How about the walk-run (Galloway) approach to training?

I have read over the years a lot on the Galloway Method of training. And I have had numerous discussions and inquiries about it. Jeff Galloway promotes an interesting philosophy and training program. It is easy to follow and billed as the “run-walk low mileage three day” marathon training program. He states that it is based on thousands of runners he has trained. His credentials are that he is a former world class runner and Olympian. He has authored many books and articles on his program.

It does have great appeal.  I enjoy seeing new runners develop and runners accomplishing things they never thought possible. He has made it a huge commercial and popular success. His programs have enable many people to enjoy and succeed at running. And he has definitely succeeded at these things!

At the same time, I enjoy analyzing against scientific literature various programs. The goal is to differentiate and clarify elements of programs. My goal is not to “slam” a program nor is it to “promote” one – I have no economical gain or loss from the programs. So, with that I want to share some insights into the walk-run approach.

Let’s look at a few aspects from the Galloway program. His program for beginners as well as competitive “time focused” runners include walking one day a week. FACT: The issue is that walking is not running-specific so it does not enhance running economy or strength or endurance.

He advocates that the beginner’s long training run bulds up to a full marathon (26 miles) and competitive marathoners run up to 28-30 miles a few weeks before the marathon. He recommends that you run these “at least 2 minutes” per mile slower than your goal pace. FACT: This long run does compensate for overall low mileage training and is specific to the goal distance. VO2max can be improved through these runs. But, let’s remember that VO2max itself is not a good indicator of performance.

His “speed” work includes running repeat miles 20-30 seconds faster than goal pace. And gradually building to 13 mile repeats. He does not advocate anything faster at any time. FACT: That pace recommendation is too slow for speed work and too slow for a tempo run. Therfore, this pace is actually too slow to be efficient at effecting lactate threshold or vVO2max – two of the best determinants of performance. And it is too slow to become efficient at your goal pace since it also isn’t your goal pace; it’s 20-30 seconds too fast. These are what I have termed “tweener” miles.

He states that cross-training on your off-days will increase your fat-burning potential. FACT: There is no scientific foundation for this assertion. Fat burning is a function of total caloric deficits. Even the so called fat-burning slow steady running is a half-truth. Though during the specific duration of that slow run there may be slightly higher fat burned, research has not been able to show that it has any effect at all on total body fat (body composition). Whereas, high quality workouts not only burn more calories during the workout but the “after-burn” is far greater, burning many more calories post-exercise.

Racing is pace specific. You get efficient by running higher percentages of your training miles at goal pace; as well as faster than goal pace. Efficient at the 10k is not the same as efficient at the marathon.

What pace is actually benefited by walking? Galloway advises an 8:00 per mile marathoner (sub-3:30 marathon) to run for 4:00 then walk for 35 seconds. A 9:00 minute per mile marathoner (sub-4:00) should run 4:00 and walk for a full minute. The estimated net loss of time is half since you are walking you are making some progress towards the end. In his program every race pace has a different cooresponding recommended walking interval.

FACT: Of course the true effect of the run-walk approach is that you must run faster than your goal pace in order to reach your final target times. Of course, every well grounded coach understands that part of training is incorporating “goal” paced runs. The issue in the previous examples is that to average 8:00 (or 9:00) per mile and walk for 35 seconds (or 1:00) your average pace in the race is far slower than your goal of 3:30 (or 4:00). Someone who runs 8:00 goal paced runs hoping to break 3:30 will end up running about 3:45 for the marathon with these walk breaks. In order to hit 3:30 this runner’s “goal” pace needs to be in the range of 7:20 per mile! How many 8:00 mile marathoners can real off 7:20 miles? How many 7:20 mile capable runners are willing to settle for a 3:45 final time?

FACT: Physiologists have determined that walking is more efficient (i.e. uses less oxygen and therefore energy) at a pace just a bit over 13:00 per mile. Any pace faster than that is more efficiently done while running (or jogging if you prefer). This of course means that to walk and try to average 8:00 per mile most efficiently you must run… not walk.

To further clarify however, this does not mean you cannot walk through aid stations and get your fluids in you. This is a reasonable tactic for many runners. I am addressing the efficacy of deliberately using a 35 second walk break every four minutes of running.

On the plus side, anecdotally some runners using this method seem to report less soreness the days following the marathon. However, the downside, also anecdotally, some runners say they could have run faster if they didn’t stop so much.

FACT: No single running program works for every runner. No single approach or philosophy works for all. There are runners who will thrive under one program that others labor in and vice versa. Even at the most elite levels this is why you find runners changing coaches. Everyone is looking for that magic combination that will make them the best they can be. You must know yourself first. And, if the walk-run approach fits your psychological make up and gets you results, I would say – go for it!


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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5 Responses to How about the walk-run (Galloway) approach to training?

  1. Hey dabigleap –
    I accidently deleted your post (just clicked too fast) totally unintentional – Sorry.

    I like your comments and you are a good example of how his training program can work for some people Some people can’t manage running 5, 6 or 7 times a week without breaking down. I think your accommodations are good. And your observation about his new program being some blend between a “solid training program” and “everyone can do it” marketing. He is most certainly a marketing master. His program truly do not stand up to any science anywhere. I’ve tried long and hard to do so. I would love it if training for a marathon was as simple as walking interspersed in your training. This is a tough sport. Even Lance Armstrong said it was one of the toughest (if not hte toughest) races he’s ever done.
    Coach Dean

  2. dabigleap says:

    No problem 😉 It was too wordy anyway… a bad habit of mine!

  3. Oh not really… as you can see… I can hold my own on wordiness!!! Thanks for your contribution, sharing your experiences and thoughts.

  4. Andrew Turner says:

    If all the fact that you are so fond of stating in your article were truly fact and proper science then using such certain fact one should be able to produce the perfect training program that would be bound to work for everyone.
    The only certain fact is that every human being is not identical and therefore all the science on which your fact is based is flawed. This is why some athletes flourish with certain coaches whilst others struggle with same coaches.
    Please be careful when using the word fact.

  5. Dean Hebert says:

    Facts are what good coaches base their programs on. If something is found in research it is a fact – a truth – that they found that result. That does not mean one size fits all or that because it is scientifically-based that there is some “perfect training program” that works for everyone. That also is a fact. A competent coach uses that to apply uniquely to their runners. I could not agree more that we are all different and also that indeed it is a reason that runners flourish under different coaching. By the way, since this is a true occurrence… that makes it also a fact.

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