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A Gallowalking Experiment

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Frank mentioned in the thread about Galloway that I had tried Gallowalking in a marathon. I wanted to reply in that thread, but I've been busy the last few days with grandkids and didn't get a chance to. The thread is kind of buried now, so I thought I would do this as a new post. This is going to get a bit long.....I am long winded when I get started. So, if you are tired of the Galloway subject or don't care to read my ramblings, just click away to another subject. :-)

As far as I know, I'm the only Mervite who has actually run a marathon using Gallowalks. At least, I don't know of anyone else who has admitted to it. ;-)

A little background. I ran 13 marathons in 1983-89 with my PR of 3:22 coming in the 13th at age 51. I kind of "dropped out" of running for the first 6 years of the '90s. I've since run 8 more marathons in 1997-99 for a total of 21 to date. This Gallowalking story is about my 18th marathon.....the 1998 Philly.

Since I first found the RW forums in May, 1996, I have argued against Gallowalking as a way to run your best marathon, although I had never tried it. Then, I spent two hours with Galloway in the RW booth at the 1998 MCM expo. He was there to peddle his book. I was there to distribute singlets and T-shirts to a group of runners from the RW forums called the Bridgestormers, who came together to run MCM. Bart Yasso, who was responsible for the booth, positioned the two of us at the end of the booth out of the way of the main RW booth activities. I stood next to Galloway for 2 hours and had a chance to talk extensively with him.

I have to say that he is very enthusiastic and convincing in his arguments concerning the benefits of walk breaks. In other words, he's an excellent salesman. ;-) He is also a first class gentleman. He told me that he has testimony from "several hundred" runners who have used his method and improved their times. Incidentally, he didn't mention any feedback from people who tried his method and didn't improve. According to him, the data from this feedback shows that a 4:00 marathoner improves an average of 13 minutes using a 1-minute walk break through 20 miles. And a 3:00 marathoner improves an average of 7 minutes using 30 second walk breaks through mile 20. (He recommends dropping the walk breaks for the last 10k.) Now, stop and think about what he was saying......that an experienced 4:00 marathoner (9:10 pace) can run a marathon at an average pace 30 sec/mile faster (8:40) with a walk break every mile from the first mile through mile 18-20 and an all-out final 10k with no walk breaks. Impressive!!!....if true.

Either the 13 minute improvement from 4:00 to 3:47 would have to come entirely from the last 10k, which would mean a 43:40 10k or an average pace of 7:02/mile....not very likely since it would probably require a big 10k PR effort from this runner after running 20 miles.....or the 13 minute improvement has to be spread over the entire race, which means running a target pace of 8:40 instead of 9:10 throughout an evenly paced race. Considering that the Gallowalks of 1 minute out of every 9 through 20 miles, cost about 15-18 sec every mile, according to his book, the other 8/9 of the time through 20 miles and/or all of the last 10k, the average pace has to be even faster than an 8:40 pace.....and all this by a runner who has only been able to manage a 9:10 pace previously. Does anyone really believe that kind of improvement is possible unless either the original 4:00:00 baseline resulted from lousy prior racing or the runner was really on the upswing of his/her development curve?

Well, I had a marathon, Philly, coming up 4 weeks after talking with Galloway. It was my target race for the fall of 1998. It was to be my 18th marathon. Now, I do know how to run a well paced marathon in close to even splits. (Just the previous year, I had run Philly in slightly negative splits....the second half was 1:18 faster than the first half.) My training paces and short distance racing (10k-half marathon) throughout the fall indicated that I should be able to run Philly in 3:55-4:00. A set of 3:55 Yasso 800's a week before the race confirmed it. So, I decided I would put Galloway's method to the test. I had one long training run of 24 miles left to do, so I practiced Gallowalking during it.

I set my race plan. Based on what he said, if his system worked, I should be able to run about 13 minutes faster than 3:55-4:00. I decide to stay on the "conservative" side and base a race plan on running 13 minutes faster than 4:00, or 3:47. That meant that my pace should be 8:40, including the walk breaks, instead of 9:10. In keeping with the time proven strategy of running a little conservatively in the first half, I targeted 8:47 as a pace through at least 13 miles. I posted my intention to try the test here on Merv and said that I didn't expect it to work. I expected to run myself into the ground and crash by mile 20. Frank and Brian agreed. Frank made the point that you can't run faster than you are trained to run, no matter how you try to hedge it.

My race went right according to plan through 15 miles. I took 50-second walk breaks at each mile marker, in addition to walking while drinking. My average pace on the mostly flat course through 10 miles was exactly 8:47 and slipped just a bit to 8:49 through 15 miles. I felt pretty good at that point. At least as good as if I had run a steady 9:10 pace without walk breaks.....and I was averaging more than 20 sec/mile faster than the 4-hour pace. In other words, Gallowalking seemed to be working. At that point, I was thinking that there really was something to Gallowalking....that the rest breaks had offset the faster pace. I was looking forward to stopping the walk breaks at mile 20 and picking up the pace to run a strong last 10k and finish well under 3:50. Heck, I even started to mentally compose a race report for the forums to keep my mind occupied. :-)

Then, the problems suddenly started in mile 16 when spasms began running through my calves. I sometimes get a few of them late in a marathon, but can control them and avoid full cramps from developing through slight foot strike adjustments and running with my toes curled upward for a few strides. But, I have never before had them occur that early in a marathon. They continued to strike every few strides and finally became full cramps just after the 20 mile marker. It was the first time I had experienced cramps since my third marathon 14 years earlier. After stopping to stretch the cramps out, I fought spasms and managed to hold off cramps the rest of the way, but was forced to reduce the pace to do so, although I otherwise felt fine, even strong for being in the last 10k of a marathon. I finished in 3:57:50....right in the middle of the range I had determined I would run without Gallowalks. They didn't help my performance at all.

My conclusions.....the muscle spasms and cramps were a direct result of running 8/9 of the first 20 miles at a pace for which I was not prepared. The walk breaks simply did not offset the additional stress of the faster pace. I was fortunate to be able to hold off further cramps and still maintain a "respectable" pace (9:38 pace for the last 10k) to finish within my original race goal range. However, I'm convinced that I could have run 2-4 minutes faster if I had followed a conventional race plan of a more conservative pace through 20 miles and no walk breaks.

Admittedly, I didn't follow a complete Galloway training program. I only used the Gallowalks in the one 24-mile training run. However, I heard several people who came up to him at the MCM booth ask if they could benefit from using his walk breaks that weekend even though they had not trained under his program and his reply was yes. He said that regardless of how you trained for the race, using the walk breaks in the race would lead to a better race. (His firm, unqualified response was exactly the point that Scott made about "intellectual dishonesty.") I think that his statement is probably a "safe" one, for many runners who don't or can't run a well paced marathon and anything that will build a little conservatism into their race execution will help. I tried to do just the opposite. I tried to build aggressiveness into the first half of my race and use the Gallowalks to offset it. It didn't work. I could not improve on my race capability and probably sacrificed a little time in the process. The bottom line is simple....you cannot use a "gimmick" to run faster than you are trained to run. But, you can use it to help to better pace yourself if you are unable to do so running the traditional way.

That experience helped to convince me that what I had suspected, and argued, before my "experiment" is correct. Galloway's method helps runners, even some good ones who run in the 3:00 range, to run faster marathons.....even, ostensibly, by large amounts.....simply because they haven't learned or aren't disciplined enough to run good marathons without them. They are accustomed to going out too fast, crashing, and struggling in the last 6-10 miles. In other words, they run big positive splits. Galloway's walk breaks, without an increase in pace, simply force some conservatism through 20 miles, which allows them to push the last 10k faster. However, I contend that they do nothing to help a runner to a better time than running a smart, even split race will produce and they probably harm it. S/he could run a better marathon by simply learning to better control his/her pace in the first 13-18 miles. Nothing is better than a dead evenly split race without walk breaks and with nothing left in the tank at the finish. Even a slightly more conservative race with small negative splits will result in a faster marathon that Galloway's walk breaks.

I have a few more general comments I would like to make about Galloway and Gallowalking. But, this post has gotten very long. So, I'll do a "Part 2" as a separate post.