Gladwell Thresholds and the Galloway Method

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Last week, I started listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast, Revisionist History.  I nearly skipped episode 3, The Big Man Can’t Shoot because it was about pro-basketball players, and since I’m not into pro-basketball, I figured it wouldn’t interest me.  Oh, how wrong I was.

In a nutshell, the episode talked about a player named Rick Barry, who shot his free throws underhanded (or granny style) and had incredible success with this method.  He taught it to Wilt Chamberlain, a notoriously terrible free throw shooter, and his percentage shot way up for that season.  But the next season, he was back to overhand throws because he felt stupid shooting underhanded.  It didn’t matter to him that he was more successful, he preferred to follow the traditional style of shooting, even if it meant making fewer shots.

Gladwell links this to his threshold theory.  If you have a low threshold, you care less about what others do and do what works best.  If you have a high threshold, you are more likely to follow the crowd.  We’d all like to say we have a low threshold, but we can’t all be like Rick Barry.  He was mercilessly taunted for his free throw style, but he didn’t care, because it was the most effective way to shoot.  Wilt Chamberlain gave it a shot, but his threshold was higher.  He was more influenced by what was going on around him.

As I was listening to the podcast, I immediately started thinking about running, specifically the Galloway run/walk method.  The theory behind the Galloway method is simple – you take walk breaks throughout your run, and that little bit of energy conservation allows you to ultimately finish faster because you’re preventing fatigue.

I’m a Galloway runner.  I currently follow a 1 minute run/1 minute walk pattern, though if I find myself especially fatigued during a triathlon, I sometimes switch to a 30 second pattern.  And you know what?  Using a 1/1 pattern, I’m getting faster!  I’ve found something that works.

And yet I still sometimes feel the need to make excuses for the fact that I walk.  It helps that the Galloway method is becoming more popular, but there is still a lot of shame in a lot of people who run/walk, as if it’s any less of a successful method of getting from the start to the finish.

So often, I hear people say “I just want to be able to run the whole race.”  As if there’s shame in a walk break.  But the thing is, you may get shamed by other runners.  “Don’t walk, keep running!”  “Walkers shouldn’t start this far up in the corrals!” (Admittedly, if you are doing a run/walk, you had better stay out of the way of everyone else.)

I guess it depends on your goal.  If I can run an entire race at one pace, but finish faster doing a run/walk, I’m definitely using the run/walk.  I try to not worry about what other people think.  But it’s easier said than done.

I’ve had friends say “Oh, I’ll just stay back and run your intervals with you,” and then be unable to keep up with my intervals.  This is no stroll.  This is a run followed by a fast walk.  But it’s also not a straight run.  And I know plenty of people who refuse to try the Galloway method, even though they have seen plenty of people get faster by inserting walk breaks.  To them, it’s important to not be seen walking.

At the end of the day, we’re all hobbyists, so we should run our races in whatever method makes us happiest.  But maybe we should take a look at where our threshold lies and see if we can’t push against it a bit.  Maybe following the crowd isn’t the best way to go.


One thought on “Gladwell Thresholds and the Galloway Method

  1. It was really insightful.
    Thanks for such a nice content.
    BTW if anyone interested more have a look . thanks

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