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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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. Report
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. Report
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... Report
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. :) Report
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. Report
Timely blog for me as I am a newbie runner. I just completed my first 5k engaging the walk/run method. I saw the backs of several "race walkers" as they passed me during the race. I must admit, it looks a little odd, (chickens come to mind ;) but I am curious and may just throw this in the mix to preserve my joints and stave off injury. Thanks much for this! Report
After a car accident, I got severe back spasms when I tried to return to running. I have started swimming instead but really miss being outside. Would race walking be safe to try? Report
Crazy as this sounds, I started race walking while I was pregnant because I couldn't run anymore. At 5 months pregnant, I was at a 13 minute mile pace and won my age group in a 5k. My form wasn't always perfect (and I didn't care because I knew I was going to return to running) but it was a really nice way to be competitive and stay active while pregnant. If running isn't your thing or you physically can't, I definitely recommend race walking. Report
great idea. Report
I saw some pretty tremendous race walkers during an event earlier this month. A great option, and your pacing can be fantastic for the method! Thanks for sharing! Report
This seems like a terrific idea and change of pace. Easier than running. The new skeetcher shoes teach you how to walk exactly like that. ( I tried them but haven't bought them yet) They help you maintain the heel to toe style of walking with a straight leg. I might try this. I would be fun. Report
Not sure if my body would allow for this or not. I know I try walking fast, but not sure of the form for this. Report
Yes I have seen and actually done race walking myself. My Mom was the one who showed me it a long time ago. I have not done race walking in a long time but since I am not much of a runner and will never be this article brought that back into mind of different ways to work out. Report
Race walking used to be called marathon walking used to do it when i was young and the lady in the video form is the right way to do it.only sorry with two strokes i can't do it anymore . yes you can marathon walk on a treadmill. Report
This sounds great, but personaly, I'd probably feel too ridiculous doing anything other than leisurely walking - running or biking it'll always be for me! Report
i don't think i would be able to maintain this style of walking. i have bad knees and hip joints and while the videos were very informative it's looks painful to me! i've seen people doing this (california) and while it looks funny i know it's a good workout, in fact i've never seen anyone race walking that look out of shape.

i'm looking for ways to change up my exercise. the mindset to keep moving/exercising has finally set in and i enjoy reading about different options people use to do that. thanks for the info tanya! 8-} Report
I'm not an expert but the how-to video doesn't seem to have proper form, sorry. Report
It is wonderful, but in the winter I don't race walk, it is to inconvenient. Report
What's the difference between "power walking" and "race walking"? I call "my walk" power walking and I'm traveling between 13-15 min/mile. I have lost over 20 pounds doing my power walks in the last 3 months. :) I now see more people power walking in this very small town in North Central Pa.

I don't swing my arms wildly (as one person put it), I just walk with my arms bent, like I'm jogging. I like to count to myself too. I don't count the usual 1-2-3-4 step count. I like to count 1-2-3, that way I find that I don't step harder on one leg.

Just a little FYI -
Please remember that hybrid/electric cars are very quiet. They can be hard to hear with the wind in your ears. If your wearing ear buds listening to your favorite tunes when working outdoors, please beware of your surroundings. Report
Yes I have heard of Race Walking before, but never tried it. I should try that.. I was an athlete when I was very young, may be this will help me to start and get back on track. Report
Never heard of it. I've been an avid walker for a little over two years now and I recently started jogging. Within a couple weeks I injured my knee area and I am just starting to feel better after taking 12 days off. I'll have to check this out, thanks for the blog and the links. Report
I've never heard of it but it sounds like a great way for people who aren't runners to still get out and exercise. Like me! Report
I've recently taken up running and I worry about the impact on my bones and joints. So far, so good, but race walking is a great alternative to running. Report
I've never heard of Race Walking. I would love to try it though. Thanks sharing! Report
Thanks Tanya! I enjoyed race walking many years ago, long before I took up running. Now that injuries prevent me from running, maybe I will go back to race walking! Report
A former co-worker of mine was a competitive racewalker and I used to see her and her racing partner training on our local walking paths. I didn't notice anyone staring at them, though--and I'm in the midwest! It is a university town, though, so maybe that makes a difference. We're accustomed to variety! Report
Good article thanks for the ideas. Do most people race walk in their own neighborhoods or is a track and field area necessary? Report
I began running as a way to lose weight back in 2002. I ran my first half marathon in 2003, and 4 half marathon races in 2008. In January of 2009, I began training for a June marathon.

In May, after a 24-mile training run, the pain in my knees became too great. I was diagnosed with severe osteoarthritis in both knees. Now that my cartilage is gone and my knees are bone-on-bone in places, running is no longer an option for me. Since the diagnosis, I have struggled to replace running with various kinds of exercise, most notable cycling. Unfortunately, I have gained 7 lbs in the absence of running's cardio benefits.

Before reading this article this morning, a fellow Sparker, Patty, asked if I had ever considered race walking. I joked that I was no stranger to "race walking"—my transition to runner happened the day I actually passed a jogger on my walk. I have to admit, I've always considered race walking to be a funny-looking activity—something I would never do. I've seen race walkers swinging there hips and arms wildly at the lake, and chuckled to my running partner. But, after reading this article, my interest is piqued. I actually watched the helpful video links and will give the technique a try during my walk today.

No chuckles, please. Report
I love to walk but I really need a good workout to keep up my weight loss. I can't run more than a few steps. It hurts my back and knees too much. My feet can't take the pounding. I would like to learn more about race walking in order to extend my walking program. Thanks for the information. Report
This is pretty timely for me as well, since I can't run because of stress to my ankles and knees and am having difficulties with regular walking because of my meralgia paresthetica (a major nerve in my hip getting pinched and causing my outer thigh to go numb... technically not a problem at the time, though weird feeling, but it could become permanent if I don't take care). I can still walk but have to keep stopping to stretch. But race walking might offer another alternative that just might not be a problem for any of that! Thanks for the heads-up! Report
this is a timely blog for me. after many many years of running as my favorite cardio exercise, i recently started having sciatic nerve issues and can't run. yesterday was my first attempt at fast walking, and i was surprised at how effective a workout it was! i hate the fact that i can't run right now, but it will be fun to play with the different race walking technique tips the links in this blog offer. Report
Race Walking sounds like a great workout. I would like to try it, but do not really have a safe place available. Can you race walk on a treadmill? I do have one of those!

Thank you for sharing this great idea for an alternative for those of us who are not or can not run. Report
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