Walking Made Me a Marathon Runner

4 years ago

I finished my first marathon at 41. It wasn't pretty and it took what seemed like a very long time, but I finished. I'd love to tell you that a few months ago I decided to get in shape and run a marathon and then, with some hard work and dedication, I made it happen. But no, my road to running just a few miles, much less even considering a marathon, wasn't pretty. And it took what was most definitely a very long time. And I would have never made it without walking.

Fits and Starts

To be clear, I'm not built for endurance sports, or really any sport at all. I didn't play sports as a kid and I didn't even try my hand -- or feet I guess -- at running for the first time until my mid-30s. I'd been diligently working to loose about 60 excess pounds that came after my daughter was born and exercise meant more Weight Watchers points. I even joined a running group and trained for my first 5k. Crossing that first finish line is still one of my most important personal achievements.

Even with a finish line behind me, I didn't stick with running. I wasn't a runner. It seemed like as much as I ran I was getting nowhere. It wasn't ever fun. And I couldn't see a path to improvement or ease in running. So I hung up my running shoes.

Fast forward to my late 30s, staring dow the big 4-0, and stuck on a weight loss plateau I couldn't shake. I was down to 1000 calories a day, which isn't much. Its even less when you're a food blogger. I knew if I was going to get beyond my 30 lb. weight loss while still enjoying food blogging and cooking, I was going to have to do something different. I knew in my heart it meant exercise. And so I laced up my running shoes -- again.

I wish I could tell you that, after a break and some time to hone in on my personal fitness and health goals, I got back on the road and with some hard work and dedication I became a runner. But no, my second journey down the running road wasn't much better than the first. Miles were long slogs. My progress was slow. My motivation minimal. After 6 months I was on the verge of hanging up my running shoes -- again.

Seeking A New Path

I'm naturally stubborn and I don't like to be beaten. And while sometimes this leads to quixotic behaviors and situations I'd do well to abandon, it does mean I won't often go down without a fight, or at least without a second glance. I started reading and researching, looking for any resource that would help me crack the running nut. I'm not really sure how my research on running lead me to it, but in my unwillingness to give up on running I discovered the Jeff Galloway run-walk method and -- while I didn't ,now it a the time -- started down the path to becoming a runner.

The Galloway method is straightforward: run some, then walk some. Then run some more until its time to walk again. Over time you walk less and run more. There is a progressive plan for every goal, from just running regularly to a 5k to a marathon. Galloway has a lot of successes under his belt and has helped many runners improve their overall race time by ensuring they have enough stamina to make it through the entire race in good shape.

I'll admit I was skeptical but a lot of people swore by his method and I knew my way wasn't working.

Walk to Run Works!

My challenges with running had always stemmed from not having the endurance and strength to run for long periods of time. It was almost impossible to get better because after 15 minutes I'd be stick-a-fork-in-me done. And because I was so tired and frustrated by my lack or progress, I couldn't bring myself to go out regularly. It was a vicious a cycle. But walking seemed like cheating. I thought that if I walked I was limiting my improvement and honestly, wussing out.

I couldn't have been more wrong. Walking, it turns out, is key. It's much more beneficial to run a couple of minutes then walk a couple, then repeat for a nice 20-30 minute workout than to run for 10 minutes or so until you're petered out then end the workout. Over time you can run more and walk less, for longer workouts, until all of a sudden you can run for a mile and be ready for the next.

Knowing what I know now, the Galloway method is of course a sensible way to improve fitness and extend endurance. It gives us permission to grown into running in an accessible way. Walking isn't a failure, it's a bona fide part of training. Walking creates opportunity for recovery and the ability to go just a little further. You don't have to run one more mile to improve -- which can seem like forever I know - just one more minute. And then you can take a break and walk, then start running again knowing another walk is not too far down the line. The mental freedom the run-walk method brings is almost staggering.

In retrospect it seems almost silly that I needed a training program to tell me it was okay to take it slow and ease into running. Sometimes I think we get caught up in how we think an experience or activity should be and then when we can't meet the expectation we've conjured for ourselves, we believe we've failed instead of realizing maybe we need to reframe our expectations. The run-walk approach comes with reasonable expectations built in and maybe that's its real secret. It also offers a steady plan for progress that you can really see which matters so very much.

Before I started run-walking I was running between 11 and 12 minute miles. My furthest distance run was 6 miles in a 10k but more often I didn't run more than 4 miles on a long run. I also only ran about once a week, twice if I was really pushing it.

After a month trying Galloway I'd improved my per mile time to below 10 minutes, even with walking, and I'd stretched my longest run distance to 10 miles. More importantly I was running 3-4 times per week. And I felt great. Looking back over my training tracking my attitude toward running improved drastically and I was having fun! I had become a runner.

Don't Quit -- Rethink

I'm sharing this now, several years after Galloway gave me permission to grow into running, partially because I'm very reflective post-marathon, but also because I know this is the time of year when so many folks will lace up to go run. Some will run for the first time, others will start again, maybe for the third or fourth time, just like I did. And sadly, in just a few weeks, many will be on the verge of hanging up their running shoes because the progress just isn't there and running is never fun. Before you give up on your inner runner, you might give the run-walk approach a try.

It really is liberating. You may find that all you need is to slow down a little so you can speed up and run far.

Run-Walk Resources

Runner's World has great articles about using walking as part of getting started running. is a quick hit list of things you can do to get started with success in mind. Move Forward as a Beginning Runner says all of the things I wish I'd known when I started. I also can't more highly recommend any one of Jeff Galloway's books. I started with the Woman's Complete Guide to Running that Galloway wrote with his wife, but there are also options if you already have a distance like a 5k or even a half marathon in your sights.

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