Runner and author Jeff Galloway

Runner and author Jeff Galloway's favorite place for a run in Atlanta? Without missing a step, he says it's Piedmont Park. (©Jeff Galloway Productions)

Travel and Running: An Interview With Olympian Jeff Galloway

By Jennifer Coltrin on 03/19/14

If you’re a runner, chances are you know Jeff Galloway. Or his name, anyway. The lifelong runner competed in the 1972 Olympics (10,000 meters); is a monthly columnist for Runner’s World; developed the Run-Walk-Run training method; and is the author of the best-selling running book in North America, “Galloway’s Book on Running.” And he's just announced the debut of a signature race, Jeff Galloway 13.1, coming to Atlanta Dec. 14. And although he calls Atlanta home, he's not here very often. Rather, he's on the road 200 days a year. We caught up with him in Orlando.

Q: After reading your bio, I’m not sure how you fit it all in.

Well, having a good staff is the major thing. The other thing is that I find that I don’t need a whole lot of sleep. I’m great with 5 hours of sleep a night so it frees up some other hours that a lot of people don’t have.

Q: So what's in Orlando?

A: I am the Official Training Consultant for the Disney series of running events (runDisney), and this weekend is the Princess Half Marathon. The series has taken on a life of its own. Running events for Disney are now the single largest revenue source of any of their projects. It’s huge. They will put out that registration is open and races typically fill up within a few hours; 13,000-25,000 runners depending on the race.

Q: So what does an Official Training Consultant do?

A: My role here is to give people training programs that can keep them injury-free. We pretty much do that with a method called Run-Walk-Run.

Q: Ah, yes. Describe the program in a nutshell.

A: The bottom line is that each person has a chance to take control over their fatigue and stay away from injury by adjusting the Run-Walk-Run ratio to their needs. That said, the ratios are going to vary with individuals. What we offer is some rules of thumb on how often to take walk breaks based on feedback from more than 300,000 individuals who have used my program. It goes by pace per mile. And so at a 10-minute mile pace it would be a 3-1 ratio. Within each one of these ratios, you can figure out what works best for you. A lot of people will drop down and do more frequent walking and find that they run faster that way. It’s an ongoing experiment; I hear from about 100 runners a day.

Q: And what do they say?

A: At Disney here, the first Expo day was yesterday. We had a line, and at least every three minutes someone would come up and tell me I had changed their life, that there's no way they would have started running without it. It’s wonderful stuff. The bottom line is that running continuously is not something we were really designed to do. Anthropologists tell me that humans are inherently designed to run about 200 yards continuously. We can, of course, adapt to running a lot farther than that but we pay for it with every additional step. At some point, something’s going to break if you run continuously. But if you have the right Run-Walk-Run ratio, you erase the build-up of stress, you erase muscle fatigure, the muscle adapts as you’re going forward, you don’t raise your core body temperature, you don’t use up all your resources. As a result, people are able to do things they never thought they’d do.

Q: You definitely practice what you preach then, correct?

A: I sure do. As a matter of fact, I qualified for Boston in December running no more than 30 seconds at a time.

Jeff Galloway and other runners

Q: How many marathons have you run?

A: I’ve finished 185 marathons.

Q: Do you have any favorites that stick out?

A: Marathons are all different—the city, the personality, the course. I never can say that one is better than the other. You have different experiences. The ones I go back to because I like them are Big Sur Marathon (Carmel, Calif.) for its absolute beauty; Ogden (Maine), for the same reason; it's also a fast course. When it comes to hospitality and taking care of you, the Disney Marathon (in Orlando) in January is fabulous. You can reward family members for going through your training journey with you. For its charity function, I like the Breast Cancer Marathon in Jacksonville; almost every cent goes to breast-cancer treatment. And for overall experience there are two that stick out. One is Rome. You run through the landmarks. The second is Athens, which is actually the original marathon.

Q: Any still on your bucket list?

A: Not really. I will still look into some from time to time. I run once a month.

Q: How many miles do you put in a week?

A: It varies but if I had to put in an annual average, it’s usually about 40 miles a week.

Q: Does your wife travel with you?

A: Most of the time. I’m on the road 70 percent of the time. There are some trips she doesn’t want to do. The ones where I’m in six cities in four days kind of thing. But most of the time, she’s with me. And we run the races together.

Q: Can you give our readers some advice on running on the road? What items should they have?

A: Well, you need your running shoes. You need to have an outfit for winter and summer. I recommend just keeping a bag packed with just the minimal stuff. Other than that, it’s individual as to what people need. If you’re using Run-Walk-Run, we actually have a timer that beeps and vibrates and tell you what to do when.

Q: What’s your best advice for a beginner?

A: Don’t try to keep up with someone who’s been running longer and is faster than you. Run at your own pace.

Q: When did you start running?

A: I started in the eighth grade. We moved to Atlanta from Florida. I was a fat, lazy kid. My dad taught at Westminster. I enrolled in the eighth grade and was floundering around. They required boys to go out for athletics and some of the kids told me that winter cross country had the most lenient coach in the school. So I went out there and I fell in with a group of guys who were funny. So I enjoyed it. I realized it was doing something for my head. And indeed that was the case. Because as the months went by, my grades got better and better. I learned how to think better, I set my expectations higher because the kids on the cross-country team were on the honor roll. And just on and on. The ongoing research says the really exciting thing is what running does for your brain. It turns on the circuits that give you a better attitude, it turns on the circuits that give you better self esteem. It gives you a sense of empowerment and more energy. It’s positive stuff. Study after study after study has shown this. So as a result people get these good feelings and they don’t want to quit. They don’t.

Q: Do you run with or without music?

A: There are those, including my wife, who when they’re running by themselves find music more enjoyable. But I don’t like it.

Q: What are your favorite places to eat?

A: There are two that stand out. One is La Fonda; the one I go to is on Roswell Road. That’s probably the one that we go to the most often. I also like The Flying Biscuit.

Q: Where would you take your wife for a romantic dinner?

A: We don’t typically do that in Atlanta, I’m here so little, but Ray’s on the River is our special place in Atlanta. To be honest, most of our special weekends are spent on the road—Rome, Athens or Lake Tahoe where we do a running vacation every summer.

Seafood platter from Ray's on the River

Q: Where do you take out-of-town visitors?

A: Most of the people that come in to visit us are runners so we will go to Piedmont Park and run in that wonderful Midtown area, or down by the Chattahoochee River, Cochran Shoals or Columns Drive access points, or out to the Kennesaw Mountain Trails—they’re a little more exotic.

Q: Where would you direct out-of-town runners?

A: One good resource is my running stores, Phidippides. They’re not just running stores, they’re running centers where you can find out all kinds of information. The people that work there are very well connected and can tell you where to go, how to get there and where to avoid. 

Q: So you’re going to get to your goal of running till you’re 100?

A: Well that’s my goal. I’m certainly going for it.

Q: Are your kids local?

A: No, but one of them is going to relocate and join the business. My older son, Brennan, works for the WNBA women’s basketball team, the Connecticut Sun, but he wants to branch out and do some other things so we’re going to have him help us. He’s a very talented videographer and he’s produced two documentarie. So we’re going to really ramp up our social media and fun things that we haven’t been able to tell people about. My other son is out in California; he works for Asics. He is on the shoe design team there. We’re very proud of him.

Q: Anything left on your bucket list?

A: My life is running. I was very fortunate early on to find a way to help other people get into it and this is my greatest source of reward. Every day people tell me what they’ve been able to do because they’ve used my methods to get into running, or they use my methods to overcome problems when thought they were going to have to quit.

Galloway's favorite running routes and trails around Atlanta

Route #1: Start behind my Phidippides store in Ansley Mall (located in the Piedmonth Heights section of Atlanta) on the BeltLine trail and into Piedmont Park, and back to Phidippides. I love running through Piedmont Park and it is very close to Phidippides. 

Route #2: Start at my Phidippides store in Sandy Springs and run on the new sidewalks along Johnson Ferry Road, left on River Valley, left on Heards Ferry, left on Mount Vernon Highway and back to the store. It’s sidewalk the whole way with no major side streets. Mount Vernon is a ridgeline and not very hilly with sidewalks. 

Route #3: For a more invigorating run in a good neighborhood, start at my Ansley Mall Phidippides store, go up Piedmont to 15th street and then run our fast downhill 5K that finishes at Ansley Mall.

Trail running destinations for Atlanta: Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park has great trail running, and I like Chattahoochee River National Park—I mostly run the trails on the hill toward Sibley Pond.

Out and about on the Atlanta BeltLine