I opened my running store, Phidippides, in 1973 in a location that was not easy to find. The sales volume during the first few months was very slow, to put it nicely. I asked each customer for ideas in connecting with runners or prospective runners. One of the first customers worked in Florida State University's community lifestyle extention course department and suggested that I teach a class on “Beginning Running.” I agreed.
During the first lesson, after each person described current conditioning and running history, I realized that this was, indeed, a group of novices. None had done any running for at least five years. So we started walking with a few one-minute jogs. On each jog, the group spread out a bit which allowed me to set up groups based upon current running ability.
We divided into three groups. Young guys who played other sports formed the lead group. At the other end of the spectrum, about 10 members confessed that they had never exercised regularly, period. One of these folks described himself as a “basket case physical specimen” and the others embraced the name “basket cases.” The middle group fell between the two.
I spent some time with each group, during the runs, to adjust the frequency of walk breaks so that no one was huffing and puffing—even at the end. Walk breaks kept the groups together. Everyone passed the final exam: finishing either a 5K or a 10K with smiles on their faces.
The best part for me was that there were no injuries. I had never been with a group of 20+ runners, at any time, who had run together for 10 weeks without any injuries.
I realized right away that the insertion of walk breaks was probably the single item that had kept my new runners out of the doctor's office. I've been using them ever since, continuing to fine-tune the ratios of running to walking based upon pace per mile (and individual needs). This has transformed the use of walk breaks into a method.