A blog by runners. For runners.

All about race walking

race walking | photo US Army, CC license

Race walking (not to be confused with speed walking or power walking) is a technique used by walkers and runners who are looking to increase their speed and endurance. It’s also a long distance athletic event in the Olympics with 20K, 50K, and 50-mile events. So, whether you’re looking to learn ways to walk faster or farther or to improve your running race times, this technique might spice up your regular routine.

What differentiates race walking from running is primarily the form. In fact, with regard to pace – some race walkers might beat out runners. If you take a look at the top performers in the 20K, for example, the majority of the times would beat out even my best running race effort for that distance. Yes! Race walkers can reach paces up to 8 or 9 mph!

What, then, is the major differences between this sport and running?

  1. 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.” Instead, it’s a fluid movement where the foot strikes come one another another – with one foot on the ground at all times.
  2. There’s also a two-leg support period during each cycle of pushing off, swinging, and weight acceptance.” In other words: Your front foot must touch before your back foot can leave the ground.

If you watch a video of race walking, you’ll notice right off the bat how the heel to toe foot strike is prominent. It may look like it hurts or is awkward (even humorous), but surprisingly – race walking allows both walkers and runners to train more days each week all while avoiding injury. The secret is in the lower impact and better attention to overall form. So, if you’re prone to aches and pains, it’s definitely a sport worth looking into.

Beyond the physical benefits, runners who incorporate race walking into their training have seem some significant gains. Take, for example, 30-something Patricia Hopkins, who completed her best-ever Boston Marathon after learning how to race walk. After taking a short course, she decided to incorporate it into her training every other day. She finished 3:38 at Boston and followed up this PR with another 7-minute best with a 3:31 at the Disney World Marathon. (Here’s more success stories focused on race walking for runners.)

Walkers, on the other hand, can reap rewards too. The overall rocking motion of race walking allows walkers to move their entire bodies more efficiently. This means increased speed and, in turn, longer distances over shorter periods of time. Better yet? Versus standard power walking, race walking allows walkers to burn “two to three times as many calories over the same amount of time.”

Where to begin: Well, you can find a useful tutorial covering race walking form on YouTube. Or trying looking up a race walking course in your area. From there, practice makes perfect. Try incorporating race walking into your routine once or twice a week. The speed will come after the form falls into place.

Beware that not everyone promotes race walking. Jeff Galloway, for instance, advocates bursts of walking throughout a run, but says that power or race walking can aggravate the foot or lower leg. As with any new sport, you’ll want to ease in no matter what you do. Happy walking!

Written by Ashley Marcin / Photo via US Army, CC license, click here to see full picture