I’d been curious about racewalking ever since I got beat in an indoor marathon by a racewalker a couple of years ago. Last weekend I got to cover a collegiate race walk at Goshen College, which has become something of an NAIA powerhouse in that event.
There’s a lot more to racewalking, it turns out, than simply walking fast. The rules dictate that you keep your front leg straight and maintain one foot in contact with the ground at all times.
The most obvious difference is in the hip rotation, which looks odd but boosts speed and efficiency while using more muscles and burning more calories than regular walking. Competitive racewalkers can maintain speeds of up to 8-9 mph at marathon distances, yet injuries are uncommon.
“Racewalking is hard,” says former Goshen track coach Doug Yoder, who started recruiting racewalkers a little over a decade ago after meeting Ohio high school star Tina Peters, who went on to become four-time national champion while at Goshen.
Racewalkers, he says, are “very committed and serious athletes” who work just as hard, if not harder, than anyone else on the track team.
“It is not for everyone, and not everyone can do it successfully. I have worked with some good athletes that just couldn’t do it – they couldn’t get the technique.”
Though not well known these days, racewalking was a popular spectator sport in the 1800s and has been an Olympic sport for more than a century.
“Back in the day, people would bet on race walks. Now it exists primarily in small pockets around the country,” says Jennifer Peters, who helped time the event at Goshen.
The wife of former USA Track and Field national racewalking chairman Vince Peters, who coached their daughter Tina as well as current Goshen racewalking coach Jacob GunderKline at Yellow Springs High School in Ohio, says their daughter learned the sport at an age when most kids are trying T-ball or soccer for the first time.
Peters can vividly recall her kids racing around the dining room table, with 6-year-old Tina admonishing her younger brother, “bent knee, Andy, bent knee!”
According to Yoder, it’s actually possible for a racewalker to walk as fast as he or she can run, at least in longer distances. That wasn’t the case at the relatively short indoor race at Goshen, which was the equivalent of 1.86 miles. Still, some impressive times were posted, with Ohio high school phenomenon Taylor Ewert placing second overall in the combined male-female event at 13 minutes, 45 seconds.
The six-time Junior Olympic champion was one of a handful of unofficial entrants in the college meet, which also included 2013 Indiana University graduate Melissa Moeller, who placed fifth at the 2016 U.S. Olympic trials in the 20-kilometer racewalk.
“Had there been enough certified officials at this race, (Ewert’s) time would be the new national indoor high school record by 30 seconds,” GunderKline said.
I don’t have any plans to learn racewalking myself – not at this point, anyway. But it would be an interesting cross-training tool, not to mention a great way to learn to keep up with my quick-striding sister.