Whereas race walking is the "much faster" side of pluswalking, long-distance walking is the "much farther" side. It descends from the "fair heel and toe" Pedestrians who raced much longer distances and, with almost no modification of the rules, were the basis of the modern day sport of long-distance walking.
HOW LONG IS LONG?
EDWARD PAYSON WESTON
- Robert Barclay Allardice (1779-1854), known as The Celebrated Pedestrian in England, walked 1 mile each hour for 1000 hours (41 days, 16 hours) in 1809 to win an initial wager of 1000 guineas (about $US 8 million today). Over the course of the event, his pace dropped from 15-minute miles to 21-minute miles, and his weight dropped from 84.5 kilograms (197 pounds) to 70 kilograms (154 pounds). The accepted standard for these events was to walk out of town for one mile at the end of one hour, turn around, and walk the mile back into town at the start of the next hour. This gave the person a little over an hour to sleep, eat, bathe, or what ever, before repeating the process 499 more times without a break.
- Edward Payson Weston, considered one of the greatest pedestrian walkers of all time in the United States, at age 72 in 1910, walked over 3600 miles from Los Angeles to New York on dirt roads in 88 days, averaging 41 miles per day (which beat the time of his New York to Los Angeles walk the previous year by 16 days). Weston was famous for taking his long walks wearing fashionable clothing, knee-high boots, and carrying a riding crop.
- When defined by distance, "long" is usually equated with "ultra-distance walking" (a.k.a. ultra walking) where the shortest event is at least 50 miles long. Ultra walking events are generally considered to range from 50 miles up to about 500 kilometers (310.7 miles). The most popular distances are 50 miles, 100 kilometers, 100 miles, and 200 kilometers. The Paris to Colmar race is the longest race walking competition in the world with the 2008 version covering 451 kilometers (280.24 miles). Note that ultra walking groups sometimes stage 50-kilometer events to help newcomers step up to the ultra distances. (Those walkers, like me, who are walking/race walking half or full marathons, or even 50-kilometers, are discussed in the Race Walking or Other Pluswalkers pages.)
- When defined by duration, "long" is generally considered to range from 24 hours to 6 days, with 48 hours and 72 hours also being popular periods of time. Duration events sometimes include 6-hour and 12-hour events because they can easily be worked into the longer events. The 6-day race dates from the early 1870s. It was designed to begin at midnight Sunday night, and end at midnight the following Saturday night--thereby avoiding competition on the Sabbath. (Note that there is a difference between a 100-mile race--which usually has a 24-hour time limit, and a 24-hour race where one sees how far he or she can go in 24 hours.)
Ultra-distance events may be held on a track, on a road course, or on a trail. They may be limited to walkers, they may be events that cater to runners and walkers, or they may be "walker friendly" running events where walkers are welcome. The longer the duration of the race, the more likely it is that almost everyone is a "walker" at some point in the race anyway.
While some of the shorter ultra-race walking events (e.g., 50 kilometers) may be conducted using the strict rules of race walking (re lifting and creeping), as the distance increases, they are more likely conducted using "relaxed rules." An article at the Dutch Centurions Homepage notes, "... On longer distances (at least 80 km or longer) the [bent knee] rule is not enforced very often. ... judges realize that after a long distance and especially after doing some hills it is very hard for the tired walkers to strech their knees correctly. Since there is no danger of running at these low speeds, warnings are given, but you are not likely to be disqualified. Losing contact with the ground however, does get people disqualified very quickly."
Ultra-distance events resemble shorter-distance races in many ways, but the have their own unique characteristics. Racers bring their own support teams made up of friends who will help prepare their meals, keep a supply of clean socks and dry shoes at the ready, encourage their racer (and competitors) around the clock, and even walk with (or pace) them periodically--based on a set of guidelines established for each event. Racers and their support team members often set up tents along side the course; tents in which all of them (even the racers) can take naps as desired. An elaborate kitchen is located beside the course and not only offers meals prepared by volunteers, but also provides resources with which support teams members can also prepare foods. Racers often wear headlamps for walking on unlit courses. Medical staff members (some of whom may be in the race) are always ready to treat blisters, nausea, and other conditions that 1-6 day races can inspire. And, some courses pass fast food stores where racers can drop by mid lap for ... well, "fast" food.
The other amazing part of these events is how willing each participant is to help his or her competitors; with aid, with food and fluid, with tips based on experience, and with encouragement. Competitors are often very good friends--they should be, they spend one heck of a lot of time together talking about anything that can take their minds off the long hours spent pushing onward. +++ (I doubt that I will ever participate in an ultra event, but I have read enough about them--and by them--to know the participants are not crazy; they are simply people who love an extreme challenge and the satisfaction of reaching new limits--even if they do not succeed in reaching the finish line in the alloted time.)