If Running Doesn't Work for You, Think About Race Walking

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
10/22/2009 11:13 AM   :  77 comments   :  15,650 Views

See More: fitness, walking,
Recently at the dailySpark, we have celebrated with Coach Nancy and Coach Jen as they successfully completed the Chicago Marathon. We have also heard about how their training motivated Coach Nicole and Coach Stepf to take up running to successfully complete a race as well.

As an athlete I have run for conditioning for most of my life. After having thyroid surgery in 2002, I took up running more seriously as a mode and method for weight control. Between 2002 and 2004 I ran in several marathon relays and 5 K's as well as a mini-marathon and four half-marathons. Unfortunately, thyroid disease trumps half-marathon training and my weight slowly climbed up anyway. During the training, old ankle and knee injuries resurfaced as well. I also suffered a partial Achilles rupture while playing volleyball, which took me well over a year to rehabilitate. Because of all of this, I took a break from running and ventured into biking and other cross-training options. I seem to only find time to work out at 5:30 in the morning which leaves little opportunity for training challenge when you live in the suburbs. After several years of riding the same early morning routes, I had become burnt out on biking. With all the running talk swirling around the office, I had thoughts of taking up running again. After several weeks, many of those old injuries resurfaced and left me really sore and miserable for the rest of the day regardless of the workout duration and intensity. I tried switching to a run/walk method to see if that would work better. It was during that running to walking transition one morning that I re-discovered race walking.

As a transitioned from a run to a walk I naturally slipped into the race walking gate briefly. I was first introduced to race walking back in college when a teammate showed us how to do it as an off-season training alternative. She was from Florida and it was somewhat popular down there and didn't get the strange looks that it did/does in the mid-west. After deciding that running and run/walking weren't really working, I did a little online research and decided to give race walking a try.

Race walking has guiding definitions that sets it apart from running. According to the USA Track and Field Association, "race walking is a progression of steps so taken that the walker makes contact with the ground so that no visible (to the human eye) loss of contact occurs. The advancing leg must be (straightened - i.e., not bent at the knee) extended at the knee from the moment of first contact with the ground until the leg is in the vertical position." Does it sound confusing? It did to me too at first but to put it more simply, you must roll the entire length of your foot over the ground and one foot must always be touching the ground. There are many videos on the web that can help you see what that definition looks like in action.

Technique is everything when learning to race walk and learning the proper technique in the beginning will not only help you with speed down the line, it will reduce your risks of injury as well. Beginning race walking pace is typically between 10:00 mins/mile to 15:00 mins/mile so there is plenty of room for speed improvement as your technique improves. I am currently at about a 13:00 mins/mile pace and able to comfortably go for a 3 mile race walk. My current goal is to get that 3 miles down to a 12 mins/mile pace.

As you start race walking, try to make conscious transitions between regular walking, race walking, and running. In the beginning, it was difficult for me to tell when my form was correct. Then I would get frustrated because I would slip back and forth unknowingly between a racing walk and a regular walk. I would jog and then slip into my racing walk but as my legs would fatigue I would quickly fall into a regular walk. Take the signals your body is offering and the next walk try to go a little further in racing form. As your form improves and your muscle strength and stamina, you will find your stride begins to feel more smooth and deliberate. Be patient and take small steps. Because you will be using new muscles differently, be sure to focus your stretching time on the new muscle groups used in race walking. The piriformis is a small muscle in the buttocks that you don't really notice until it becomes aggravated when it can irritate the sciatic nerve. The IT Band consists of fibers running along the outside of the thigh between the gluteal muscles and the connective tissue below the knees. The shin muscles are also engaged more than in regular walking because of the deliberate heel strike and rolling motion of the foot. All of these areas are used differently in race walking and can easily become irritated and sore when you are starting out. Be sure to stretch well, include a proper warm up and cool down and work up slowly in your race walking time and training.

Race walking provides many of the benefits of running without the pounding on your body. Race walking not only provides a challenge, it also is physically intense as you improve in form and speed providing a great cardio workout. If you have not been able to run for whatever reason but you are looking for something more challenging for your fitness than just a walk in the park, consider race walking. Experts say it takes about six weeks to learn with an efficient form and a lifetime to master. I agree that it takes time to learn and am looking forward to the challenges of mastery.

Have you ever heard of race walking? Is it something you might try in your fitness routine?


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Comments

  • 77
    I get shin splints when I jog so this might be perfect for me. I don't mind looking weird...I do when I try to jog too. I'm too busy being in the zone and listening to music to notice if anyone had laughed - 8/16/2014   2:56:01 PM
  • 76
    Glad to find this article! I wish I could find a group in my area that did this... mostly just running groups around here. I can no longer run due to knee issues, but have been working on speed walking. I did a 5K last weekend with an average of 14:11 per mile and was quite happy with that.... Thank you! - 4/30/2014   11:17:45 PM
  • 75
    I'm glad I found this article. I think this is what I've always considered power walking or speed walking.
    I've been struggling with the desire to run again, and the fear of worsening a knee injury. I'm currently walking a 13.2 min mile over 4 miles. I think I'll have to research this some more, (wish they included more links) and see how it goes. Definetly gives me hope and something to aim for.
    - 3/31/2014   12:48:11 PM
  • 74
    Never heard of this but might have to give it a try - 10/26/2011   10:20:08 AM
  • 73
    I think this might be just what I need. I am unable to really run or jog, but need something more than walking now. When the temps here get above freezing for more than 1 day at a time, I will give it a try. - 2/10/2011   1:44:18 PM
  • TIMSEAMAN
    72
    Great article! If you would like even more information on racewalking you can check out two books from racewalkclinic.com, they are: Race Walk Faster by Training Smarter, or Race Walk Clinic in a book. - 2/3/2011   10:27:22 PM
  • CHERRYBOMB180
    71
    I race walked for exercise at least 20 years ago and wish now that I never quit. I just finished a route I normally walk, and put some of those race walking techniques into what I did. Nearly an hour later, I can still feel how much more intense of a workout it is! All I did was swing my arms and take smaller steps, which actually makes you move more quickly. The arm swing is actually around your body from waist to nipple height and the faster that you swing your arms, the faster your feet move. I would suggest anyone interested get a book to study your form because the whole sport is about moving as efficiently and safely and as fast as you can. When I did this race walking on public roads many years ago, people would point and laugh, but that would make me smile too! I doubt I had ever smiled while exercising before. My "SPARK" has been re-ignited! - 5/20/2010   9:24:27 PM
  • 70
    I have tried racewalking because I thought it would be a good substitute for running, which now gives me shin splints no matter how careful I am to stretch. However, I ended up with a high hamstring pull and racewalking seems to aggravate this. So, I'm back to walking/running, sadly. It's frustrating too, because I also have thyroid "issues" and losing weight is hard for me. - 3/22/2010   5:44:25 PM
  • 69
    Most of us would do this if we were in a RUNNING race, anyway. LOL - 1/16/2010   2:37:58 AM
  • 68
    Yes, I did my first racewalk last April and got thru without gettting disqualified. It does take some serious concentration indeed. I have signed up for a 10 week class starting next week to get further experience, instruction, advice to keep it going. I think many are thinking of using it in conjunction with running as it helps with their speed. I hope to participate again this year! - 12/31/2009   3:40:24 PM
  • 67
    One more way to change the routine and up the "ante" at the same time. Thank-you! - 12/31/2009   8:11:42 AM
  • 66
    Would be interesting to try. I love walking and have been jogging most of the time. I enjoy that too. But speed walking may be a change to when I just walk. Thanks! - 11/3/2009   1:00:59 PM
  • 65
    Sounds great i walk everyday - 10/26/2009   12:34:30 AM
  • FLUFFY_KITTY
    64
    Does race walk means power walk? If so then I prefer that rather than run or jog. - 10/25/2009   12:27:31 AM
  • 63
    I did walk the Susan Komen in 2006 here in Houston. It is a 5K run/walk. I was planning on doing it this year but I work on Saturdays now. - 10/24/2009   4:27:28 PM
  • 62
    Hmmm...I may try this! - 10/24/2009   2:33:00 PM
  • 61
    Thanks for the article. I have been interested in this subject for a while now. - 10/24/2009   1:28:37 PM
  • 60
    YAY!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you for finally posting a blog about an alternative to running! I was beginning to think I was the only person in the world who was not a runner! I will definitely bookmark this and read over it again to make sure I understand the race walking technique. Then I may give it a try! Thanks again!!! - 10/24/2009   1:23:10 PM
  • SCHALA
    59
    I'd definitely love to try this. I started developing pretty bad foot and ankle injuries after doing an 8-mile run earlier this year, so jogging has become painful while regular walking just isn't fast enough for me. This sounds like a good intermediate alternative. - 10/24/2009   12:53:18 PM
  • 58
    I love that you are sharing alternatives to running on the daily spark... now that I'm a healthy weight I can run, but before I lost the weight, I once injured myself pretty badly because I didn't know all of the alternatives. - 10/24/2009   9:21:17 AM
  • 57
    I already do a rudimentary form of this. As I can't do an impact exercise like jogging because of my joints, so I walk everywhere I go, but its no kind of workout for me unless I go as fast as I can go without breaking into a jog. I discovered this rolling hip, heel to toe walk was just what I needed. But there is nothing like this near where I live if at all, so I have no one to challenge me :( - 10/24/2009   1:02:20 AM
  • CINDYLYNN223
    56
    Looks interesting and I would love to learn the proper technique so as to reduce injuries. - 10/24/2009   12:38:21 AM
  • 55
    yes race walking used to be an event in the senior olympics.....I'm not sure if it still is., In florida there is alot of people who do this..... - 10/23/2009   8:25:04 PM
  • 54
    Remember when you were a kid and were running in the hall at school? A teacher yelled at you to slow down and you took smaller steps but you tried to go very fast.

    That is much like power or race walking. Just walk faster than normal till you get short of breath, slow down but keep moving. When you get your breath back, try walking faster again. Repeat.

    I find that using music matched to a particular pace is very helpful. I'm still using tapes that I bought years ago when the SportWalkman was the latest thing in electronics! At that time I bought them from a Co called SportsMusic, before the internet. The company might still be around. Can you tell that I'm OTD?

    http://www.workoutmusicvideo.com/po
    werwalk.html


    (I found it!!) - 10/23/2009   7:31:31 PM
  • 53
    I have heard of race walking and I have seen some people in my neighborhood practicing. I have not tried it myself but would like to try sometime so I could eventually walk a marathon - 10/23/2009   4:46:10 PM
  • NEWLIFE2DAYANNE
    52
    This is something that I could probably do. I can't run do to knee issues. Infact when I walk really fast, this is similiar to how I would perform.
    Thanks for the great info and a new cardio exercise. - 10/23/2009   4:21:35 PM
  • 51
    I have heard of race walking, but I don't know any of the tehniques or the form for doing it. I currently have a 12-13 mpm pace for 8-10 miles using basicly the same form as when I run. - 10/23/2009   2:48:24 PM
  • MYINNERBOUDICA
    50
    I have tried to become a runner several times over the past couple of years but have been unable to make it past the five minute runs without being too out of breath and developing agonizing shin splints. During the past several years Iíve also lost 85 pounds, walked three half marathons, have dropped my body fat down to 20.17%, and developed both a weight training and yoga practice, so the fitness level and skeletal framework should be there. I still run intervals a few times per week but have gone with race walking instead for my other cardio workouts. I havenít quite gotten over the disappointment of not becoming a runner yet Ė Iíd had such visions of myself running for hours like a gazelle. Instead, I do the chicken walk. Ah, well. At least Iím up and moving, right? - 10/23/2009   12:28:47 PM
  • 49
    I love the idea of racewalking. I have tried it and like you, am not sure of form. But I do have the general idea. Keep on trying is my motto. What about calorie burn. Would it be the same as regular walking? - 10/23/2009   12:10:15 PM
  • 48
    Sounds interesting. I don't do well running on most surfaces (a good tredmill works) so this would be something to try in place of running when I am outside. Thanks for the suggestion. - 10/23/2009   11:58:13 AM
  • 47
    A neighbor of mine just race-walked the Portland Marathon. She's 63. She did a marathon 15 years ago, but her time was better this year!

    If she can do the marathon at 63, I think I can get off my butt and do a couple miles.

    Her husband can't race-walk, because of hip problems, but I've seen him cruising the hills in my neighborhood with his Nordic walking poles. I gotta get a pair of those. - 10/23/2009   11:34:05 AM
  • 46
    I watched a couple of videos of it, it looks so unnatural and painful to the hips! I can't believe people can do this! I'd rather just go for a regular walk. - 10/23/2009   11:25:21 AM
  • 45
    I've always loved walking, especially in New York City. Recently a friend (a fellow NYC walker) turned me on to MBT walking shoes, and I'm totally hooked. My gait is completely changed -- better posture, rolling step from the heel, shorter gait. Never thought about race walking (actually never even heard of it), but I think I might have stumbled on to race walking form just as an outcome of wearing the right foot gear. Now that I've read your blog I'll consciously work on perfecting that form. Love it!! Thank you for the guidance and the links to the videos. - 10/23/2009   11:07:59 AM
  • 44
    I think race walking used to be called power walking. I have heard of it, and I've heard it described as you described it, Tanya. I haven't been able to make the transition from walker to runner (I'm nervous about injuring myself), so race walking sounds great! I'm going to give it a try. Thanks for re-introducing this activity to me! - 10/23/2009   10:48:06 AM
  • 43
    I have never heard of this before now. I will review the techniques and try it. - 10/23/2009   10:32:02 AM
  • SLOPEZ80
    42
    Sounds very interesting - I started up running this summer, but have since lost all momentum. This might be a way to get a great workout with great results - I'll definitely give it a shot after researching the proper technique. - 10/23/2009   10:26:31 AM
  • 41
    I have tried to race walk before I took up running. For me it is harder. The few races that I did were a real workout. It takes alot of concentration to race walk and not slip into a regular walk. - 10/23/2009   9:58:33 AM
  • 40
    Thanks for a great article. I've always wanted to try this and now I will after using the info and links you've provided. - 10/23/2009   8:57:10 AM
  • RHYNIC
    39
    I have tried a few miles of race walking this summer. On short run I would also put in one mile race walk at the start and the end of my run. I liked it and some day just might take it up. - 10/23/2009   8:51:16 AM
  • 38
    Yes, you've really made me think about learning this sport. I love to jog but since I broke my right fibula in 2008 and had a plate and 5 screws put in and taken out of my ankle, I'm not too anxious to put the strain of jogging on it. Race walking may be the answer! Never considered it...hmmm.

    I live in Michigan so this probably won't transpire until spring being realistic. I'm not a snow bunny, I prefer 60s or better - even 50s isn't that bad). Something to look forward to. There is a chance I'm going to California for a month so it could happen sooner, we'll see where the wind takes me.

    Deb
    - 10/23/2009   8:49:22 AM
  • 37
    I have never tried racewalking, but it sounds interesting. - 10/23/2009   8:45:15 AM
  • 36
    I don't know if my form is correct...but I really like race walking. I've never raced before, but since I joined SP, I felt like I could do it. So far I have race-walked three 5K's.
    Can't handle running, but I do enjoy my fast-paced gait and have done it in a decent time. - 10/23/2009   7:15:27 AM
  • 35
    i power walk, but any type of racing is out for me due to feet problems and BIG BIG boobs. Have tried all types of bras but it just doesnt work for me - 10/23/2009   7:11:39 AM
  • 34
    I haven't tried race walking but I do power walk. I have completed 4 marathons power walking at 15 min miles. The last one I did the first half in less than 14 min miles but I couldn't sustain it for the duration. I plan to look into the differences and see if I can move into the race walking category for my next marathon. - 10/23/2009   7:07:25 AM
  • 33
    I have been wanting to learn this but no one here does it. Thank you for the links, I will just keep trying until I learn to do this! - 10/23/2009   6:55:40 AM
  • 32
    I love race walking - currently at a 13.5 minute pace. Seems to be much better for my knees than running. And yes - it can be done on a treadmill in winter or in not-so-great neighborhoods. - 10/23/2009   6:22:58 AM
  • 31
    So glad to see something other than running being mentioned. The doc has said no running due to bad knees. Now, I'm on the hunt to find a hobby/sport that is good for me. - 10/23/2009   3:05:18 AM
  • 30
    So... I'm not the only one inspired to run again after hearing all the running talk around SP... LOL

    I haven't tried "race walking," but I do power walk... Currently trying to break a 15-min mile. Can't *quite* seem to... - 10/23/2009   1:27:58 AM
  • AMARANTHA2
    29
    I have done racewalking but jogging just works better for me ... lol ... jogging is actually easier than racewalking and I don't like all the rules.

    This is a good blog, great making people aware of racewalking, which is an old, old sport but a lot of people aren't familiar with it.

    Racewalkers can achieve amazing speeds and it is a more intense gait, in my opinion, than running.

    Somebody asked about doing it on a treadmill. That doesn't seem feasible to me. I'd like to know the answer to that. :) - 10/22/2009   10:19:45 PM
  • 28
    I LOVED race walking! I was training for competition but due to knee problems...

    Unfortunately I am no longer able to walk for exercise, race walk, or let alone, run (notice how much running is promoted here). The running stuff, it's kinda irritating for me, as I am unable to participate. - 10/22/2009   9:41:48 PM

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