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Last updated: Mon. Apr. 14, 2014 - 07:31 am EDT


Adventures in Food & Fitness column: Walk this way – to a faster marathon time

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Could walking improve your marathon time?

It sounds crazy. But after getting beat by several run-walkers in my first marathon – including April Birts of Fort Wayne, who walked every third or fourth lap of the indoor course at Goshen College -- I couldn't resist looking into this thing called the Galloway run-walk-run method.

If you thought, as I did, this system was designed for beginners, you're only partly right. In his books and seminars, 1972 Olympian Jeff Galloway teaches runners how to not only finish marathons and half-marathons, but to get faster times over what they could achieve running the entire distance.

“I saw Jeff Galloway speak a couple of years ago at a 50 state marathon reunion,” said Denis McCarthy, another run-walker who finished ahead of me at the Maple Leaf Indoor Marathon. “I had 61 marathons at that time, all running -- only walking when I could no longer run.

“After his talk, about 10-15 of us said, 'Let's give it a try' in the next day's marathon. Every one of us had a better time than our last few marathons, and felt better, too. That was over 90 marathons ago for me, and I have been using it ever since.”

McCarthy, who lives in St. Louis, recommends using a specific formula right from the start – usually 4 minutes running to 1 minute walking, though a 3:1 or 5:1 ratio also works well.

“What happens is that you run faster than when you are just doing straight running,” he said. “It happens automatically. The walk allows for recovery before the next run interval. Over a longer distance, you retain much more energy and endurance with run/walk and do not slow down as much over the last 10k or so.”

McCarthy suggested experimenting on training runs of 7 miles or longer. So far, he's right: Despite walking every fifth minute, I was 4 minutes faster on a 7-mile run and 10 minutes faster on a 10-mile run.

Birts, an account manager at Lincoln Financial who's done 13 marathons, doesn't follow the regimen as closely as some do. Sometimes she'll run the first 3 miles and then take walk breaks as needed.

Because the Goshen marathon was a lap race, she used a lap-based run/walk format right from the start. I'd pass Birts on her walk lap, then she'd pass me on her run laps. Though I never stopped jogging, she finished nearly 25 minutes ahead of me in 5:07:40 – and that was one on the slow side for her.

“It seems like just about every marathon I'll encounter somebody who's determined to run the whole way, and then I end up passing them later,” Birts said. “What they don't realize is that you can work these quick walk breaks in early on, or you can end up really hurting later and be forced to walk – only by then you're walking at a 20-minute pace.”

But does this method only work for slower runners – or those who, like Birts, a member of the online group “Marathon Maniacs,” don't go all out every race so they can cram more marathons into their schedule?

Not necessarily. Blaine Moore, an online running coach based in Maine, says he shaved4 minutes off his goal (from2:54 to 2:50) taking a 15-second walk break after each of the first 20 miles in a 2010 marathon.

“It took me about two months to find out the right interval for me and to get used to moving from a running to walking to running gait efficiently,” he said in an email. “The trick is to still be moving at a good clip when you are walking.”

Besides an increase in overall speed, Moore said, “the biggest advantage of this is that it gives you a chance to reset your form on a regular basis. You don't wind up in a multi-mile stretch where you are hunched over and cramping up.”

Tanya Isch Caylor, a News-Sentinel copy editor, blogs on diet and fitness at This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.

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