DALLAS — Karen Lester initially scoffed at incorporating walking into her Ironman training.
After all, she had run (not walked) three marathons, and she knew how to run. It didn't include walking, but her coach kept encouraging her. After swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112, he said, she'd need every last bit of energy to run 26.2 miles, the third leg of the Ironman tripod. Not until a training run on the actual course in St. George, Utah, did she change her mind.
Jeff Galloway first began teaching a run-walk-run method in 1974. All 22 students not only finished a 5K or 10K at the end of the course, they stayed injury-free.
"I knew right away that the walk breaks had a great deal to do with that," Galloway said from Atlanta in a recent interview
. "If you intersperse walks, your body revives and adapts. Muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints recover while you're moving forward."
He began using it in all of his training programs, which are now offered in 90 cities. What continues to surprise is this:
"People who used to run continuously and switched to run-walk-run had an average marathon improvement of 13 minutes, and that's mostly at the end," he says. "You continue to restore the resiliency and capacity of the muscle. As a result of that, the resiliency comes back. Not only is the muscle power there at the end, the willpower is too."
He acknowledges how counterintuitive that sounds.
"The bottom line, though, is that when you take one-minute walk breaks, you lose only about 15 to 18 seconds during that minute, depending on how fast you're running. Usually, you can revive the muscles so well that you can catch right up with people who are not taking walk breaks. I've heard from more than 120 people who have broken three hours in their marathon time, which they weren't able to do that when they ran continuously."
"I saw those mountains," says Lester, 46, of Dallas. "Twenty-six miles up and down, up and down. I decided that run-walk was going to be a great idea. I've been faithful to run-walk training from then on."
Vishal Patel, 34, was a beginning runner when he started using the run-walk method. He was overweight and had shin splints. Going from running to walking to running again was, he says, "pure survival."
In 2001, Claire Oliver ran 18 miles of her first marathon and then "hit the wall," she says. "Everything hurt in my body. I probably walked four of the last eight miles."
Then she began incorporating walking into her training.
"I always thought it was really wimpy and was for people without the stamina to run," says Oliver, who lives in Dallas. "But I ran my next five marathons with the Galloway method. It made a huge difference."
The Galloway of whom she speaks is Jeff Galloway, the 1972 U.S. Olympian who is widely credited with creating a run-walk program in 1974. His books, including "Galloway's Book on Running" (Shelter Publications; $18.95 paperback), have remained popular, as have his programs in dozens of cities.
Long before the concept became synonymous with Galloway's name, running and walking were fraternal twins of movement. They jockeyed for position in our activity repertoire, as our ancestors decided how fast they wanted to get someplace, and whether they could maintain their pace to get there.
"Anthropologists believe running was the first form of two-footed locomotion," Galloway says from his home in Atlanta, "but it was only designed for very short bursts, like to escape predators and other dangers. More efficient was walking, and it served us extremely well. It was very, very efficient."
If muscles are used continuously, as is the case when you run without breaks, they fatigue more quickly, he says. If you intersperse walking with running, muscles used for running revive themselves during walk segments.
"Hardly ever do I see people have to push their weak links — some have knee problems, some Achilles tendon or ankle or hips — into a state of injury or abuse when they're doing run-walk-run," he says.
After Oliver's first marathon, she had troubles with her iliotibial band, the tissues that run down the outside of the leg. She hurt everywhere, she says. But after using the run-walk method of training and competing, she had no injuries.
"Doing Galloway helps you stay injury-free, meaning you can run more often and often longer distances," says Oliver, 33. "That's what I did. I'm a stronger runner because of it."