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Walk
Write

By Judy Heller

Judy Heller, founder of
Wonders of Walking LLC,
advocates walking for well being and pleasure. Wonders of Walking promotes Walking Events for Walkers by Walkers. Judy Heller is founder and owner of EroFit & Associates, LLC, celebrating Fitness for a Lifetime. Heller offers personalized fitness training and coaching for individuals and groups.
Contact: Judy Heller
at 503-282-1677:
email judy@erofit.com
jheller@wondersofwalking.com

Also visit: www.erofit.com
www.wondersofwalking.com


I only went out
for a walk and
concluded to stay out until sundown,
For going out,
I found
Was really going in.

— John Muir

 

Racewalking….. a Walk….. a Sport….. an Olympic Event

Racewalking is exciting. It has been referred to as the ultimate athletic challenge. Did you know it has been a Summer Olympic Track & Field event since 1908 for men and 1992 for women?

Currently men and women compete in both the 20k and men only the 50k. A racewalker can achieve running speed and yet not break stride into a run. This is a judged event…. going the distance to cross the finish line legally is the competitive challenge. The complexity of this endeavor is as difficult as any other track event and requires athletic coordination.

Racewalking is not only for those who want to compete at the international level. It is also an extremely effective way to exercise for weight loss, getting fit, or for those who wish to compete locally or nationally, or to have fun!

How did we get started racewalking? Its inception in England, as are many of our sporting events (fishing, hunting, boxing, rowing, horse racing and trotting). Competitive walking can be traced to the late 16th or early 17th century. The aristocracy of England employed footmen, whose dutie’s included carrying papers and messages, hurrying ahead to make arrangements at inns for room and board. Owners began to match their “footmen” against each others in races accompanied by heavy betting, thus, the birth of professional pedestrianism.

Professional pedestrianism had very few rules. The footmen must keep pace with their master's carriages without running. The mode of movement was defined as “fair heel and toe”; although they were allowed to “trot to ward off cramping.” This progressed from private races to public foot races, where bettors lined the highways to place their wager as they passed.

Footmen raced one another over coach roads; by the 18th century man was racing time over long distances. The original centurion walking 100 miles within a 24-hour period is Foster Powell who, in 1773, became the first to walk against the clock. He walked London to York and back in 5 days 18 hours, an average of 72 miles a day.

Pedestrians of the 18th century raced against time; at the turn of the 19th century man was racing against man. Pedestrianism became the most popular sport in England.

It wasn’t until the 1820s, that walking contests began in America. Celebrity walkers would draw crowds of 25,000 from town to town. Imagine! With the arrival of the English immigrants in the 1830s, also came a tradition for competitive sports. Organizers and promoters began having races on private race tracks in large urban centers.

Americans began to test the limits of physical endurance in contests modeled after the British. Nicholas Low walked 200 miles in 200 hours; Thomas Elsworth walked 1,000 miles on the Cambridge Trotting Course. Even though pedestrianism was growing in America, it was not as popular as in Britain. John Cummings suggests the resistance to sports can be attributed to puritan attitudes in American society. Preachers were against sports that emphasized betting; newspapers ignored or opposed the contests. The principal spectator sport was horse racing, which was approved as it was improving the equine breed.

By the early 1850s though, newspapers did begin reporting sports accomplishments. Pedestrianism grew rapidly, equaling horse racing and yacht racing. According to George Moss the most popular races were those from 10 to 50 miles with purses of $1,000 and 25,000 spectators. (The annual salary during this time was $250.) In 1878 women began to compete in long distance events for money. Ada Anderson earned $10,000 for walking 3,000 quarter miles in 3,000 quarter hours.

The “golden age” of pedestrianism in America is considered to be the last half of the 19th century. Racewalking emerged as a legitimate sport at the turn of the century, along with the rise in athletic clubs and the demise of professional pedestrianism. It was off to a good start, but faded in the 1920s as other sports dominated. The '30s and '40s lack any luster, unable to capture the interest of the American public. The 1960s saw the emergence of Ron Laird, Ronald Zinn, Rudolph Haluza, and Larry Young. These men were national champions as well as Olympians. Racewalking history in America from the mid-20th century has been largely one of individual dedication, effort, and achievement. Todd Scully broke a 6-minute mile on June 6, 1977, covering the distance in 5:52.2 — walking not running.

It wasn't until the 1960s that women really began to emerge as participants in the sport of racewalking in America. In 1971 the first 5K racewalk for women took place. Jeanne Bocci, Lynn Burke, Katie MacIntyre, and Brenda Whitman are standouts from that event. Each decade has continued to produce some brilliant female racewalkers: Debbie Lawrence, Theresa Vaill, Michelle Rohl, Joanne Dow, Danielle Kirk to name a current few.

Speed, strength, and endurance are common to most athletic events, racewalking is no exception, but has the added dimension in that it is a judged event. A walker can be disqualified if the rules are not followed. The technique is unique. The challenge and reward lie in its mastery.

Runners, swimmers, and cyclists are discovering that racewalking is a perfect cross- training sport. Walkers are discovering the joy of hitting the streets, as they challenge themselves to a new technique with increased benefits.

Remember, you don't need to “race” to be a racewalker... the challenge is yours!

This information adapted from Gordon Wallace's thesis, The History of Racewalking and Casey Meyer’s book, Walking: Complete Guide to the Complete Exercise. Special thanks to Don Jacobs for providing Gordon Wallace's thesis.


Right Lib



Walk About Magazine, is a northwest walking and hiking publication in Portland, Oregon.


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