Walking Up A Notch: Racewalking Considered

A friend told me about a racewalking clinic with the London Pacers in London, Ontario. Essentially it was an occasion for racewalkers to hone their walking techniques, or for non-racewalkers to find out more about this sport. Racewalking is an Olympic event. It has its own rules and judging criteria. If one compares the results of the average runners, racewalkers, and  power/fitness walkers, the racewalkers’ pace is closer to the runners’, and significantly faster than a power/fitness walker.

Even though I am a walker with some racing experience, I have not considered myself a racewalker, for the simple reason that I have not attempted to adhere to the forms and rules of racewalking. Some years ago, when I started walking, I attended a clinic conducted by Dave McGovern, who coached the USA racewalking team, to find out what it’s about, but for various reasons I was not able to carry on with racewalking afterwards. The London clinic seemed an excellent opportunity for me to get back to some basics again. Maybe I could improve my walking speed?

The day began with Sherry Watts (Level 4 race walking coach*) giving a short introduction  on the basic rules, techniques and proper form in racewalking, as well as the choice of shoes. Then we went out to practice. My group was coached by Sharon O’Leary, Ontario 20K racewalk champion. We went through the hip swing, the straight leg landing, the hind leg push off, the “pop” to extend the stride, and arm movements.

We were individually given tips to improve on whatever aspect that needed the most  correction. We were videotaped.

The afternoon session included a talk on training for races,  bio-mechanics of racewalking and a critique of our forms. It was very helpful for me to know that despite my ability to perform a straight knee and heel landing, my foot flopped too soon and this had been limiting my stride.  I was advised to work on my toe push off with my hind leg.

The reason I enjoy walking as a sport is that it is inexpensive and convenient. The only equipment I need is a pair of good shoes. I can walk whenever and wherever I like, without depending on the availability of a gym, a court or a field. Walking is also an all-season sport.

Above all, I like the fact that the techniques I learn can change the way I move my body and how it performs. My body is both the agent (admittedly, directed by my brain) and the tool. By this I mean I am not performing with the help of a piece of equipment, like a tennis racquet. My shoes matter but this is for protection inasmuch as it is for facilitating performance. If I maintain my body well, I can manipulate it to hopefully achieve the desired results. (I can think of two other activities which fall into this category: the floor exercise in gymnastics and singing.) Of course, this may be easier said than done, given all the known factors that can affect sports performance. For now, I have a new goal and I like the challenge. I ‘ll try to walk up a notch.

(*The Canadian National Coaching Certification Program [NCCP]  has five levels. Level 4 coaches are qualified to coach athletes competing in the Olympics.)

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