As I mentioned yesterday, the good folks at New York Road Runners have on more than one occasion caused my hair to hurt. Though they’re not as consistent in their ability to agitate me, the paper of record – the New York Times – is doing their best. They’ve gotten me with ridiculous hyperbole in articles suggesting that the average gym denizen and casual runners need to worry about overtraining. They’ve gotten me with the inability to understand research methods and statistics when they promoted the idea that treadmills burn more calories than other gym equipment or that you don’t lose weight swimming. Now they’ve upped the misleading and misguided ante with “Why Walk Breaks Help You Run“. The author, Tara Parker Pope, shows a remarkable combination of arrogance and ignorance as she parrots Jeff Galloway’s and spews them as if they are fact.
Considering the fact that Galloway’s methods are dismissed by most running coaches and sports scientists, perhaps the title of the NY Times article did not need to be so definitive. (Then again, when did the Times last allow for an opinion that differed from theirs?) Galloway and the article’s author provide nothing but anecdotal evidence to support their claims that the walk-run method can lead to faster times or decreased injuries. Making matters even worse, the author chimes in and criticizes any and all attempts to refute her with online comments, yet still refuses to provide proof. She (and Galloway before him) have been asked to substantiate their claims with more than anecdotal evidence, but as usual they provide none.
If you wonder why I am so offended by Galloway, here’s a little background. When asked about the benefit of running on softer surfaces than concrete, Galloway wrote “Asphalt is softer than concrete and treadmills are softer than both. FICTION. While some people say they feel the difference among the surfaces, after coaching more than 250,000 runners, I haven’t seen any difference in rate of injury or fatigue when running on asphalt, concrete or treadmills. You can reduce the impact on your body on any surface by taking enough walk breaks from the beginning.”So he claims to have coached a quarter million runners, and to not notice the difference between surfaces, but we’re supposed to treat him as credible. (Guess which surface I’d like to drop him on.) (For the record, I understand the argument that running on soft surfaces may not be best for all runners, and there seems to be some scientific as well as anecdotal evidence to suggest that asphalt is better for runners with soft tissue injuries.)
Galloway always dodges the science that clearly proves that walking slower and then having to overcome that by running faster is less efficient than running at a steady intermediate pace. Pete Pfitzinger explains it well. “The most efficient way to run a marathon is to run at very close to an even pace, because running portions of the race much faster than an even pace causes a build-up of lactate (hydrogen ions are the actual culprit) and other metabolites that make you slow down. If you run a portion of the race slower than the optimal pace, then by necessity you must run another portion faster than the optimal pace (which causes a build-up of metabolites that make you slow down), so the net result is a poorer performance. Walking a portion of a marathon would require you to run other portions of the race much faster to run a given total time, so it would be detrimental to your result. While this may seem obvious, apparently there have been quotes attributed to Jeff Galloway suggesting that walking would somehow improve elite marathon performance.”
Galloway even claims that even elite runners can benefit from his method, though only MOP and slower runners seem to be available to back him on this. A while back he claimed that Ronaldo da Costa used walking breaks in one of his marathon wins. That sound you hear is Mr. da Costa laughing and refuting Galloway’s lies.
A while back I slammed Galloway’s hyperbole at another message board and was quickly rebuffed by one of his defenders who said that since I’ve never run a 2:16 marathon like Galloway, I’m clearly not as knowledgeable as he. Being a fan of irony, I appreciated that comment, since Mr. Galloway didn’t take any walking breaks in his Olympic marathon.