“Walking can be a social activity, a fitness activity or a competitive sport,” says Pat Driscoll, 60, who prefers the latter.
A former fitness walker, Driscoll switched to racewalking 10 years ago. She is the racewalking coordinator for the New Orleans Track Club.
Racewalking, as defined by the USA Track & Field organization, “differs from running in that it requires the competitor to maintain contact with the ground at all times and requires the leading leg to be straightened as the foot makes contact with the ground.” (usatf.org/Sports/Race-Walking.aspx)
The major distinction between fitness walkers and racewalkers is the stride. Fitness walkers take long strides, and racewalkers take shorter, quicker steps. Fitness walking is freestyle, while racewalking, which became an Olympic sport in 1908, has a distinctive form.
“Racewalking is a total-body workout,” says Driscoll. “Besides the cardio/aerobic benefits, it slims the waist and tones the legs, particularly the lower leg. It helps with overall flexibility and builds endurance. Another non-fitness benefit as compared to other sports is that it is inexpensive. The biggest expense is a good pair of shoes,” says Driscoll, who prefers a more flexible shoe since racewalking requires the walker to do a heel plant and roll the foot forward for momentum.
In the 10 years Driscoll has been a racewalker, she has not seen a big increase in the number of local participants.
“I think people are scared off because they think it is all about speed. It is more about form than speed,” says Driscoll, who takes about 150 steps a minute. Highly-ranked racewalkers can take as many as 250 steps a minute.
The form is what makes the racewalker efficient.
The racewalker bends her arm at a 90-degree angle, and thus is able to swing her arms quicker to match the pace.
Driscoll says she is still learning how to perfect her technique and her form.
“It is fascinating in that you never stop learning better ways to improve your skill,” says Driscoll, who offers information and training to those who want to know more about racewalking at runNOTC.org. Other websites she suggests areracewalk.com/ and racewalking.org/.