Sunday, November 25, 2012

Galloway's Run/Walk--Five Marathons Compared

Since 2007, I've been using Jeff Galloway's Run/Walk/Run method as my key strategy in training and in races longer than a half-marathon. As a student of systems, I've tried to learn from my experience.  I've also tried to pass along what I've learned so others might benefit.  Here's my first post on the method from September, 2008 and then my second from last December, which focused on the nuts and bolts of using this method.  And here's the post of the combined experience of Jeff and me in the same race, the 2009 Portland Marathon.  This post adds further data.

The data is, in essence, a lab experiment on Run/Walk which emerged this year, not by design as much as by the advantageous confluence of weather, course design and schedule. I think this might be helpful to those using Jeff's methods.

Five road marathons, all with similar courses in similar, advantageous weather conditions make this comparison possible.  I used different run/walk plans in each race, however, which makes for useful comparisons.  What might we learn? Here's the sequence and essentials.


It all started with the Carmel Marathon run on April 21, 2012 in suburban Indianapolis.  It is a flat course which happened on a cloudy day with temperatures in the mid 40s throughout and a 15mph north wind.  I used a 6 minute run/1 minute walk sequence through mile 24.5, then ran it in.  This yielded an official time of 4:33:25, at the time my second best marathon of this running era, plus a 3 second negative split.  My own race report is here.  My detailed notes on mile splits from the day are in this to expand.   Sorry, no amount of digital processing can improve my handwriting!

The Lesson?  I could hold a 6/1 for the entire race and feel very good at the end of a marathon.  I also learned I could hold even mile splits over a long distance.   In much of my training, I use a 4/1 and in previous races I had faded.  Not so at Carmel...very encouraging.


Marathon #2 took me to Traverse City, Michigan for the Bayshore Marathon on May 25, 2012.  It was a largely flat course with some minor rollers, run this year on a partly cloudy day with temperatures shifting from the low 50s to about 70 and no wind.  Since I was running a trail marathon two weeks later, I took a then-radical plan to shift my pace.  I would run a 3/1 through mile 10, then a 4/1 to the finish.  As it played out, I felt so good, I ran the last 2.2  and finished in 4:40:16, with almost 4 minute negative split. The second race in a row with no wall, feeling marvelous at the end.  My race report here.

The Lesson?  A slow, conservative start does nothing to diminish one's overall time and actually served as a "governor" to hold me back in the face of the adrenaline of a big race in a beautiful setting.  This confirms much of what Galloway has been saying for years.   Interestingly, when I shifted to a 4/1, I didn't really budge my overall average mile pace very much.  But I did reserve energy to make the later miles very enjoyable.  And the effort paid off in an enjoyable trail marathon in very hot, hilly conditions two weeks later.

Marathon #3 of this unique sequence of road marathons was the Wineglass Marathon in Corning, NY  on September 30, 2012.  It is net-downhill, point-to-point, unhyphenated, fairly flat course.  I got yet another good weather day, as it was cloudy with temperatures in the low 50s and no wind.  Knowing I was running in Chicago just 7 days later, I planned a 3/1 sequence through mile 16,  shifting to a 4/1, with a possible run at the end.  It worked so well,  I ran the final 3 miles uninterrupted.  I was rewarded by getting under 4:40, to 4:38:55 and another negative split.  I felt awesome at the end...still no wall, still no cramps, a truly fun marathon.  Race Report here.

The Lesson?  The understated start, this time, led to a truly improved per-mile pace when I shifted to the 4/1 and even better speed when I ran at the end.  Conditions certainly helped...a cool day is a good day for a marathon.  And I loved this race, it was just awesome.  And another real test awaited, 7 days later.


Marathon #4 was a big one, the Chicago Marathon on October 7, 2012.  Chicago is well known as having one of the flattest marathon courses layouts in the world.  What was lucky was the weather; in recent years, Chicago has had very hot temps but not this day; yet again, I had a cool day to run.  Temps were barely 40 at the start and clouds kept it under 45 at the finish, with very little wind in the "Windy City".    Strategically, though, I was on new turf, as I had never run two marathons one week apart; how should I approach it?  I decided to keep the "easy early" view, running a 3/1 through mile through mile 18, then bumping to a 4/1.  My real hope, though, was to run, continuously, the final 3+ miles down Michigan Avenue.  For the first time in this marathon sequence, I altered the plan based on conditions...I sensed some fatigue at mile 18, so didn't shift to the 4/1 until mile 20.  It allowed me to recover a bit, though, and I did run all the way down Michigan Avenue.  Finishing time of 4:48:28, an 8 minute negative split.  I felt terrific at the end and truly enjoyed this world-class event.  My Race Report on Chicago is here.

The Lesson?  First, I could actually run marathons, enjoyably, on consecutive weekends.  Second, this pattern of slow early, quicker late, works.  Third, traffic mile splits were a bit slower than the week earlier largely due to dodging and swerving around my 40,000 fellow runners.  A 6 minute wait at a portapot in mile 4 had an impact as well.  


Marathon #5 of the year's journey was in north Georgia at the Chicamauga Battlefield Marathon on November 10, 2012.  It is a friendly course with just a few rollers on a partly cloudy day with temps from 38 at the start to 50 at the end, with little wind. Pacing was very different for this race though.  I ran the race with pals Wes and Darrell and we stuck together early,  running a full mile, then taking a 30 second walk break at each mile marker.  I stuck with the guys on this pattern through mile 4.5, but realized it wasn't going to work for me that day.  So I fell back, using a 3/1 through mile 13, then a 4/1 through 24 and a run to the end.  I got a reward for all this, however, with my 2nd fastest marathon of this era, 4:27:32.  I had no wall at all during the race but I felt it at the end, though, with some foot and calf cramps.  Race Report here

The Lesson?  The quick start, "banking" 4 sub 9:30 miles early, clearly helped my total time.  Psychologically, I realized around mile 16 I had a shot to get under 4:30, so I pushed the effort.  With no other race near term, I knew the day stood on its own.  So, I got the goal but the cramping at the end demonstrated that the effort took a toll.  And many times, that's OK.  


One other thing.  Many have wondered, openly, if adopting a run/walk strategy in training slows you down.  And I have some data on that too.

In between Chicago and Chicamauga, I ran a small half marathon not far from my home, the Muncie Mini Marathon in David Letterman's favorite town, Muncie, Indiana, on October 27, 2012.  I wanted some "speed work", using the term very loosely, as I'm not that fast of a guy.  I decided to simply run the HM continuously, shooting to go under 1:55.  Amazingly, the weather was great again, with temps in the mid 40s on a very flat course, though with a 15mph wind out of the north.  My race report is here and below are my mile splits:  

Finish time of 1:52:58 (8:38/mile average) was very encouraging.  And, yes, there is still some speed in there for a 59 year old guy. 


To finish five full marathons with flat courses on good weather days in one calendar year provides a very useful way to analyze running strategies.  All five were enjoyable without the "Wall".  Four of the five times, the last half of the marathon was quicker than the first half.  The only untoward event was some post-race cramps after the quickest of the five. 

This is a long post but I wanted to capture all this information in one place...those who are interested in run/walk might benefit.  If you have questions, you can see on the side how to contact me...feel free.  Thanks for reading.  

And, no matter how you run or walk or run/walk, please just persevere. 


David said...

Okay Professor, I'm listening. No doubt you've made it work. I tried last year to run/walk the Space Coast and I banked a better time than my other two on this course. And it was hot last year too!
I guess I'm going to have to get serious about your strategy. I just have a really hard time getting it in my head that it's okay to stop running after three minutes of starting to run, when I feel so fresh! When I run/walk it's usually 6 min run/90 seconds walk. What's your thinking on longer stretches of running coupled with longer walking?

Anonymous said...

I too, tried a run/walk for my marathon this year. I ran Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon, while you were running Chicago. I had never done run/walk until about halfway through my training when a friend told me that she employed it on a recent 18 miler and ended up with a faster overall pace and a much faster recovery time.

I was intrigued and used it on my last 5 long runs. Each long run netted me a faster pace, even though the mileage was higher. I ended up using a 4/1 ratio for the marathon. I started running the first 3 miles as my 'warm-up' and then switched to the intervals. I never hit the wall, but the net downhill course, left me with some knee pain in the last half of the race. Because of that, I actually skipped a few of the walk sections because the walking hurt more than the running.

I am a believer in the method and I think that with some more training I can improve on my time of 4:37 (it was only my 2nd marathon and I ran the first one pregnant, so I don't really count that one). I don't think I'm going to run a full next year because 2013 is just begging to be the year of the half marathon. ;-)

I'm not sure if I will use this method for my half marathon. I am going to shoot for my first sub-2:00 half in April.

That was really long and probably more than what you were looking for. Bottom line: the run/walk method worked for me, enabling me to run a faster overall pace and not hit the wall in my marathon or long training runs.

Sarah said...

Interesting, really! I've used run/walk in the past and know it works. Was thinking of running without planned walk breaks on my upcoming 6 hr, but you have me reconsidering. It's a mile loop, so perhaps I'll walk through the AS at the start/finish. Thinking, thinking.... :)

Joe said...

D, thanks for your comment.

Yes, it takes some adjustment to promptly walk at the start of a race, as runners stream past you. It's all mental, though. By experience, I've learned that I'll see those folks later and patience is rewarded. In each of these marathons, somewhere around mile 14 or so, I started passing people all the way to the end and feel good. And it's how you end, not start, that matters.

I have found that short intervals seem to work better for me than long ones. I'm not sure why a 3/1 seems better than, say, a 6/2. I speculate, though, that it has to do with heart rate...shorter elevation times, but 1 minute is long enough to bring it back down.

My point in this post was to explain more of this experience. It was just fascinating to have five marathons all line up in six months.

Wes said...

The mind of an engineer :-) yea, I did the run walk at Chicabunga too, but I ended up walking the last six miles. HA! That is going to be one of my goals for next year, Joe, and I have you to thank for it. I want a "no bonk" last six miles of a marathon. Oh, and maybe get one of those really cool yellow jerseys too....

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Unknown said...

Hello. I tried that method today. Not a pure Galloway but inspired by this method.
Till now my best marathon time was 3:46:40 in 2014.
Today I run 50kms and at the 42195th meter I had time 3:46:20… amazing!
12km of run @5'15'' then 27 x (3:45+1:30) until 38th km and from then on run @ 5'25'' until 43th km. Then for the remaining 7 kms I walked/run at random. I was feeling tired but not knackered. My knee got overused and it aches a bit but accetable after my first ultramarathon!
now I am going to study Galloway's method to try another 42km training and see how to improve

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