If you can walk, you can run

I wrote the following for the Charlotte Observer, where it appeared on March 23, and in Raleigh’s The News & Observer, where it ran March 30.

For the first 37 years of her life, becoming a die-hard runner wasn’t on Carol Gore’s bucket list.

“I never had a desire to start running,” says Gore, who lives in Fort Mill, S.C. “In high school, I hated gym class. I was always the last one picked.”

Participants in fall's Fit-Tastic program queue up for the Monster Dash 5K, that program's graduation.
Participants in fall's Fit-Tastic program queue up for the Monster Dash 5K, that program's graduation.

But two years ago, Gore worried that her 2-mile-a-day, five-day-a-week walking regimen was no longer cutting it in her battle of the bulge. A friend suggested running just a bit during her walks to burn more calories.

Gore gave it a try. She was smitten.

That November she ran an 8K (5 miles) Turkey Trot; the following year, 2009, a half marathon. She’s training for another of the 13.1-mile races in September. “I became hooked,” says Gore, who is 40.

During the nation’s first running boom in the 1970s, if you wanted to be a runner you were told to run – a lot. Thirty-, 40-, 50-mile weeks were de rigueur, running till it hurt the ultimate sign that you were on track. Only if you were suffering heatstroke or had a broken leg was it OK to walk.

Today, that philosophy has been flipped on its ear. As Gore discovered by taking her friend’s advice, if you want to be a runner it’s not only OK to walk, you may get in trouble with your coach if you don’t.

* * *

The notion of a running program that encourages walking was pioneered by Jeff Galloway, a member of the 1972 U.S. Olympic team. As a marathoner, Galloway was intimately familiar with the toll running took on the body. In the 1970s, Runner’s World magazine estimated that about two-thirds of runners reported some form of injury – from shin splints to stress fractures – in any given year.

Many of those injuries, Galloway determined, were the result of trying to go too far, too fast. So he started his Galloway running program, which stressed the novel approach of running/walking.

The author, about to graduate from fall's Fit-tastic program.
The author, about to graduate from fall's Fit-tastic program.

“We can set up a run/walk ratio that will allow a beginner to sense some degree of success,” says John Lineberger, who oversees the Galloway program in Charlotte. “If an individual is new to running we can make the run 30 seconds, or 20 seconds, or 15 seconds, or 10 seconds of running followed by one minute of walking.” That ratio is gradually shifted as the runner is weaned off walking.

“A lot of people are prejudiced against Galloway,” says Gore, who enrolled in the Charlotte program to train for her half marathon. “They think the walking part is sissy stuff. But I was able to do 11:36 miles in my first half marathon, and I felt good the next day.”

So successful has the Galloway method proven that it’s been adapted for shorter runs. Especially popular are programs preparing nonrunners to run a 5K (3.1-mile) race in three months or less.

Amanda Clark, assistant manager of the Fleet Feet store in Raleigh, says the store’s 3-year-old No Boundaries program draws about 80 participants; Dexter Pepperman with Run for Your Life in Charlotte says that store’s program, offered five times a year, attracts about the same. Like most run/walk programs, these include at least two training sessions a week, coaching, seminars on training and nutrition, e-mail support and a T-shirt.

Most participants are female – about 70 percent, estimates Clark – and ages range from the 20s to 70. Some want to run the entire race; others are content to walk 3.1 miles.
Run/walk programs are driving a running renaissance that’s seen the number of runners in the U.S. increase 57 percent over the past 10 years, to 35.9 million, according to the National Sporting Goods Association. In 2008, the NGSA reported that running/jogging was the nation’s fastest-growing form of exercise.

* * *

Jean Hagen-Johnson, a charter member of the 10-year-old Beginner Women’s Running Program sponsored by the N.C. Roadrunners Club, says another reason run/walk programs are popular is the moral support. “What I gained the most in the running group,” says the 56-year-old Raleigh resident, “were the really nice friends who enjoyed running for the health benefits and the social aspect.”

Runners struggle together in the group format, they support one another and they advance together.

Georgia Hagen, Jean’s sister and the founder of NCRC’s beginner program, says the main reason women join the program isn’t to lose weight, although that motivator is up there. Rather, it’s to develop a consistent exercise program. The set workouts two or three days a week, the coaching and the sense of camaraderie can have a profound impact come graduation at the program’s target 5K.

“We have had women quite overweight. When they come across that finish line they have tears streaming down their faces,” Hagen says. “They’re so appreciative, so happy. It’s just so rewarding.”

Additional reading

To read more on the current running boom and what’s fueling it, go here.

To ready more about the walking-to-run philosophy, go here.

* * *

The programs


Running Start
Briefly: 11-week program, target race is Race for the Cure 5K on June 12.
Starts: Training began March 27 (late sign-up allowed).
Sponsor: Carolina Godiva Track Club.
Cost: $45 (includes club membership).
More info: gary.schultz@verizon.net or the club Web site.

No Boundaries
Briefly: 12 weeks, target race is Race for the Cure 5K on June 12.
Starts: Began last Wednesday (sign-up through April 4)
Sponsor: Fleet Feet, Raleigh.
Cost: $85.
More info: Fleet Feet at 832-8275 or here.

Briefly: 13 weeks, target race is Race for the Cure 5K on June 12.
Starts: Under way (began March 15; late sign-up allowed); fall session begins in August.
Sponsor: The Athlete’s Foot, Raleigh.
Cost: $60.
More info: 828-3487 or here.

Women’s Beginner Running Program
Briefly: 10 weeks, target race is NCRC Women’s Distance Festival 5K on Sept. 26
Starts: Late July.
Sponsor: N.C. Roadrunners Club.
Cost: $75 (includes club membership).
More info: womenbeginnertraining@ncroadrunners.org.

Raleigh Galloway
Briefly: Five-month program, target race is City of Oaks Marathon and Half Marathon on Oct. 31.
Starts: May 22.
Sponsor: Jeff Galloway Training Programs.
Cost: $159 for first-timers, $99 for alumni.
More info: 270-0365  or go here.

Sole Sisters
Briefly: 10-year-old, 14-week, women-only program, target race is Race for the Cure 5K on June 12.
Starts: Began March 9. Registration for this session is closed.
Sponsor: Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, NC Cancer Hospital.
Cost: Free.
More info: 843-8057, or the Web site.


Interval Running Training
Briefly: 10 weeks, target race is 6th Annual Morrison 5K/10K on May 15.
Starts: Underway (began March 11, late sign-up allowed).
Sponsor: Ballantyne Village YMCA, Charlotte
Cost: $40, $30 for facility members.
More info: (704) 716-4680 or the Web site.

Run for You
Briefly: 9 weeks, target race for current session: Right Moves for Youth Twilight 5K on May 8.
Starts: Underway (began March 16, late sign-up allowed) Coming sessions: May 15, Aug. 3, Oct. 12.
Sponsor: Run for Your Life, Charlotte.
Cost: $99.
More info: (704) 541-9665, or the Web site.

Charlotte Galloway
Briefly: Five-month program, target races vary.
Starts: May 8.
Sponsor: Jeff Galloway Training Programs.
Cost: $159 for first-time marathoners, $99 for marathon alumni, $95 for first-time half-marathoners, $75 for half-marathon alumni.
More info: runwalk26@yahoo.com, or go here.

4 thoughts on “If you can walk, you can run”

  1. “Shoes: This will be your one expense.”

    I beg to differ! Many women need to spend $50-$60 for one good jog bra, and unless you do laundy very frequently you’ll want at least several of them.

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