What is race walking?

Race walking is a style of running, much like the backstroke is a stroke in swimming. In addition to the rules for running, race walkers must follow two additional rules: at least one foot must be in contact with the ground, and the lead leg must be straight from the moment of contact until the leg as vertical. Both additional rules are as seen by the unaided human eye, so what you can see with slow motion video is not considered. Of course, the actual definition of race walking is a little harder to understand, but it was written by a committee.

What does race walking look like?

Here is an example of race walking -- Thanks to Dave McGovern and Dave's World Class Race Walking. Notice that Dave is clearly following the rules of race walking -- one foot appears to always be touching the ground and the lead leg appears to be straight at the moment of contact until the leg is well behind the body. Notice also how little Dave is going up and down. He looks smooth.

How fast does a race walker go?

World Record Walkers

Nathan Deakes set the world record for men in the 50km Race Walk at 3:35:47, for an average of 6 minutes 57 seconds per mile for each of the 31 miles.

Olimpiada Ivanova holds the world record for women in the 20km Race Walk at 1:26:52.3. That is an average of about 6 minutes 59 seconds per mile for each of the 12.4 miles.

Vladimir Kanaykin holds the world record for men in the 20km Race Walk at 1:17:16, for an average of 6 minutes 13 for each of the 12.4 miles.

US Record Walkers

Curt Clausen holds the US record for men in the 50km Race Walk at 3:48:04, for an average of 7 minutes 22 seconds per mile or 8.1 miles per hour for 31 miles.

Michelle Rohl holds the US record for women in the 20km Race Walk at 1:31:51, for an average of 7 minutes 23 seconds per mile or 8.1 miles per hour for 12.4 miles

Timothy Seaman holds the US record for men in the 20km Race Walk at 1:22:02, for an average of 6 minutes 36 seconds per mile or 9.1 miles per hour for 12.4 miles.

Bev LaVeck holds the US record for women age 60-64 for 20km Race Walk at 2:09:35, for an average of 10 minutes 25 seconds per mile or 5.8 miles per hour for 12.4 miles.

Tristan Ruoss holds the US record for boys age 10 and under in the 1500m Race Walk 7:13.01, for an average of 7 minutes 44 seconds per mile or 7.8 miles per hour

US & World Masters Record Walkers

Records for people at least 35 years old are called "Masters" records. Since our ability to intake and process oxygen decreases with age, records are kept in 5 year age groups. This doesn't mean that Masters Walkers are slow. Far from it. The US record for 20km for men aged 60-64 is 1:51:17, for an average of about 9 minutes per mile or more than 6.6 miles per hour!

For Comparison

A typical club walker (under 50 years old) with moderate training will walk 5km in 36 minutes, or 11½ minutes per mile or 5.1 miles per hour. With significant regular training, a typical club walker can walk 5km in 30 minutes, or 9½ minutes per mile or 6.2 miles per hour

An ordinary person out for a walk averages about 16 minutes per mile or 3.75 miles per hour. A fitness walker tops out at about 12½ minutes per mile or 4.8 miles per hour.

Why race walk?

There are lots of reasons. Here are a few that seem important. Let us know if you race walk for a reason that is not here.

  1. Race walking lets an experienced, in-shape fitness walker, continue to improve aerobic fitness by allowing the walker to go faster, and hence challenge their own aerobic system. Can you still raise your heart rate into the middle of the aerobic zone by fitness walking?
  2. Race walkers experience significantly lower impact forces than runners, joggers and fitness walkers, because race walk technique results in extremely smooth motion for the upper body, and it is the weight of the body falling onto the landing leg that results in most of the impact forces. Do you want to exercise with low impact stresses on your feet, ankles, knees, hips, back and neck?
  3. Race walking is an endurance sport that takes almost no specialized equipment (only shoes), and can be done almost anywhere in almost any weather. Why not cross train for your other endurance sport when the weather or locale make participation in your primary sport impractical?
  4. Race walking makes you think each time you workout about how you are applying race walk technique. The affect of this concentration is to help clear away the stress of the day. Have you got something you need to get away from, if only for a little while?
  5. Race walking is an Olympic sport, with only a few US walkers competing for the spots. Do you want to make an Olympic team?
  6. Walking helps you stay in shape so that you can continue to enjoy the experience the world around you. Are you looking forward to being with active grand children, or are you facing a health challenge that can be mediated by exercise?

Who can race walk?

Almost everyone. If you can walk, and your doctor allows you to perform brisk activity, then you can learn to race walk. Race walking is a life-long activity, with people participating from 6-100+ years old.

How do you learn to race walk?

The simplest way to learn to race walk is to find a walking club in your area that teaches race walking. If you live in Minnesota, come to the Introduction To Race Walking classes. There are books and DVDs available from NARF and racewalk.com as well as many other sites on the web.