Every runner at some point has done the run-walk… you run for a bit, and then walk for a bit to recover before running again.
Jeff Galloway is the one running mind who builds an entire marathon training approach around it. It’s a little surprising that his main book on the subject, Marathon: You Can Do It!, isn’t more well known and recognizable.
Sure, there are a lot of people who don’t think run-walking a marathon is *really* running a marathon. That can be part of it.
But there’s also a huge part of the population who want to run a marathon, but simply won’t consider it because they can’t fathom running 26.2 miles. And if they knew an approach like Galloway’s existed, they absolutely would try knowing it’s possible.
As you’d expect, Galloway’s approach is mostly geared towards first time and novice marathon runners, though he vouches that even mid pack runners have shown substantial improvements in their times using his method. Galloway even indicates that experienced runners capable of sub-2:40 marathons have used the method and seen improved results.
Galloway is hardly the only one to vouch for walk breaks in races. Others like Hal Higdon vouch for experienced runners taking walk breaks: Higdon often cites Bill Rodgers in the 1970’s running a sub 2:20 marathon while slowing to a walk at aid stations for fluids, or to tie his shoe.
And sure: You’re never going to see Eliud Kipchoge or Shalane Flanagan take walk breaks in a World Marathon Major (2021 EDIT: Okay, I guess Shalane would). But virtually none of us will approach running at their level. And many aspiring marathoners struggle with successfully racing the distance despite their best efforts using other training methods. For many, Galloway’s method might be worth a shot.
Of course, Galloway’s approach isn’t as simple as “run until you want/need to walk, then walk, then run when you’re ready again”. His run/walk method is much more measured and specific, and is based on your pace ability. The idea is to keep you fresh for as long as possible, so the final few miles isn’t a miserable PR-killing fight against the wall to finish.
So what is The Galloway Method?
- Run-Walking is the heart of the Galloway approach. Galloway swears by running for a specified period of time (usually 2-4 minutes), then walking for a shorter bit (usually 1 minute), then repeating, to finish marathons.
- The marathon training plan is a very long 26 weeks, far longer than most plans.
- Training is preceded by “The Magic Mile”, aka a mile time trial. This result dictates your training paces based on calculations made against the result. It is actually expected that you run/walk this “Magic Mile” by feel, since you will be using the run/walk method for basically all training, and your pace will be determined by the entire Mile, not just the part you ran. Galloway asks that you not go all out during the Magic Mile, and that you re-do it several times during training to revise your training paces.
- Your resulting pace also determines how many minutes you run between walk breaks. The faster you are, the longer you are asked to run between walk breaks. The idea is that faster runners can handle running more minutes at a time.
- You run Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. You cross train Monday and Thursday. Saturday is an off day.
- The Wednesday run is shorter than the others, but is also the one run that is done without a rest/cross-train day beforehand.
- The Sunday run is either a long run, a pace interval workout, or a shorter long run that sometimes includes the “Magic Mile”. After starting the plan with a progressively longer Sunday run, the 2nd half of the plan does a long run every 3 weeks, with other weeks featuring pace repeats over a moderate distance, or a moderate distance with a “Magic Mile” time trial.
- The stated run paces are actually a net time based on both the running and the walking. It is expected when running that you’ll run faster than the shown pace. For example, someone with a 9:00/mile training pace will run closer to an 8:00/mile pace for 3 minutes, then walk (much slower) for 1 minute, then repeat. The total time per mile will come out to about 9:00.
- Another Galloway staple: The Sunday long run towards the peak phase becomes VERY long, not only reaching 26 miles but depending on which form of the plan you follow it can reach 29. The run-walk approach makes the distance far more feasible than if you had to run the whole thing without stopping, and as mentioned you only have to do it once every 3 weeks (the other weeks have shorter runs with tempo or time trials). But this is still very long compared to other plans that avoid going past 16-20 miles in training.
- And finally, Galloway not only asks you do training runs at least 2 minutes slower per mile than your goal pace, but also asks that you slow down even more when the temperature exceeds 60 degrees Fahrenheit, having you add 30 seconds per mile to you pace for every 5 degrees Fahrenheit above 60. This final pace mostly determines how much running vs walking you end up doing, since your training pace dictates the run/walk ratio. Once at a training pace of 12-13 minutes per mile or slower, you’re often running for a minute or less before walking. The reduces the impact of the heat, though at the same time on long runs it makes the workout last longer.
Who does this plan NOT work for?
People with limited weekend time
Granted, if you have limited time on the weekends then training for ANY marathon probably isn’t going to work. You need to block off 2-3 hours at least for a long run, if nothing else.
However, Galloway’s longest runs require a lot more than three hours, especially given you are run/walking the distance. Those 23-29 mile runs could take over 5 hours. You need to know you can get about half the day to yourself, because not only do you need those 5+ hours… you need time to recover and refuel afterward. You probably won’t be in suitable condition to go directly to work after that, even given all the walk breaks.
Durable runners who like to run long
While the long runs have you cover a massive distance, you’re also stopping to walk every few minutes. And in regular workouts you’re supposed to stop and walk every few minutes.
An experienced runner who does best building aerobic endurance on sustained distance runs should do another plan. This plan is not just for new runners, but for runners who think the walk breaks could help their performance and training. If you don’t see any value in the walk breaks, don’t do this plan.
Runners who want to do serious speed and tempo work
While Galloway does include some sneaky mile time trials and “marathon-pace” training segments, none of that is anywhere close to your typical tempo or speed workouts. This plan is all about consistency and the high volume of the weekend long runs.
If you need to do track repeats, threshold tempo runs, or even extended marathon pace runs, there’s a lot of other plans out there that will suit you better.
FIRST is the other end of the spectrum, where the training volume is lower, but all of your running is nothing but that kind of work.
People who live in hot, sunny climates
Because you are outside for so long, the time spent exposed to the elements becomes a factor. While winter can pose some concern with ice and low temperatures, the real challenge is doing this plan during summer.
Never mind the heat of sunshine in warmer months. Sunblock can only protect you so much, for so long.
If you live in a place with abundant sunshine, it may not be safe to expose your skin to said sunshine for 5-6 hours several times during training. Plus, if hot, that sun can take its toll after 4 hours, even with the walk breaks. This is actually a key reason many plans ask that you cap your long run at 2.5-3.5 hours.
While you can try and do the run towards the evening, or start before dawn… there’s clear safety concerns with doing that.
Doing it once on race day is one thing (plus races almost always start early in the morning, when the sun’s effect is diminished). Doing it every 3 weeks could pose a problem.
And of course, trying to do the whole long run on a treadmill… even if you don’t have a time limit (as you would at gyms), good luck maintaining the attention span to finish one of these on the mill.
Who DOES this plan work for?
Runners who want to run their 1st marathon
Clearly, Galloway’s plan was geared towards first timers: The book on the plan is subtitled “You Can Do It!”, after all.
The walking easily extends the max distance of most beginners, by preventing the workout from becoming unduly exhausting early. The long runs would be impossible for most without the ability to take walk breaks. And by asking you to go close to or beyond the 26.2 mile distance, Galloway breaks the mental barrier on that for novices, making the actual race seem much more do-able.
Anyone thinking of attempting a marathon for the first time absolutely should consider Galloway’s run-walk approach.
Runners who get tired and slow down hard on longer runs
Runners whose marathon times are WAY slower than other distances
A lot of experienced runners do well in races up to the half marathon, then have to slow dramatically for any long run beyond that. Too often, running at pace for a marathon is impossible for a lot of these runners.
The run-walk approach often will get those runners the same distance in no worse than the same amount of time, but with better endurance over the entire run.
In fact, this plan might be an excellent bridge plan for experienced runners who can’t seem to run fast at longer distances, or can’t seem to race a marathon the way they’d like.
The run-walk approach over time will gradually build mitochondrial endurance in the lower body, since even while walking you are on your feet covering the distance the entire time. A later attempt to run the marathon at pace in future training could become more feasible.
Runners trying to avoid injury in marathon training
If you’ve gotten injured a lot in other training plans, Galloway could help you on a similar note to those above.
Perhaps you’ve struggled to finish previous marathons, and just want to train and finish one without injury. Galloway’s method is a fail-safe approach to training for one.
It’s just a matter of having the 26 weeks to do it… though, if stretched out and able to run more than 10 miles, it may be possible to start the plan towards the middle and cut that down.
Older or overweight aspiring marathon runners
Someone looking to run their first marathon, but being physically compromised by age or weight, might find it daunting to try and do a normal plan with high volume or speed/tempo work.
Galloway’s run/walk again builds in a gap of safety with all training, and can help ease in runners whose age or weight might otherwise cause injury or fatigue concerns. Your pace and ability dictates the walk breaks, and the goal is to give yourself all the walk breaks you need to keep moving safely.
As usual, no verdict.
Galloway’s marathon plan is a unique one, and about as soft a landing as any marathon training plan can provide you.
Galloway has in turn claimed that experienced runners have seen improvement with his method. It will of course have its naysayers. Running is full of egos, and may people can’t psychologically handle any plan that doesn’t ask them to fully run, even if it’s just others who are following it. But Galloway has claimed results for even sub-2:40 runners with his plan, showing it can work for runners at all levels.
If you’ve got a ton of time to train for a marathon, and have struggled with results in the past… Galloway’s run/walk method might be worth a shot.