Sunday, May 5, 2013

The "W" Word

I'm a race walker, I have been since 2005, when an injury made that a better option than running.  Up until that time walking for me was unthinkable.  Walking was a lessor sport, one for older or out of shape people, heck it wasn't even a sport.  A walker was someone who got in my way when I ran a race.  A walker an athlete, oh please!  Then I was faced with a choice between giving up running and switching to something else or continue to run in pain.  Every race for me became a personal worst.  Then on Memorial Day of 2005 I ran my last race, or attempted to anyway.  It was a 5K on grass and that uneven surface and my bad Achilles tendon were not a good match.  I couldn't even walk around normally, for a week after, without pain.  I haven't ran a step since then.

I had seen some of the local race walkers at the races and decided to give it a try.  I loved doing the races and not doing them ever again was even more unthinkable than becoming a walker.  From that week after Memorial day, when I could walk again until the middle of July, I walked and tried to learn as much as I could about race walking. Race walking is hard to self learn. I know that even better now than I did then.  I'm still learning now 8 years later.  It's like learning martial arts, you get better with practice and occasionally you have, "Oh Wow", moments when something comes together.  I raced in a walk race that July, a two miler, that was held just before a 5K run race.  About a hundred walkers showed up, and of those, about 10 were race walkers.  It was amazing. Race walking was just like running a race.  The seasoned race walkers beat me easily, but I thought I did well for my first time competing.  I have been race waking since and even completed several half and full marathons.

The point where I wanted to be with this writing is the changes in the attitude about walking in the running community.  When I first started walking I was a sudden outcast on the forums I frequently wrote for.  One of the frequent criticisms was that even if you finished a marathon, unless you ran some of it, you weren't a marathoner!  Marathoner apparently was a term to describe runners only.  Funny though it wasn't the elite of the running world but the novice runners that were the most anti walker.  Maybe that is because we were in the back of the pack together.  When I was a runner I was not great but usually in the top 20% or so in a race, so I was never really around the back half of the races, where walkers were.  Some of the attitude might have been the rivalry between faster walkers and slower runners.

Walkers are often their own worst enemies when it comes to being accepted in the races.  One of the classic bad things beginning walkers do is get some friends together, sign up for a race and then want to walk three or more abreast, making themselves an obstacle to anyone faster trying to pass them.  Then they get mad when faster runners and walkers want to go through them.  Veteran walkers know that walking two abreast is plenty, any more than that hinders the other athletes.  It's as bad as the athlete that does the run/walk intervals in a race and runs till they pass someone and then slows to a walk right in front of them.  But manners are getting better as race participates are getting more educated.

I will fast forward now to the half marathon I just finished in Louisville Kentucky.  I race walked it with a brother walker.  We walked the race between 12 and 13 minutes per mile and we were never in the way of anyone running and we were passing as many slower runners as faster ones passed us.  But what I found amazing was that 3 different runners approached us with encouragement and were amazed at how smooth and efficient our motion was.  One even related a tale about another race where they had spent a whole marathon leap frogging with a race walker.  These interactions with runners made me realize how much the attitude has changed over the years and how much more race walkers are accepted now in the racing community.

I was really glad of this because basically, forward motion is forward motion.  There are as many styles of running as there are runners.  Walking, be it race walking or normal brisk walking it's just another way of moving forward.

Thanks for reading.


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