Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Sat, 6 Jul 2002 12:33:18 -0400

Jeff's Judges

RUNNING COMMENTARY 421

Jeff Galloway showed up seven hours before the Edmonton Marathon's start. His fans and followers wouldn't arrive until later, and for now he was helping to pitch a tent and set up tables and chairs for the day.

Jeff would answer questions and hand out advice and encouragement for hours. No question would be too small or repetitive for an answer, and no runner would be too humble for a tip and a good wish.

Watching him in action, you couldn't imagine a less likely candidate for controversy. A more-interested-in-runners, more-dedicated-to-running guy you'll never meet.

Jeff Galloway is one of the wise elders of the sport. But a certain group of critics can't seem to forgive his success in attracting a following. Or for not living in his Olympian past by advising only would-be Olympians. Or for saying it's okay to be slow and -- gasp! -- even to walk.

The critics usually haven't gotten to known Jeff, haven't read him and haven't heard him speak. I've done all three, which is why the attacks annoy me so.

Jeff Galloway is almost a second brother to me -- one I see more often than my own brother. And I feel another type of kinship with him.

More than 30 years ago I felt some of the wrath that he's feeling now. My booklet LSD (short for long slow distance) dared to recommend slower, easier training. I never claimed this was the one best way for everyone, only an option for some (like me) who'd run into speed traps.

Critics who didn't know me and never read the booklet cried "heresy." Some still say that LSD was a plague from which the sport hasn't fully recovered.

Jeff faces much the same criticism, but more so. With 100 times more runners now than I dealt with in the early 1970s, there are that many more potential critics. Some of their comments are more harsh than any I ever heard.

Honest disagreement is expected and encouraged. But when it turns too personal, it must be exposed and answered.

Speaking out recently in a widely read publication was Robert Johnson. With twin brother Weldon he fills the LetsRun.com website, but this time Robert wrote for FootNotes, the RRCA's magazine. He is its new "State of the Sport" columnist.

He devoted six of his first 12 paragraphs to Jeff Galloway. This wasn't an expression of devotion.

Johnson's column began mildly: "Before I rip him to shreds, let me first give him some high praise. Galloway has helped more people finish a marathon than anyone in the history of the world, and for this he should be commended...

"My problem with Galloway is that he promotes the notion that finishing a marathon with walking breaks is the same as running the entire thing. It is not."

A difference of opinion; fair enough. But then Johnson shifted from slamming Gallowalks to shredding (his term) Galloway.

"It's disgraceful," he wrote, "that a former U.S. Olympic distance runner is dumbing down the sport we all love. Where's the admiration and respect for the elite competitive athletes who train their butts off and actually run the entire race?"

I've appeared with Jeff at races and camps dozens of times. He's consistently admiring and respectful of hard-training competitors. He simply spends most of his time advising never-to-be-elites.

The term "dumbing down" irritates me. This favorite of certain critics carries the unsavory connotation that anyone who doesn't aspire to eliteness, or doesn't advise runners to train and race like the elite is ignorant.

That thinking is doubly wrong, both divisive and untrue. Calling recreational runners harmful to the pros is like saying rec-league basketball hurts the NBA.

Wrapping up his Galloway critique, Robert Johnson turned sarcastic: "I hope the tens of thousands of Galloway disciples don't have heart attacks if they learn that Jeff actually ran the entire 1972 U.S. Olympic Trials 10K."

Jeff is perfectly capable of answering the critics himself. But have you noticed that he rarely responds, even to the most wrong-headed and mean-spirited attacks?

Nor does he ask his many friends and followers to defend him. We do it anyway because we believe in him even more than in his methods.

After reading Robert Johnson's column, longtime Gallowalker Cathy Troisi wrote to FootNotes: "Admiration and respect for the elite competitive athletes who train their butts off has not died. It's alive and well -- at the back of the pack.

"Those of us there, with our longer clock-time performances, have 100-percent appreciation for those who run the entire race. In no way do we minimize what they do and how they do it. We respectfully request that they do the same for our efforts and accomplishments."

Start with those of their leader, Jeff Galloway. He better than anyone knows the wants and needs of both groups.

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