Race walking is the "much faster" side of pluswalking. It descends from the "fair heel and toe" Pedestrians who raced shorter distances and, under slightly different rules, were the basis of the modern day sport of race walking. (The animation at right shows a world-champion race walker walking at about 6-minutes per mile pace.)
Race walking is in the sport category of "track and field, long-distance running, and race walking." Race walks are judged events that have two rules.
- The first rule, designed to insure the race walker is walking (and not running), states: "Race Walking is a progression of steps so taken that the walker makes contact with the ground so that no visible (to the human eye) loss of contact occurs." Race walkers who break this rule are deemed to be "lifting."
- The second rule, designed to make it harder for race walkers to "lift" and easier for officials to see them lifting, states: "The advancing leg must be straightened (i.e., not bent at the knee) from the moment of first contact with the ground until the leg is in the vertical upright position." Race walkers who break this rule are deemed to be "creeping."
During a race walk, trained judges closely monitor the technique used by all walkers. True race walks are always held on a closed-loop course (usually on a track or a 2-kilomenter road loop) so that the judges do not lose sight of the walkers. In simplified terms, if, in the opinion of three different judges, a walker has broken either rule, the walker is disqualified and told to leave the race course. Because the opinion of three different judges takes time to compile, and because race walkers often push the rules more as they approach the finish line, you will sometimes see them--even the leaders--disqualified after they have crossed the finish line--much to the anguish of their supporters.
TOP WALKERS: In spite of the restrictions placed on them by the two rules of race walking, top race walkers are quite fast. Some can walk a mile in about 5½ minutes, and a marathon in about 3 hours (though both are unofficial distances for race walks). While most race walks are from 1500 meters (.93 miles) to 50 kilometers (31.07 miles) in length, the primary outdoor distances are 20 kilometers and 50 kilometers. The following are current (2009) world-record times--also showing the average pace "per kilometer (and per mile)".
For access to the current records, see the Records section of the Other Resources page at this Web site.
MOST WALKERS: For most race walkers, race walking is a low-injury way to get an outstanding workout. Many come into the sport due to injuries sustained while running. Others take it up because of the camaradarie felt by the being part of a small, tightly knit family. Still others find it a much easier sport to win awards because of the small population. (To qualify for the Olympic marathon, you have to beat out hundreds of runners. To qualify for the Olympic 50K race walk, you probably have to beat out a couple dozen race walkers.) Best estimates are that there are several tens of thousands of race walkers world wide. Most are in countries with a long history of race walking, and most live in clusters based on the location of race walking clubs (and, therefore, teachers and events).
Most race walkers tend to participate in the shorter race distances (10 kilometers and less), and their walking pace is considerably less than the top athletes. The best way to understand what goes on at the local or regional levels is to visit club Web sites in your geographic area (see our Web Links page) and look at the results for, and photos of, local events. Newcomers to race walking are always welcome at such events, and simply going to observe an event can usually put the newcomer's mind at ease about getting more involved.
For more information about race walking, I recommend the following Web sites.
- Racewalking.org is an outstanding site maintained by nationally-competitive race walker Dave McGovern who conducts race walking clinics all over the United States, and who has written an outstanding book called The Complete Guide to Marathon Walking.
- Racewalking.com is a comprehensive site maintained by Jeff Salvage who offers several printed and videos tools useful in learning to race walk.