Thursday, April 29, 2010

RunnerDude Chats with Jeff Galloway

A week or so ago, Lisa a good friend and running buddy of mine shared the exciting news that Jeff Galloway is going to be the featured speaker at a benefit being held in High Point, NC for GO FAR, a nonprofit organization that teaches youngsters about making healthy choices as well as training them for their first 5K race. I've followed Jeff Galloway since I was a youngster. Even though I was never very athletic as a kid, I always looked forward to the Olympics every four years. The very first Olympics that I remember and remember in vivid detail was in the summer of 1972. I loved stretching out on the harvest gold shag carpet in front of our black-and-white console TV with the rabbit ears on top watching the athletes compete. I also remember that summer because we finally got air conditioning in the house (a window unit in the family room).
I was only 7, but I remember a lot about those Olympics—terrorists taking members of the Israeli Olympic team hostage, Olga Korbut's outrageous backbend on the balance beam, Mark Spitz winning seven gold medals, and Frank Shorter winning the marathon. I also remember three members of the US track team—Frank Shorter, Jack Bacheler, and Jeff Galloway—because they had all been on the same track team at FSU. Today, I can barely remember what TV program I'm watching when I get up for a snack, but for some reason, I can remember vivid details from just about all the Olympics since 1972—when I was only 7. Does that mean in 30 years, I'll remember what TV show I was watching?

So, in addition to sharing the good news, Lisa (who's involved in organizing the GO FAR benefit) said it might be possible for me to interview Jeff, if he was interested. Soon after, I contacted Mr. Galloway and luckily he was gracious enough to accept the interview offer. I've admired Jeff and his career for many years and this interview instills further my admiration for such a talented and committed teacher, trainer, and athlete. Read on to learn more about my conversation with Jeff Galloway...

RD: I see you have North Carolina roots. I believe you were born in Raleigh, NC. How long did you live in NC?
Jeff: I was born in Raleigh. I spent several of the best years of my youth in NC, off and on. My Dad was in the Navy, and when he was at sea, we stayed mostly with my mothers parents in Raleigh. My grandfather was Director of Vocational Rehabilitation for NC for about 30 years. He would pick me up after school and take me to his "farm" on Falls of the Neuse road.

RD: Several years ago, I read where you had been overweight and not very athletic as a child. When I read this, it really endeared you to me. In one of your bio’s you mention how as a youth, you “searched for the lowest level of exertion you could get away with in exercise.” That was me to a T! I too was an overweight child. I think I may have been the original couch potato at least until age 13 when I decided to make a change. Ironically that was the same age you made a change. If I recall correctly, an after-school program requirement kind of forced you to make a change. Share a little about that time as a 13-year-old (an overweight, non-athletic 13-year-old) having to join a sports activity.
Jeff: Yes, I was a fat kid. Like many children in Navy families, I attended 13 schools by the time I finished the 7th grade. At this point my father became a teacher, we moved to Atlanta, and my new school required each boy to work out with an athletic team after school every day. Because of the moves, I had avoided sports and exercise, did not have sports skills, had become lazy, and had gained a lot of weight.
My patchwork of educational experiences had not prepared me for the demanding and competitive academic environment at this Prep school, and I was struggling. The principal's comment on the report card was “A little more of a push next year and Jeff will make the top half of the class” I was already studying more hours every week than most of the students I knew, who were scoring better on tests. I believed that I was intellectually inferior.
During the Fall I tried football, which was a total disaster from my perspective, and that of my coaches. Before choosing a sport for the next quarter, I asked several of the other lazy kids for their choices and was surprised to hear that many had chosen Winter Track Conditioning. The consensus among the slackers was that the track coach was the most lenient in the school. “Tell him you are running on the trails, and you only have to jog 200 yards to the woods and hide out.”
I did just that for 2 days. On the third day, an older athlete I liked, looked at me and said “Galloway, you're running with us today”. I quickly came up with my strategy: as we entered the woods I planned to grab my hamstring, claiming a muscle pull. But the jokes started right away, and I kept running to hear the punch line. As I began to get really tired, they started telling gossip about the teachers. I didn't last long the first day, but pushed a bit farther with them day after day and started joining the political and psychological arguments.
Most of these cross country runners were on the academic honor roll. But the controversial arguments led me to believe that I was just as intelligent as the others. Each academic period my grades improved and I too, made the honor roll. More important, I had become a member of the group and set a new standard for myself due to group expectations.
I was most surprised about how good I felt after a run. The after-run attitude boost was better than I had experienced after any activity, during my young life. The camaraderie and fun during those runs kept me coming back and after 10 weeks I was hooked on endorphins and friendship. I continue to be...over 50 years later.
It was commonly known, even back in the 50's, that over half of the cross country team members were among the best students and leaders in school organizations. University of Illinois Professor Charles Hillman, as reported by Newsweek magazine, noticed that the woman's cross country team set the curve on his neuroscience/kinesiology tests every semester. So he started a study of elementary children comparing physical activity with academic achievement. He discovered that the kids who were fitter, were also the best students. Various studies, around the world, have found the following:
  • Regular exercise increases the level of BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) necessary for learning, memory and higher brain activities

  • Regular aerobic exercise stimulates growth of new brain cells, at any age

  • Regular vigorous exercise causes existing nerve cells to work quicker and more efficiently

  • Even one 30 minute aerobic exercise session stimulates areas in the brain needed for critical thinking and produced better test results than before the exercise.
RD: Speaking of fitness and academics, your book FIT KIDS—SMARTER KIDS is a wonderful tool to help kids learn how to make better choices and become physically fit. I wish I had had a copy when I was a youngster. I’m sure your childhood experience was a key factor in your decision to write FIT KIDS, but what other factors contributed to your writing the book?
Jeff: I started writing FIT KIDS—SMARTER KIDS to help families, teachers and kids gain control over their fitness, vitality and attitude. After a meeting with several experts in this field at CDC in Atlanta, I was told to look into the connection between regular exercise and better academic performance. I list some of the many studies, showing this, in the book. It is clear that if teachers, school boards and parents want their kids to learn better, they need to encourage them to exercise—it unlocks brain cells.

RD: FIT KIDS is all about making fitness a family affair. If kids see their parents being active, they are much more likely to be active themselves. You definitely practice what you preach. Your wife Barbara is a very accomplished runner herself. How about your two boys, Brennan and Westin? Are they runners too? Share a little about fitness and your family.
Jeff: Barbara and I met on the track, she worked in the first Phdippides stores, and we were married about a year later. That's been 34 great years. Brennan and Westin both ran in high school and college and still run. Westin ran the 800 for Wake Forest and had a great collegiate experience there.

RD: Another aspect of “Jeff Galloway” that I find so intriguing is that you’re a spokesman for the average runner and walker. With your amazing credentials, you could spend 100% of your time working exclusively with elite runners, but instead you devote much of your time to the everyday runner. Your commitment to sharing with others how to make running a lifestyle that can stay with them a lifetime is awesome. What inspired you to move in this direction? Why reach out to the regular everyday runner (like me)?
Jeff: My father (Wake Forest grad) founded an innovative school, and struggled against odds to make it a success. He worked with individual kids, teachers and parents, to help each unlock learning blocks and assume responsibility for his/her own education. I saw the joy he received as individuals were empowered. I found the same joy in helping individual runners solve problems and tell me the amazing empowerment they receive as they push past their challenges without injury. I hear from about 100 runners every day, and have found solutions to almost all of the problems experienced.

RD: The Galloway RUN-WALK-RUN™ method has its critics, but the fact is it’s helped thousands of runners successfully complete marathons all over the country—the world for that matter. Most critics are silenced when they learn that experienced runners have even PR’d using the method. I think it’s an awesome alternative to the traditional method of race training. How did the method evolve?
Jeff: You're correct—every year I hear from hundreds who qualify for Boston by using run-walk-run. We started using it in our Galloway Training Program groups in the 70's as a way for couch potatoes to finish a marathon, without injury, in 6 months. But more and more of the veterans used it to recover fast, doing what they wanted to do even after very long runs. During the last 15 years, we've fine-tuned it to help everyone stay injury free—even the Boston qualifiers.

RD: I hear from runners all over the country and try to share as many of their stories on the blog as I can. Their stories are so inspiring. Just the other day after a run in the park, I bumped into a friend of mine, Joyce (who's an avid walker). She's in her 70's and she was telling me how frustrated she was that over the winter she wasn't able to walk as much as usual due to all the bad weather we've had. She was upset, because she was now off her walking pace by several minutes. I want to be like Joyce and get mad when I'm off my pace when I'm 74. What an inspiration! You’ve coached runners of all abilities all over the world. Share a little about one or two runners you’ve coached or worked with that for whatever reason made an impact or impression that’s stuck with you over the years.
Jeff: In my various books I have written the stories of many "heroes" who overcame major challenges to finish marathons. In every case they discovered hidden strengths that improved the quality of their lives in many ways. Lee Kilpack for example, started running at the age of 59 to recover from a round of chemo therapy. She discovered a life enrichment that took away the depression of the cancer threat. She is not free of cancer today but is much happier, more energetic, loves life each day—which was not the case during her pre-cancer/pre running years. Iris Vinegar joined our Galloway Training group in Raleigh at the age of 74, to fulfill a "bucket list" goal. She discovered a new self understanding that "age is just a number". More than a dozen marathons later, at the "number" of 82, Iris looks better, feels better and runs smoother than ever. Among the studies cited in my RUNNING UNTIL YOU'RE 100 book are those showing that each hour you exercise, extends life statistically by 2 hours. The quality of life enhancement is an even greater benefit.

RD: Man, if gaining 2 hours of life for every 1 hour of exercise doesn't help get people to exercise, I'm not sure what will. Many sedentary people give the excuse that they don’t have enough time to fit in running or fitness, yet you manage to stay fit, and still run competitively even with a schedule that has you presenting workshops all over the country most months of the year. How do you manage to fit in the running and exercise needed to keep you in shape?
Jeff: My experience, which is backed up by research, shows me that my daily run helps me solve problems quicker, do more work during the day than when not exercising. The last 4 presidents exercised daily. If you're using the excuse "No time for exercise", then ask yourself "Am I more busy than the President."

RD: What tips or advice do you have for all the readers who are just beginning a running program or maybe still in the thinking-about-running phase?
Jeff: First, try to find a group. In our Galloway GETTING STARTED groups, most tell us that they would not stay with the program if they didn't have their group. If you just have one friend, form a 2 person group.
Start by running for 5-10 seconds/walking for the rest of the minute. Start with 10 minutes and increase by 3-4 minutes each workout (every other day). After you've reached 30 minutes with no problems, increase the running to 10-15 seconds/walking for the rest of the minute. After 3-6 sessions, if you wish, increase by another 5 seconds of running/decreasing the walking by 5 seconds. Never try to run continuously—use walk breaks from the beginning to give you control over your fatigue.

RD: What’s new on the horizon for Jeff Galloway? Will you really still be running at 100?
Jeff: Yes, my goal is to run until I'm 100 and, at 64, I'm well on my way. Since 1979, I've not had a running injury—that's when I started taking walk breaks. Every day I communicate with an average of over 100 runners. As I hear about the ways my suggestions have reduced injuries, sped up recovery, improved finish times, I fine-tune my methods used in my running schools, Galloway training programs, wonderful retreats and e-coaching. I pledge to never stop looking for ways of enhancing the running experience—which enriches life.
Keep an eye out for Jeff's newest book CROSS COUNTRY due out in the fall.


Nicki said...

Thanks to both you and Jeff for a great read this morning!

RunnerDude said...

Thanks, Nicki...and yes...thanks Jeff!!

Dena said...

Great interview! I love his column in Runner's World. Seems to be a very down-to-earth guy.

RunnerDude said...

Thanks Dena! I look forward to his RW column each month too.

misszippy said...

How cool! Thanks for sharing this interesting info. I'm sure you were on cloud nine after talking with him!

run with Jill said...

great post. I'm going to pick up a copy Jeffs book (fit kids). I run a non-profit kids fitness program with elementary kids in the Seattle area.

Jeff is an inspiration and doing great work. Thanks.

Heather @ Side of Sneakers said...

This is my favorite interview of yours I've read!!! Thanks to both of you for sharing :)

Kruns2 said...

Way to snag that interview! Great read. Using Jeff's Run/Walk method is how I've gotten back into shape after each of my three kids. Recommend it highly!

RunnerDude said...

Hi MissZipp! I was pretty dang cool!

RunnerDude said...

Hi Run With Jill! That's awesome. I'm headed to your website now!

RunnerDude said...

Hi Heather! Thanks!!! Appreciate your support!

RunnerDude said...

Hi Kiesha! That's an awesome endorsement. Jeff should get a quote from you!

Kerrie said...

Great interview!

Lorenda said...

Yes, he is dedicated to the average everyday runner--
Jeff was the speaker at the pasta dinner for the Rocket City marathon a few years back and after speaking he went around the room to EVERY table and talked to every single person there. I ended up buying the Run till you're 100 book that night. There is a lot of good information in that book.

Unknown said...

I love all the interviews you do! It's always so interesting to hear how others started running and why they keep running. This interview was great too!

kara said...

My very first running book was "Galloway's Book on Running." He is my guru - and has kept me running injury free!
Thanks for posting this great interview.