Anyone who reads my blog – or reads anything about my training – knows that I’ve been a dedicated devotee of the Jeff Galloway run/walk/run method. As someone who started running relatively late in life (around age 38), I found that run/walk has helped me finish endurance events with minimal injury. While some beginning running programs like the Couch to 5K use run/walk as a bridge to running continuously, Jeff Galloway firmly believes that the run/walk method can benefit almost anyone who wants to continue running until age 100. He also believes, in most cases, that taking walk breaks from the beginning of a run will actually speed the runner up rather than causing a slower overall pace. His belief is based on many years of coaching runners to the finish line and seeing an improvement in finish times when run/walk is used versus running continuously.

So what’s the catch?

Despite the popularity of run/walk within the runDisney community, there are many runners who see run/walk as “cheating” or as a bridge from the couch to running continuously. As I’ve started experimenting with heart rate based training, I’ve had 2 different coaches tell me that I have to stop using run/walk now that I’m a marathoner. My strength coach (who I generally love and is a marathoner herself) told me to just go out a run 10 miles continuously for my next long run (please note that I usually use run 30 sec/walk 30 sec or run 40 sec/walk 20 sec intervals for my long runs). Another heart rate based coach told me that there is NO way he will allow me to take walk breaks during my upcoming 10K. Interestingly neither person asked me how I feel about run/walk or what my goals were. The assumption is that if I want to get faster, I need to stop taking walk breaks.

During a recent submission to The Extra Mile Podcast (which is produced by my amazing friend Kevin who is one of the kindest people I know), I spoke of my training angst caused by these recent attacks on run/walk. Adding fuel to the fire are a few friends who are quite openly anti-run/walk (it’s predictable that at least one of them will post that I should just run my upcoming 10K continuously regardless of my training or how I actually feel about it) and a family member who has confessed that he finds run/walk to be a little bit like cheating and something that he can’t imagine actually using himself (I’m withholding names to spare the not-so-innocent but I will say this person ran track 50 years ago but has never done endurance events). I know my Extra Mile friend Kevin is very intrigued by this question about run/walk and plans to explore it further.

I know my angst has led to discussions amongst my running friends and amongst listeners to the Extra Mile Podcast. Just today I was fortunate enough to listen to a super interesting podcast – The Seeker – which explored my question. I’m downloading at least one other running podcast that also addressed my run/walk angst (Just Norm is the podcast).  I am certain that there are other runners who struggle with run/walk as a concept and question whether or not it is right for them.

So where do I stand?

It’s still a fluid issue for me because I haven’t firmly settled on my running goals which makes it hard for me to take sides.

Part of me continues to feel frustrated that I’m not a faster runner. I grew up as a competitive athlete (not a runner). I was competing in gymnast from at least age 7. I graduated high school with 9 varsity letters. I raced sailboats, competed in diving over the summer, and was a passable tennis player. I’ve never really been a couch potato even when I was really actively participating in sports. So why can’t I run faster than back of the pack? In my heart I don’t believe it’s a run/walk problem. I conceptually like heart rate training but believe it could be combined with run/walk and still be effective. The Seeker podcaster James mentioned something in an email exchange today about how less than 1% of the U.S. population finishes a marathon in a given year so that makes me faster than 99.5% of the U.S. even if I don’t finish faster than a few other runners on the course. Good point but still not entirely satisfying. I think that losing a few pounds and added a few extra miles per week might help me speed up. And I’m continuing strength training and hoping to add more cross-trianing to further help things along.

The other problem for me is that I need running to be fun. This may be surprisingly to some but I lead an incredibly stressful life. I’m a surgeon. wife, and mother of 3 children. Work can be very stressful and parenting can be very stressful. Running is what I do for fun. I’m never going to earn a living as a runner. As long as running is a hobby, it needs to be fun. Focusing solely on speed takes some of the joy out of running. My solution has been to run a lot of races for fun and with friends and only focus on a few time goal races. If I’m taking over 6.5 hours to finish the Disney Marathon, then I’m obviously not worried about speed. On the other hand I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun runner. I finished the NYC Marathon well over an hour faster than Disney and yet I felt disappointed and let down after that race. Following Disney I had a runner’s high for weeks and weeks. Big difference. If time goal racing makes me stressed and sad and running races with friends makes me happy, maybe that’s my answer (I don’t think ALL time goal racing makes me stressed and sad and I really did enjoy the MORE half marathon recently.).

What’s my plan?
I signed up for another 6 months of ecoaching with Jeff Galloway. My fall race calendar is busy and I finish it off with the Dopey Challenge in January. From October 11th until mid January I am running two 5Ks, one 10K, 3 half marathons, and 2 full marathons. I need to be healthy and I did to enjoy running. All of those races will be run with friends and, with the possible exception of the Hartford Marathon at the beginning of that stretch, none will be time goal races. 

As for my June 10K? I still don’t know. Jeff Galloway has me doing speed work for a time goal and I will likely stick to whatever plan he suggests. Tomorrow will include 400M repeats (probably on a treadmill due to terrible weather) instead of heart rate training. We’ll see how the plan works. I’m still a believer to Jeff’s training for now and I’m going to commit myself to his plan.