Pittsburgh Marathon Runner Profile: Victor S.

As part of my Pittsburgh Marathon Runner profiles, today you get to meet Victor S. Victor is an Steel City Road Runners (SCRR)coach for the Galloway program and will be running the full marathon.
Victor with an ice sculpture with reflections of PPG

How long have you been running and how did you start? How long have you been an SCRR coach? How long have you been following and coaching the Galloway method?
I never considered myself a true runner as I always had weight issues, but really started to use running in my late 30s/early 40s as a form of exercise and weight control (that was about a dozen years ago). However, due to some episodic pinched nerves and sciatica pain, my running tapered off. Then after watching my wife run marathons and half marathons, and gaining some weight because I wasn’t running as much, I decided to ramp up my commitment in October of 2012 just as Steel City Road Runners was offering training for the 2013 Pittsburgh marathon.

I went to an orientation and heard about the Galloway run-walk method and thought that would be a great way to try to tackle a half marathon (13.1 miles) given that the longest race I had run before that was the Great Race 10K (6.2 miles). The problem, though, was that the Galloway half marathon training wouldn’t begin until the end of January and I was psychologically ready to start then. So I signed up for the Galloway full marathon training that started in October, and gave myself permission to drop down to the half if I needed to. Surprisingly, those long Saturday group runs kept on getting longer and longer and I was able to keep up and finish the full marathon in May 2013. I continued to use the Galloway run-walk method for longer races, but was able to increase my stamina to run some shorter races.

After completing my second marathon using Galloway in May 2014, I was asked to co-lead the Galloway training groups for the 2015 Pittsburgh marathon. Our full training group started in October 2014 and the half training group started this January; we have 51 people signed up. I think what has helped generate interest is that you have someone like me, who is 53 years old, who ran his first marathon at 51 using the Galloway method. But perhaps more significantly, one of our younger elite runners and coach used the Galloway run-walk approach (albeit much more running and less walking) to finally qualify for the Boston marathon—a goal he had been unable to do. So you can see that it isn’t just for old, slower people, but for anyone.
Victor before last year's downtown YMCA Turkey Trot with
his two daughters and his wife

What advice do you have for people who feel intimidated by taking walk breaks? I know some people feel it's hard to start running again after taking a walk break.
I have to tell you that one of the most annoying things I experienced was during my first marathon at about mile 17 in Highland Park --some folks had a sign that said “No walking zone” or something like that. My first reaction was, “Let’s see you out on the road here with me before you judge others how they should approach and accomplish something that many people imagine doing.” But my annoyance didn’t last long because I knew this was the approach I needed to take to tackle such a huge challenge.

Then there is what I would call the “guilt” you feel if you take a walk break, that somehow you are inferior. I got over that when, during training runs, I noticed I would pass joggers. At first, it was a cat and mouse game, where the jogger would pull ahead while I walked, but then I would pass on the run. Eventually, there was no more leapfrogging because I was way ahead. The irony is that you run faster during your run portion and your walk is actually a pretty fast pace. So your average pace may be faster than your jog pace.

Some folks think it will be hard to stop and start, but you aren’t sprinting and then walking. It’s more of a fast jog and fast walk. And you get used to it very quickly. Galloway timers are great tools because you can set them for your run/walk interval and it beeps and/or vibrates to tell you when to run and when to walk. After a while, it becomes like Pavlov’s dog, where it is automatic.

Perhaps the best part of the walk is that you can catch your breath and engage in conversations with your group members. You get to know them. It becomes a social thing. I don’t find it easy to run and maintain a conversation aside from a few grunts and head nods, so this has made “running” a much more enjoyable experience.

Victor, an ice sculpture (around First Night festivity time)
and 2 Galloway runners

Can you use the Galloway method and still get faster and achieve a time goal? If so, how does that work--I assume you do the run portions at a faster pace than your overall target pace?
As I noted above, one of our elite runners used Galloway to qualify for the Boston marathon; something he couldn’t achieve with just running. So you can improve your speed as well as distance with Galloway. And yes, you do tend to run a bit faster in the run portion than you may normally jog. It’s a matter of averaging your running pace and your walking pace, based on what your interval split is between the two. Those variables can be modified and should be tested to see what works best for you and your goals. Galloway won’t make you a 5 minute miler if you are a 10 minute miler, but it will help you go further than before and can shave time off your overall pace.
Would you recommend the Galloway method for runners looking to run their first marathon, even if they have never used the Galloway method for other races? Would you recommend Galloway for half marathons?
Galloway is a great approach for someone who has been injured and is trying to get back into a rhythm. It is lower impact than a continuous run. It provides your body with a recovery time every time you walk. Therefore it reduces the stress and toxins that may otherwise build up in a straight run.

As I noted above, Galloway is a great way to tackle a first-time half or full marathon. It makes it less intimidating and definitely more achievable. We had a runner who was a half marathoner but wanted to tackle the full but was having IT band and knee issues. He was in pain after a recent 8 mile run. I suggested he come out with our Galloway full training group on our next long run, which was 12 miles. He completed it with nominal side effects, and said he felt better after this longer Galloway walk/run than he did on a shorter straight run. He is now training injury free for the 2015 Pittsburgh marathon and just completed a 20 mile run/walk in the training program.

Any advice on the Pittsburgh course for those doing the race for the first time?
Yes, I have 3 pieces of advice.
  1. Make sure you train on the course. You don’t have to do it all at once, but definitely do it segments at a time. And if you are fortunate enough to be part of a running group that can provide water and food stops, try to do all your long runs on the course. Psychologically, it helps you envision the course. I like to compartmentalize the course in sections, and tackle them one by one so I don’t psych myself out about the fact that I am tackling 26.2 miles. I take one segment at a time, complete it, and move on to the next one.
  2. Understand that you will hit the wall at some point. It is inevitable, but also realize this is where the race becomes mostly psychological. If you can convince yourself you can make it, you will will yourself to the finish. Of course, proper hydration and knowing what energy foods will work for you before you actually run the race will help you from focusing your energy and concern on the location of the next port-a-potty, assuming cramps don’t crimp your run entirely.
  3. Take in the sights, the sound, the fans, the experience. It helps keep up the adrenaline. Just be careful you don’t come out of the gate too fast or with too much enthusiasm because you will need it later in the race.
Are you trying for a specific goal for the marathon?
Yes, the elusive PR (personal record). I was actually a couple of minutes slower my second time even though after the race I had fewer after-effects. I could actually walk up and down stairs normally the next day whereas it took me 4 days to recuperate after my first full. I had real hopes that I would significantly improve my second marathon time as I finished my first in 5 hours 45 minutes and my first half split was so much faster. But for me, at this age, and given the competing demands of my job and family that really make it difficult to train how I probably need to in order to improve my time, I will be happy to get across the finish line with no injuries.

Anything else you'd like to share?
Don’t ever say, “I am ‘only’ doing a half, or feel pressured to do the full. You will be better off tackling a distance that you buy into. A lot of it is psychological, so you have to have your heart and brain in it, not just your legs. Having said that, one of the best motivators is a group of friends like my Galloway group and the Steel City Road Runners. They provide so much encouragement and support without which I never would have been able to achieve what I have. I am definitely one of those people who need group support and love the camaraderie of my SCCR peeps.
Victor front two, second to right, with other Galloway runners
on an SCRR group run
I don't know about you, but I loved reading this! I've previously been interested in trying the Galloway method, and this makes me even more interested. Thanks, Victor!

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