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

By , SparkPeople Blogger
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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SDANLSON 4/8/2020
It can make a difference if running triggers exercise induced asthma and/or you have peri joint problems (fibromyalgia). Report
CECELW 3/23/2020
this sounds like a good alternative to running. Report
EVIE4NOW 2/28/2020
I find it much easier on the knees. Report
DRMOM4U2 12/16/2019
I love race walking; I was sidelined by significant Achillestendonitis but look forward to resuming. Would love to find a race walk clinic so
I can work more on form. But it was a great way to train and complete 4 half marathons. Report
SPINECCO 9/25/2019
Great article. Report
I have heard of this & it sounds like finding a coach to keep an eye on your form - at least initially - would be helpful. Once I get my walking up to speed I want to give this serious consideration. Will look into this further, thanx. 🐨 Report
Thanks for the great article! :) Report
Thanks for the info. I would like to learn so will be looking for videos. Thanks again Report
Great article. I've had serious piriformis muscle pull. It isn't fun! Report
I have done this before and during the last few kms of a half marathon, I was passing some joggers - I will try it again - thank you! Report
Glad I came across this article. Running is not going to happen so I just walk faster. Now I can do it properly.Unfortunately , just discovered the piriformis muscle after trying kettleball for the first time with a wee bit too much energy. Report
Sounds interesting. Report
I’d love to learn Report
Thank you for the information. I might look into it further. Report
I injured my knee skiing several years ago and my running days were over. Every time I ran, my knees would become edematous and to avoid surgery I gave up running. A friend told me about racewalking and I fell in love with the sport. Report
Sounds great...............Thank You. Report
I’d like to properly learn! Report
Great advice!!! Report
I have to try that since I cannot run anymore Report
I've been interested in speed/race walking for quite some time. I am going to try it but will need to do it on a track because the sidewalks/streets where I live are mostly cracked and uneven. I have started to use the arm movements as my Tabata session, so I could get used to that. Walking the "funny" way like the Olympians is going to be a challenge especially going solo. I've tried to find local groups in my area but there aren't any. Guess I'll just put my big girl panties on and strike out on my own. Report
This article was a little heavy with rules/technique that sounds a little more daunting than I want right now. I completely ruptured my left achilles tendon and after surgery to re-attach it back together, it did take almost a year (including a splint, 3 seperate casts and a black boot along with 8 months physical therapy) to get back to being able to raise up on my foot. I've done more jogging after that than I have in my entire life! I try to speed walk and it seems to aggravate my shin splins, heels and knees more than if I just go to a soft track or indoor track and jog. I may be alone with this opinion, but it's like they say, "everything isn't for everybody". Report
It's time to bump it up a notch. I've been walking at same slow speed every day. Thanks for the nudge. Report
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 Report
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! Report
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.
Never heard of this but might have to give it a try Report
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. Report
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. Report
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! Report
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. Report
Most of us would do this if we were in a RUNNING race, anyway. LOL Report
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! Report
One more way to change the routine and up the "ante" at the same time. Thank-you! Report
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! Report
Sounds great i walk everyday Report
Does race walk means power walk? If so then I prefer that rather than run or jog. Report
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. Report
Hmmm...I may try this! Report
Thanks for the article. I have been interested in this subject for a while now. Report
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!!! Report
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. Report
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. Report
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 :( Report
Looks interesting and I would love to learn the proper technique so as to reduce injuries. Report
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..... Report
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?


(I found it!!) Report
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 Report
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. Report
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. Report
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 I’ve 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 haven’t quite gotten over the disappointment of not becoming a runner yet – I’d had such visions of myself running for hours like a gazelle. Instead, I do the chicken walk. Ah, well. At least I’m up and moving, right? Report