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Gallowalking vs A Perfect Marathon

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About three weeks ago, dukeblue posted an essay, "In Defense of Galloway", that resulted in a lengthy thread. I looked it up. Although, like dukeblue, I have no desire to stir up the Gallowalking controversy again, I thought I respond to dukeblue's post and those comments within the thread that were directed specifically toward me....which, like dukeblue's post, probably will stir up the Gallowalking controversy again.

Firstly, I realize that dukeblue's post was a good defense of Jeff Galloway and not Gallowalking, per se. I agree with most of what he said. I, too, respect Jeff Galloway. And I think I have clearly said that in the Gallowalking essays that I posted here in the past, which are currently on my Running Page. I have had the opportunity to spend some time talking with Jeff one-on-one and observing firsthand his interfaces with his public. I know how enthusiastic he is about marathoning and helping other runners....and I do think that he has helped many runners to improve on their marathon performances. I also think that he has been a positive influence on the healthy growth of the sport. In previous posts I have said that I think that he just might have helped more runners to finish marathons than any other individual in the history of the sport. Although I do think that he has contributed to the "watering down" of the competitive level of the sport, he certainly isn't responsible for it. That's due to cultural factors, not negative influences by individuals who are considered to be "leaders" within the sport....I discussed that subject in great detail in a couple of essays concerning the decline of the American marathoner, which are also on my Running Page. Where I disagree with Galloway is when he insinuates, or claims outright, that Gallowalking is the optimum way to achieve one's best possible marathon performance. In summary, however, I think that dukeblue is right. Jeff's contributions to the sport of marathoning are a net positive.

Now to the comments that were specific to me. In his post, dukeblue referenced a personal "Gallowalking Experiment" that I conducted at the 1998 Philadelphia Marathon and reported in a post on these forums and on Merv, which is also on my Running Page. (BTW, thanks for the kind comments, dukeblue.) My experiment was an attempt to achieve a 13-minute improvement in marathon time that Galloway had told me 4-hour marathoners realize, on average, using his walk break method.

In a response to dukeblue's post, Sacramento Kat stated that she (I assume that "Kat" is a she) thinks my experiment was flawed because it was based on running a faster pace throughout the race and not adhering to a slower, "normal" pace, adding walk breaks, and depending on being fresh enough to achieve the 13-minute improvement in the last 6-8 miles. Kil (Mudpup) did an excellent job in rebutting Kat's contention and explaining why I paced myself the way I did. However, she still didn't seem to understand that it is simply not humanly possible to cram a 13-minute improvement, over a well paced marathon that didn't use walk breaks, into the last 6-8 miles after having paced the first 18-20 miles at the slower, "normal" marathon pace. That would require an impossible 10k PR after having run 20 miles!

I could try again to explain in detail why I attempted to spread the target 13-minute improvement over the entire race vs. just the last few miles, but it wouldn't add anything that isn't already in my Gallowalking Experiment essay and Kil's explanation to Kat. What I would like to do instead, however, is to overlay the issue on Hungry Crouton's "perfect" marathon at VCM (See http://mysite.verizon.net/jim2wr/id51.html) and attempt to analyze what affect Gallowalking would have likely had on his performance.

To summarize Neal's race performance, he ran 3:22:05 (7:42.4 pace) with half marathon splits of 1:41:01 (7:42.3 pace) and 1:41:04 (7:42.5 pace). He reached 20 miles in 2:34:18 (7:42.9 pace) and ran the last 6.22 miles in 47:47 (7:31.4 pace). Thus, not only did he not slow down in the last 10k, but he was even able to increase the pace slightly near the end. And he obviously finished on an empty tank or his last mile or two would have been even faster. Essentially, he ran a "perfect", evenly paced race. Now, what would he have done if he had Gallowalked instead?

Galloway's recommendations are not always "consistent".....walk breaks for 18 miles vs. 20 miles; the length of the walk breaks; stop the walk breaks after 18-20 miles if you want to, don't if you don't want to; etc. I think those variations simply recognize that no running guidelines are scientifically precise and no two runners are exactly alike. So, Galloway uses ranges for his criteria. For purposes of this analysis I will use the general guidelines and results that he enumerated to me when we talked.

Galloway said his data base shows that the average improvement using walk breaks is 13 minutes for 4-hour marathoners and 7 minutes for 3-hour marathoners. Since Neal had determined that he was prepared for a 3:22 marathon....which is precisely what he actually did run....then we can calculate that, according to Galloway's criteria, Gallowalking might yield an improvement of about 9 minutes for him.

Galloway also said that a 4-hour marathoner's walk breaks should be one minute every mile and a 3-hour marathoner's breaks should be 30 seconds every mile for the first 20 miles. Interpolating from this criteria would have established 40-second walk breaks for Neal.

If we assume that his walk breaks would have been at a brisk pace of about 15 minutes/mile, then he would have covered about 80 yards (0.045 mile) during each 40-second walk break. Over the first 20 miles, he would have spent a total of 13 minutes and 20 seconds walking 1600 yards (0.91 miles). Now, Neal would have had two choices for what he would have done with the non-walking portions of the first 20 miles....a total of 19.09 miles. He could have run his "true" marathon pace of 7:42.4 and let the slower walk breaks average his pace up, or he could have run faster during the 19.09 non-walking portions to make each mile, including walk breaks, average 7:24.4. Let's look at each alternative. (Obviously, he could have also opted for a scenario between these two extremes. However, that would have simply produced results somewhere between these two.)

If he had run his actual average marathon pace of 7:42.4 pace during the 19.09 mile non-walking portions of the first 20 miles, he would have completed 20 miles in 2:40:27 (8:01 pace), or 6:09 slower than he actually did. In order to make up the 6:09 and finish in the 3:22:05 that he actually ran, he then would have had to run the last 6.22 miles in 41:38....a 6:42 pace!! The Merv race comparison calculator indicates that a 3:22 marathon equates to a 43:17 10k. Thus, it would have been necessary for Neal to run a 10k PR after having already run 20 miles! And that's just to match the finishing time that he actually ran without walk breaks!! Does anyone really believe that he or anyone else could do that? Further, factoring in the 9-minute "improvement" that Galloway touts makes this scenario absolutely ridiculous. That would have required running the last 6.22 miles in 32:38....a 5:15 pace!!!

The alternative would have been for the pace over all 26.22 miles, including the walk breaks, to have remained at "perfect" race pace of 7:42.4. That would have required a pace of 7:23....or 20 sec/mile faster than his "perfect" marathon.....for the non-walking portions of the first 20 miles. And he then would have had to finish the last 6.22 miles at the 7:42.4 pace. Could he have done that? Perhaps. At least it might be remotely within the scope of possibility. However, I suspect that the walk breaks would not have offset running a pace 20 sec/mile faster than his "perfect" MP, which is essentially equivalent to half marathon race pace, for more than 19 of the first 20 miles. There is a very high risk that he would have crashed and slowed dramatically after 15-20 miles. Even if he had not suffered a complete crash, he probably would not have been able to maintain the necessary pace over the last 6.22 miles and his finishing time would have been somewhat slower than he actually ran. Probably the best he could have hoped for would have been in the 3:25-3:30 range. Of course, that still would have been a PR with which I'm sure he would have been happy. But, it would have also been less of a race than he was capable of that day....and that's from just trying to match his "perfect" marathon time by Gallowalking. A 9-minute improvement over his perfect race, which is the average improvement touted by Galloway, would have been absolutely impossible. That would have required an average pace of 7:22.....that's 20-seconds/mile faster than his true ability on that day. To make it even worse, since the walk breaks would have been at a slower pace, the non-walking portions of the first 20 miles would have required a 7:00 pace, which would have been 42 seconds/mile faster than his "perfect" marathon pace. What would the results have been? A certain crash with considerable slowing in the last third of the race and a finish much slower than 3:30.

In summary, the only possible ways to simply match a "perfect" marathon with Gallowalking are to: (1) run 19 of the first 20 miles (or 17 of the first 18 miles, or whatever criteria you choose) at approximately half marathon pace, then try to hang on to race goal pace for the last 6.22 miles; or (2) run 19 of the first 20 miles at goal pace and then try to run the last 6.22 miles at 10k PR pace. The first is highly unlikely and the second is not humanly possible. Further, it is absolutely impossible to realize the gains that Galloway promotes relative to a "perfect" marathon. Those reported gains, which I have no doubt are real, are either (1) realized relative to very imperfect prior marathons; or (2) represent improvements that are simply due to having advanced as a runner and/or better marathon planning and execution and would have occurred with or without Gallowalking.

The bottom line to all of this is what I, and many others, have said here so often. Gallowalking is a good tool for beginners and can help experienced marathoners who can't or won't set realistic marathon goals and/or pace a marathon properly to improve on past performances. Because of its inherently conservative nature, Gallowalking reduces the risk of a crash. However, also because of its inherently conservative nature, Gallowalking won't yield the fastest marathon that one should be capable of. In Neal's case, if he were a Gallowalker he probably could have Gallowalked to about a 3:25. Then, he could have reported, "A 9-minute PR! See, Gallowalking works!!" Instead, he ran a "perfect" race and netted a 12-minute PR.

You can choose to Gallowalk to build in a little conservatism and increase the probability of a good, satisfying race....maybe even a faster time than you have previously been able to run without walk breaks. Or you can choose to go for a "perfect" race with the inherently higher risk of a crash if your goal is too optimistic or you don't pace the race properly. But you can't have it both ways. The two approaches are mutually exclusive.