By Bonnie Stein, M.Ed.
Before I became a fitness instructor, I remember competing in a racewalk in Fort Lauderdale. I was coming into the finish line as the first place woman when right in front of me a male racewalker collapsed at the finish line. I had no idea at the time what caused it since he looked way too young to have a heart attack. It turned out that it wasnít a heart attack. He collapsed because he stopped too soon after vigorous exercise without a proper cool-down.
When you exercise intensely (as in a race) your heart is vigorously sending blood to the working muscles. When you stop abruptly, like the racewalker who fell down in front of me did, blood pools in the extremities and can cause you to pass out at the least and have a heart attack at the worst. Not cooling down properly is the mistake that I see most often which scares me the most.
While judging the Good Life Games (Pinellas Countyís version of the Senior Olympics) in St. Petersburg in March, I saw some common racing mistakes that Iíve seen over and over during my 19 years of racewalking. If any of these sound familiar, you are stealing seconds from your race times as well as possibly risking your health.
ē Looking down
Try racewalking with your chin on your chest and youíll get an extreme example of what it feels like to cut off your breathing while racing. In his book, Advanced Racewalking, Martin Rudow says a racewalker should scan the ground about 12-20 feet ahead. Just donít look straight down. It slows you down, puts stress on your neck, and impedes your oxygen supply Ė something you need plenty of while racing.
ē Slowing down when approaching the Finish Chute
Iím not sure why racewalkers do this, but I see it all the time. Theyíll pick up their pace when theyíre a quarter mile from the finish line, but then slow down as they approach the chute. Maybe itís the relief of reaching the finish line and so they start to relax when they see it ahead. Instead you should race right through the finish line and slow down once youíre through it.
One caveat Ė at the Good Life Games we had three judges positioned at the finish line to make sure that the racewalkers were complying with the rules of legal racewalking. Two racewalkers received warnings (disqualification calls) at the finish line of the 1500 Meter Racewalk on the track. Both were because they were racing each other and starting to lift.
Iím suggesting that you pick up your pace within the rules of legal racewalking, or at least keep a consistent pace. Just donít slow down until the race is over which is when youíve crossed the finish line.
ē Nothing is More Important than a Cool-down at the End of the Race
Food can wait. Filling out your finishing place-card can wait. Chatting with your racewalking friends to find out each othersí times can wait. Do a proper cool-down by walking slowing for at least 5-10 minutes to bring your heart rate back down. Ideally, do not stop walking around till your heart rate has come down below 100 beats per minute. No matter how pooped you are Ė never lie down at the end of a race.
Thatís the time to first grab some water, fill out your place-card and put it in the proper box, find a spot to stretch, and drink more water. Finally you can get some of the free food and goodies, chat with your friends and compare times. Lastly you can check on that guy who collapsed at the Finish Line because he didnít cool down.