It was a gray, drizzly day in Willamette Park and I was having fun. I was learning something new and pretty amazing. I was learning how to walk. You’d think I’d know how by now. I’m 61-years old and have been walking for about 60 of those years but this was different. I was being coached by a professional race walker.
As I watched her walk, it was as if she was gliding on one of those airport walkways, really fast and really smoothly. Her upper body did not move, only her arms. It was like watching my cat, Maggie, move stealthily across the lawn towards an unsuspecting squirrel without moving her head, without making the two bells on her collar utter a sound. How did she do that? (By the way, the squirrel ran up a tree and stood on a high branch looking down, chattering and laughing at Maggie’s valiant effort.) I was not laughing. I was in awe of my coach and excited to be learning the basics of this new skill.
Race walking is not the same as speed walking or power walking. There are formal rules. It is also an Olympic sport. The definition of race walking is as follows:
• “Race walking is a progression of steps taken so 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) from the moment of first contact with the ground until in the vertical upright position.” 1
So why am I doing this? In part I of this article (October 5, 2010), I talked about the “road trip” I took last summer when I literally hit the ground running. When running, both feet are off the ground for an instant during each stride. In walking, one foot is in contact with the ground at all times. I have determined that walking is the safer option for me at this stage of my life based on my “time on the planet!”
I also know that having been a runner for over 37 years, I am aerobically fit and I need to challenge myself to a higher level of aerobic activity to keep my heart rate up in my target zone. That’s how I decided on race walking. I love to exercise without the need of having to go somewhere to do it. That’s why I always enjoyed running. All I need is a pair of shoes and a course. Wherever I go, I can run, jog, walk or now, race walk.
Learning to race walk, or any sport that is new to you, is like learning a new language. It takes practice of new skills, new warm-ups, cool-downs and the conditioning of new muscles. It also takes new thought patterns and it takes time. I just got new shoes and am concentrating on this new exercise as I would a second language. I’m still pretty awkward at it and it doesn’t feel natural yet. That’s why I’ll be doing it more often as I phase out jogging (jogging is my “Boomer” speed for what I used to call running).
For now, I’m learning some new vocabulary terms and movements including hip drop, arm swing and synchronicity. It will take a lot of practice concentrating on one thing at a time until I become fluent in my new exercise language of race walking. I also plan to enter events where I can compete with other race walkers, watch their techniques and challenge myself to go longer distances at faster speeds. You can find more information about race walking at www.RWNW.org (RACEWALKERS NORTHWEST).
1 NARI & RACEWALK.COM’S Quick Guide to Race Walking, Jeff Salvage, 2009
Yours in fitness,
Olivia C. Rossi, RN, MSN
Certified Clinical Exercise Specialist, ACSM
Certified Personal Trainer, ACSM