Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Thu, 19 Jun 2003 08:44:52 -0400

Old Way of Walking


(Rerun from June 1999 RC)

A woman and a man, running in tandem, happened to fall into the same pace and routine as mine at the Las Vegas Marathon. As we all stopped at an early mile marker, I said to them, "Looks like we have the same idea."

The woman of the couple said, "We must have read the same book."

My reply was, "I wrote the book." They laughed, thinking this was a joke and not knowing the walking advice had appeared in my writings since the 1970s. It occupies whole chapters of several books.

I first took my lead from German coach Ernst van Aaken, and later from ultrarunner Tom Osler, and am now simply a promoter of these breaks and a user of them.

I can laugh off suggestions that I'm less than a real runner for taking walk breaks. But humor wanes when attacks on people I know and respect grow personal.

Jeff Galloway is the best-known proponent of mixing walking with running. This allows him to draw much of the praise when walks work, but also requires him to field much of the criticism from non-believers.

A would-be Olympic Trials qualifier grumbled in the Runner's World Daily about "Gallowalkers" cluttering up the course. I'm mystified as to how the people who take twice as long as he does to finish could get in this runner's way. But mostly I'm upset that he uses Jeff's name in a negative label.

Disagree with Galloway if you wish. But don't question his wisdom, commitment and talent. He's smart, strong and skilled enough to have made an Olympic team, to have run more than 100 marathons, and to have gently guided thousands of runners into doing more than they might have dreamed.

While you're at it, don't either credit or blame Jeff Galloway for walk breaks. He carries on a proud tradition, long popular in the ultras. You can hardly call these people softies or quitters.

Jeff Hagen, a dentist by profession, won five ultras last year at age 50. He backed up his deeds with words in a recent article for Marathon & Beyond magazine, which told of his way of walking in races.

His subject was 24-hour races, where he walks for longer periods than the minute-at-a-time that Jeff Galloway and others generally recommend. Hagen's strategy arose from tips he once picked up in a mountaineering class.

"One of these principles held that taking frequent rest breaks of three to five minutes each was more efficient and effective than taking shorter or longer breaks," he wrote in M&B. "I was taught that less than three minutes did not provide adequate rest, while more than five minutes resulted in little additional benefit and wasted valuable time.

"Applying this to walking breaks [during a long run] suggests that breaks of less than a minute may not be as effective as those in the three- to five-minute range. This concept has been reported in research found in the running literature."

I don't know if this qualifies as research, but I looked back at the writings of a godfather of walk breaks. Tom Osler, a mathematics professor, was a top ultrarunner a generation ago. His Serious Runner's Handbook, published in 1978, underlined his own five-minute recommendation.

Osler promised readers they could double the length of their longest non-stop run, without working twice as hard, by breaking for walks early and often. Tom typically ran 25 minutes and walked five in his medium-length ultras, which meant calling timeout at about 5K intervals. In his really long races the length of his running intervals would drop, but the walking time stayed constant at five minutes.

Osler's old way of walking rates another look from runners like me whose marathons are our "ultras."

UPDATE. Since June 1999 Jeff Galloway's name has grown ever larger in marathon training. Early this year Tom Osler suffered a stroke but has recovered. Jeff Hagen, now 55, continues to run/walk -- and sometimes win -- day-long races.

The year this piece appeared, I ran two marathons. In winter and again that fall I trained for and finished the modern way, with frequent one-minute walk breaks.

Since then I've stopped walking. Walks of whatever length and frequency are great ways to go longer more comfortably (and maybe with less training). I'd take them again if another marathon came around, but none has since early 2000.

Walking can be risky during injury spells. It can work too well (as anti-inflammatory drugs sometimes do) by masking pain and letting you push too far, thereby slowing recovery.

Recently I tried to extend runs with walks when a foot was hurting. The problem lingered... until I made the FIRST walk break the only one of the day.


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