Running further and better: What is Jeffing?

‘Jeffing’ – sounds dirty, but isn’t – is the run/walk strategy that many runners adopt for long distances, created by Jeff Galloway, an American Olympian and the author of Galloway’s Book on Running. Now, I’ll start by saying that it’s not for everyone. It takes a lot to stop and walk, particularly from the very first mile, and particularly during a race. But starting Jeffing as part of my Ultra training has, quite literally, been a revelation. No injuries so far, greater distances, similar average speeds.

We spoke about how Jeffing has improved our long-distance run training in our Ultra running podcast series, but in this blog, I’m going to break down what it is, who benefits from it, and why you should give it a go before you laugh it off.

What the hell is Jeffing? Introducing the Jeff Galloway method

Jeff Galloway’s ‘Jeffing’ was born when he decided he wanted to develop a way of helping runners to achieve their distance goals in a manageable way, whilst minimised fatigue and injury. 

JeffGalloway (@JeffGalloway) | Twitter

“Galloway designed this method in 1973 to help beginners start running. Strategic walk breaks allow each runner to control fatigue, virtually eliminating significant running injuries. Numerous surveys show that veterans tend to improve their finish times when they shift to Run Walk Run.”

http://www.jeffgalloway.com/about/

Jeffing basically enables runners to complete longer runs with less stress on the body, as well as provides them with a race strategy to maintain a steady pace without dropping off in the latter stages of the run. Having previously crashed in the final 10 miles of a marathon, this is something I am very familiar with! So, training for my first ever Ultra, I wanted to put Jeffing to the test.

Jeffing has been a critical part of my running in the last year, helping me run further and minimise injury. Previously, when training for the Brighton Marathon 2019, scaling the miles resulted in numerous injuries. Some were niggles, some were more serious and required physio treatment. Now training for an Ultra, I’ve had none of those injuries and I put that down to Jeffing. What’s been equally interesting is that as I’ve scaled distance and introduced Jeffing into my longer runs, my average pace has barely changed. It does appear that I hold my pace a lot better than I previously did.

Most of my training runs now use the Jeffing method, a 4:1 ratio between running and walking. So I run for 4 minutes, walk for 1 minute. But it’s important to say that Jeffing can be used with any distance and ratio. Beginners may do 1 minute of running, and 2 minutes of walking, for example, while more experienced runners may walk for a minute after 9 minutes of running. The general rule is, as you get fitter, you gradually increase the amount of running and reduce the amount of walking.

The benefits of Jeffing

I’ve had a few discussions recently with runners of various abilities and those who are keen runners all laughed at the idea of run/walking. That’s fine. As I said, it’s not for everyone. And it isn’t really for short distances – I wouldn’t Jeff a 5 or 10k race, for instance. But for endurance runners and anyone looking to scale up to, say, their first marathon, I’d say give it a go. It surprisingly does work and your overall pace is minimally impacted, if not improved.

Here are a few reasons why you should try it:

It’s a manageable way to ease into running

If you’re starting out, Jeffing provides a really easy entry into running. The run/walk strategy breaks the run into small, manageable chunks, so the overall run feels less daunting and you can focus on reaching an upcoming break.

You can change the run/walk ratio to match your fitness level

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to Jeffing. You commit to it from the very start, and you tailor it to what feels comfortable to you. For instance, if you are struggling with the 4:1 ratio, try three minutes of running, two minutes of walking. The beauty of it is that it can be tweaked to suit any fitness ability. As you get fitter, you can simply introduce longer running periods.

There is less strain on your body

Jeffing works by introducing active recovery into your runs. These walking periods help to reduce your heart rate and cut down on the constant impact on your joints and bones, thus reducing overall fatigue and your risk of injury. For endurance events, the hardest part is often making it to the start line without injury. Jeffing massively improves the chances of avoiding injuries and stresses and getting you to the start of the race.

You can cover greater distances

Jeffing enables you to run further and for longer, without breaking down physically or mentally. As mentioned, breaking the run into smaller chunks makes big distances more manageable, and active recovery walking breaks ensure better form and energy levels for the running section. Plus, you can fuel easier during the walking breaks. I use the breaks to hydrate and take on energy gels if needed.

It helps you win the mental battle

Longer runs are often more of a mental than a physical battle. Jeffing helps you mentally recover as well, resetting your frame of mind each time to go again. When the running gets really tough, it can help when you know there is a strategically planned walking break coming up.

You’ll run faster over longer distances

This one is often the most disputed benefit. ‘How can you run faster if you are taking walking breaks?’ is what I often get asked. Well, Jeffing prevents burnout in the latter miles so the idea is that your pace stays consistent throughout, rather than drops off when the going gets really tough. That means you’ll finish the race feeling fresher, and you’ve got a better chance of running negative splits for the second half of a run (meaning the second half of a run would be at faster mile splits than the first half). Often, it’s the other way around and runners start out fast and then slow down and stop to walk at parts anyway. With Jeffing, you run slightly faster during your run intervals to hit your desired finish time.

Getting started

Jeffing is great for both beginners and anyone looking to improve running distances or times, especially if they’ve plateaued before. You can get started by working out your baseline mile pace using the Magic Mile, which then tells you what pace you should run for long runs and what your run/walk ratio should be.

“The most common reason identified for injuries in distance runners is running too fast on long runs. Most people who run too fast don’t have a clue as to what too fast is.  The magic mile can tell people that.”

Jeff Galloway

Takeaways

The one thing Jeff Galloway says is critical is using the walk breaks before you start to feel fatigued to gain the full benefits. Simply put, this strategy does require you to do it from the very first mile to reap the rewards. On marathons or races, that can be tough as, if you’re like me, you won’t want to be walking in the early stages of the race.

Just remember though, walking isn’t giving in or cheating. It’s a strategy. And it’s a clever one. In my experience, Jeffing does work! I’ve spent hours pouring over my stats pre and post-Jeffing and I’ve drawn some conclusions:

  • My average pace has remained the same
  • I can run further, without pain
  • I recover faster and feel less strain the next day
  • I am more comfortable running longer distances, and I enjoy the run more
  • I’ve got fewer injuries than I previously did

What would I use it for? For me, the biggest benefit of Jeffing is training without injury. So for marathon runners, particularly those running either their first or second marathon, anyone who gets injured a lot when running big distances, or beginner runners, I think it’s perfect. I wouldn’t Jeff a half marathon race or below, but I would Jeff recovery runs as well.

Finally, I asked my cousin and ultra runner James Randall, who is a far more experienced runner than myself, has plenty of marathons under his belt, and has added Jeffing into some of his training, what he thinks of it.

“I think Jeffing is an essential addition to any regular runners’ armoury. The beauty of Jeffing is that you can tailor it to suit whatever needs you have. You can increase or decrease the running:walking ratio; you can make the running sections quicker; and you can change those to suit different distances and workouts too. I’d thoroughly recommend anybody tries it before dismissing it, as I did for far too long before embracing its benefits.”

James Randall

James’ first ever marathon was 4:09:50, and he “ran” all the way. Recently, he Jeffed a marathon from mile one and finished with a marathon time of 4:08.

Have you tried Jeffing? Tell us about your experiences. If you haven’t, give it a go!

Chris Smith
Founder of Vivi Nation, sports enthusiast, occasional triathlete, keen cyclist and optimistic Liverpool FC fan.