Even when first training seriously and comparing different marathon training books, I never gave Jeff Galloway’s Marathon book a second look. And even now I haven’t really given his method much more than a cursory glance.
So personally I can’t necessarily recommend it, even though his approach is probably a great one for a lot of new marathon runners.
Basically, Galloway advocates run/walking the entire marathon. You find a running pace you can maintain for 2-5 minutes at a time, and for all of your training as well as the entire race you run for 2-5 minutes, then stop for a 1-2 minute walking break, then repeat until after a few eternities you finally finish.
His approach clearly works, because to some extent thousands of novice marathoners end up using his approach… whether they want to or not. Once many runners hit the wall around miles 13-20, they have no choice but to run/walk the rest of the way.
But, even if you’re a more serious runner who takes pride in running out all your training runs and races… what if in a marathon you could use his approach consciously, in advance of a worst case scenario of hitting the wall hard, as a back-pocket emergency approach?
For example: Instead of hitting the wall in mile 18 and being forced to drag yourself over the final 8.2 miles… you initially feel yourself struggling badly in mile 16. You decide right then and there to run 3 minutes and walk 1, then repeat… from that 16 mile point forward, feeling like you have a little bit in the tank.
You take food and drink from every available aid station, and only if you feel you’ve found a 2nd wind do you resume a normal uninterrupted run as normal. And while it’s possible you end up run/walking the whole rest of the race, you at least are able to handle those last 10 miles with some sense of dignity and not feeling like death. Perhaps you could even run out that last whole 1.2 miles as your “kick”.
I now realize that, when I stepped to the line in Vancouver this May feeling ill and overheated… I possibly could have finished the race, had I committed to running the entire race easy and using something like Galloway’s method. It would have taken 5 fairly grueling hours, but instead of feeling unwell at mile 3, I could have slowly navigated the race mile by mile, at an easy pace, possibly felt good enough to high five all the old men and women shuffling alongside me, and gradually made my way to the finish line.
Of course, at the time I had no idea I could use an approach like I described above. And for all I know my ego would not have allowed it anyway after having trained as hard as I had to run the whole race. This is little more than 20/20 hindsight, and the humbling experience of a DNF was probably necessary for me to even entertain the notion today.
Galloway’s book has runners going as far as 25-30 miles in training using his simpler run/walk method. And, to some extent, some of my experienced (faster) runner friends have knocked out 30+ miles in a day through a similar approach… running 5-7 miles at a time, stopping to rest for a while or eat, and then continuing.
So say what you want about stopping or walking: For finishing a marathon, it absolutely works.
In fact, this is how a lot of ultramarathon running is done. Since many of these races require 12-24 hours to complete, even the winners are expected to stop and rest for extended periods.
I practiced a variation of this after work on Friday, running at a threshold-level pace for 2-4 minutes, then walking for a minute, with the clock running the entire time. And it was doubly useful since I wasn’t feeling well at the time. I managed to polish off a couple miles at about a minute faster per mile than usual.
I would have gone the rest of the way home. But again, I wasn’t feeling well, and though I could have finished I decided to cut the run short.
Still, along with the rest of my race-day gear, I will have an emergency plan in my back pocket, thanks to the wise words of a man whose book I haven’t really read. “You can do it!”, indeed.