our more pomodoros in. It is more satisfying than having written a certain number of blogs or web pages or programs.
  2. Strictly adhering to time was hard at first. Like my earlier experiences of pomodoro I was tempted to keep working when in the zone. And to keep resting when I was in the middle of hanging out or bringing in washing.
  3. The automatic progression from pomodoro to break within the app encouraged me to be strict on my work and rest periods.
  4. I started to structure breaks that comprised activities I’d be happy to interrupt (e.g., stretching, walking, push-ups, sit-ups, plank, dish, and making coffee). Or I gave myself permission to interrupt stuff (e.g., hanging-out or bringing-in washing).
  5. I did not change my work tasks to fit 25 minutes. But I began to be happy to leave a blog (including this one) mid-sentence.
  6. I improved my ability to put things down and pick them up again including overnight. So, I’m MUCH happier leaving work in a partially started/finished state.
  7. Two hours of pomodoro (4 cycles) is much less draining than 100 minutes of continuous work.
  8. Several days in a row of 8 pomodoros in a day does not leave me exhausted in the same way that several days of 200 minutes of work each day.
  9. I enjoy my days more when I use pomodoros compared to when I do not.
  10. I have become far more aware of how long things take and thus much better at predicting (and planning) what I can get in a day, week or month.

Now I hear the objections to this already. Especially from researchers who are collecting data. But I reckon most times, most experiments can be paused while you take a break. I worked in wet lab. As a reflect on and look through, my thesis at the research techniques I applied, most aren’t time sensitive. Or won’t be impacted by the addition or subtraction of five minutes.

So, before you say, “this won’t work for me”, at least treat it like an experiment. Give it a try. Enough times and in enough situations to make a data-informed decision about its usefulness.

Dr Richard Huysmans is the author of Connect the Docs: A Guide to getting industry partners for academics. He specialises in delivering high quality strategic advice to the education, research, and government sectors. He is driven by the challenge of helping researchers be commercially smart, making academic ideas practical; the art of the #pracademic. Richard’s clients appreciate his cut-through approach. He knows the sector and how to turn ideas into reality.

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