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Introduction To Racewalking
By Phil Howell & Bonnie Stein, M.Ed.
 
After more than 300 years as a sport, and almost 100 years as an Olympic sport, racewalking is enjoying a surge of popularity in the United States.  Persons of all ages and levels of fitness are beginning to realize the potential value of using racewalking as a central part of their fitness program.
 
Bonnie's Youth Racewalking Group in St. Petersburg
Bonnie with the youth racewalk team in St. Petersburg, Florida
 

The Tampa Bay area is fast becoming one of the major centers of racewalking for fitness in the United States.  It is home to hundreds of racewalkers who can be seen in the neighborhoods and in local running and walking races.  Some enjoy the competitive sport of racewalking; others simply appreciate the value of using racewalking technique in their on-going fitness program.

 

 

 

Whether you are interested in basic fitness, setting world records or something in between, try racewalking . . . and come walk with us!

Competitive Racewalking

Racewalking is much more than just walking fast.  An Olympic sport since 1908, racewalking combines a unique blend of endurance and technique to propel elite walkers at surprisingly high rates of speed.

Olympic Racewalker Curt Clausen at the 1998 Pan Am Racewalk

Rules

Racewalking has only two technical rules:

Contact with the ground must be maintained at all time -- this differentiates racewalking from running

The knee of the supporting leg must be straight as soon as the foot makes contact with the ground -- this differentiates racewalking from other forms of walking.

Within this framework, competitive racewalkers spend countless hours perfecting their form to produce a smooth and fluid stride that can maximize their speed while meeting the two technical rules

Certified judges position themselves on the race course to observe the racewalkers.  When, in the opinion of three different judges, a walker violates either of these two rules, the walker is disqualified from the race.

Competitive racewalkers train hard to beat other walkers, set new personal records, or simply be as fit as they can be.  World-class athletes are capable of walking at very high rates of speed, as fast as 6 minures per mile.  Most local competitors typically race in the 8 to 14 minutes per mile range.

So ... Why Not Just Run?

Racewalking provides ALL of the cardiovascular benefits of running.  Just as a runner can jog or sprint, a racewalker can walk at any speed - maintaining any heart rate up to his or her maximum.  But racewalkers enjoy certain advantages over runners.

Racewalkers get a much better upper-body workout than most runners because of the accentuated use of the back, shoulders and arms.

Racewalking is much less injury prone than running.  Because of the smooth and fluid stride, the body lands with much less force than in running -- resulting in less pounding on the feet, legs, knees, hips and back.  Because of an erect posture, racewalkers rarely encounter back problems.  The prospect of fewer injuries brings many runners into racewalking, allowing them to extend their fitness programs and competitive careers well into their golden years.

 

Remember ... you do not have to race to racewalk!

Cardiovascular fitness is based primarily on how high the heart rate is elevated and for how long -- NOT on how far or fast one travels during exercise. When done at the same heart rate and for the same period of time, running, racewalking and other aerobic activities provide similar cardiovascular benefits.

History of Racewalking

Competitive walking appeared in England by the early 17th century as aristocrats wagered over whose footman was fastest. With sizable sums at stake, noblemen sought footmen with speed and stamina. The sport had few rules. Competitors were expected to use a "fair heel and toe" technique, trotting as necessary to ward off cramps, but not running.

Competition between footmen gave way, during the second half of the 18th century, to men racing against time over long distances. "Pedestrians" (as the walkers were called) could win very large fees, and side bets were common. One of the more popular goals involved covering at least 100 miles in less than 24 hours.

In the early 1800's, head-to-head races returned, and pedestrianism spread to America. Town-to-town races, supported by gambling, became quite popular. Female pedestrians appeared in the late 1800's. Excesses in wagering, however, eventually encouraged running -- and professional pedestrianism faded away.

 
   
 

Niceville Racewalking Clinic, April 2006

 

In the 1880's, amateur "racewalking" emerged at private sporting clubs in large cities. It was introduced into the Olympics in 1908 for men (in 1992 for women). The Olympics now include racewalks of 20K for women, and 20K and 50K for men. At 31 miles, the men's 50K racewalk is the longest Olympic road racing event - - - 5 miles longer than the Marathon!

Racewalking style has evolved from one of wildly gyrating hips (the fodder of many laughs) to one of fluid movement that directs almost all energy into forward motion. Top racewalking form today is as smooth as top running form.

Racewalking is now very popular in Europe, Russia, China, Australia and Mexico -- where a racewalk can draw more than 50,000 spectators. In the United States, it is finally gaining popularity as more people see walking as a legitimate, relatively injury-free vehicle to fitness at any level. Today, there are several thousand competitive racewalkers in the United States, and the number is growing rapidly.

 

This page last updated on 02/13/2007 09:30:04 PM -0500

 
2007 by Bonnie Stein. All Rights Reserved.

LIMITS OF LIABILITY AND DISCLAIMER - The authors and publishers of this newsletter have used their best efforts in preparing the articles and information contained within it. Additionally, you are advised to consult with your doctor before beginning an exercise program. The authors and publishers make no warranty of any kind, expressed or implied, and shall not be liable in the event of incidental or consequential damages.

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