Jeff Galloway considered my question a minute then answered as though thinking out loud.
“Boston is as close to an Olympic experience as most people will ever get.” He hesitated a second longer and added more forcefully, “and it is pretty darn close.”
As an Olympic athlete, Galloway knows what it feels like to focus on a goal, achieve the means to get there through the Olympic Trials in his case and a qualifying marathon time for the Boston Marathoners. Boston and the Olympics are more than a race. They are an experience. From the minute the athletes get to town they have “arrived.” As they toe the line on race morning, they have already accomplished more than most people will have done. And as they traverse the course?
“First time Boston Marathoners shouldn’t push it,” Galloway advises. “Back off of the gut wrenching pace and enjoy the experience.”
Jeff Galloway doesn’t say this lightly. Having dedicated his life to helping people not just become runners but excel at the sport, he takes the advice he gives seriously.
Running didn’t come naturally to Galloway. He describes himself as a lazy kid who did everything in his power to avoid working out. But when he discovered the love of the sport back in eighth grade, it was through a sense of team. That sense of team, the feeling that one runner helps the next, that we are meant to be social runners has stuck with him over the years and eventually brought him to the head of a class for beginning runners.
Even though Galloway is an Olympic athlete, most people today know him as a Runner’s World columnist and the creator of the Run/Walk/Run Program.
Soon after coming home from the Olympics, Galloway opened Phidippides, one of the first specialty running stores in the United States. At the time, there was not much in the way out business outreach so when he was approached about starting a recreational running course as part of the Physical Education Program at the local university, he jumped at the opportunity.
But the morning of the first class as he stood there looking out at the twenty people who had registered, he had to wonder what he had gotten himself into. Not one of the people who had registered for the class was a runner. Most had not run for at least five years.
It was through this class that the Run/Walk/Run Program was born. In an effort to help the members of his class get into shape and become runners, Galloway had them beginning by running a little and walking a lot. As they progressed through the program he had them running a little more and walking a little less but the walking was never dropped completely.
As a sort of final exam the class completed a local road race. It was at this race that Galloway had his “aha moment.” Watching his runners come across the finishline he realized that during the entire program, there was not a single injury. In his whole life he had never seen so many runners go so long without an injury.
For the past thirty years Galloway has built on this program. What started as a beginners running program has grown to encompass runners of all abilities.
“I didn’t approach the faster runners about the program,” Galloway said. “As they saw the Run/Walk/Run runners passing them in races, they came to me wanting to know more.”
Interestingly, it is the middle of the pack and faster runners who have seen the biggest change in their performance. Mid-packers cut between twelve and fifteen minutes off their marathon time and three hour marathoners cut on average five to seven minutes.
Galloway’s question for skeptics is “Do you want to be strong in the first six miles or the last six?”
Having completed several marathons using his method, I understand this question perfectly. Without the Run/Walk/Run program, the last six miles of any marathon have been the hardest miles of my life. But when I have run using a one minute walk break at every mile, my husband calls me the Energizer Bunny. My times in those races have stayed consistent from the first mile to the last. And as though that were not enough, I cut forty minutes off my time between my first and second marathon.
But I am a mid-packer, how about the really fast guys?
“The fastest time I have seen from an athlete using the walk run program was a gentleman who went from 2:33 to 2:28,” Galloway said.
Galloway has been running for 52 years and though he works in the industry, running still holds a lure for him. It isn’t about numbers. It is about the power of running. Empowerment is how he describes the affects of running. It empowers people. He believes that through running we become more. We understand more about ourselves and our abilities and we are able to accomplish more in other areas of our lives because of it.
He loves coaching his Galloway Programs and he loves seeing people improve their times. He loves watching them be able to run further than they ever have before but what he really loves is to see the confidence and power they gain in the process. That is what makes it all worth the effort.
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