By definition, "walking" requires one foot to be in contact with the ground at all times. The contact requirement is what distinguishes walking from running--where the pedestrian lifts both feet off the ground at least momentarily during each step (also known as "lifting" in race walking and the "flight phase" in running).
Just as runners come in a variety of flavors (joggers, runners, sprinters, hurdlers, marathoners, ultramarathoners, etc.), walkers also come in a variety of flavors. To me, all walkers fall into one or more of the following flavors.
- Most walkers simply walk to get from one place to another. They may even walk longer distances to avoid driving in heavy traffic, to cut down on pollution, or because they simply do not have any other acceptable form of transportation.
- Pleasure walkers walk for relaxation or to enjoy their surroundings. (I highly recommend this type of walking to all types of walkers, even world-class race walkers and ultra-distance walkers. Whether it is an "off" day, an "easy" day, or your second+ walk of the day, take a walk that has no measure--and stop and smell the daisies.)
- Hikers are pleasure, fitness, or even long-distance walkers who generally do their walking on trails or remote terrain. They usually carry at least small packs for desired fluids and fuels (food), maps, or other supplies.
- Walking runners walk to catch their breath or minimize fatigue during a running event--though most of them do not show much "zip" in their walking. These include an increasing number of joggers who are paying coaches or charities to teach them how to do their first marathon. (They are the ones I love to pass in the latter stages of a marathon.)
- Fitness walkers walk to lose weight or to build fitness by increasing their speed, distance or frequency of walks. They may go so far as to become powerwalkers, speedwalkers, race walkers, and/or long-distance walkers.
- Running walkers are a most interesting flavor. They say they are runners and they look like runners, but there is insufficient evidence of their leaving the ground for a jury to convict them of running. Their failure to fly has very little to do with speed. I see many slow runners during training walks and running events who are clearly leaving the ground. As a trained race walking judge, however, while I could flag the "running walkers" for bent knees, I could not flag them for lifting. (One of my friends refers to these people as "trotters.")
- Powerwalkers are, by their own definition, seeking whole-body fitness. They tend to do that by exagerating their step length--especially by planting their heels very far in front of their bodies; by exagerating their arm movements; and/or by using hand weights, walking poles, and other devices to burn more calories. Some walk quite fast.
- Walk+Run walkers are few in number but offer a very interesting format. Like runners who take walking breaks (to recover), walk+run walkers take running breaks to break the monotonous routine of a very long walk. It is not for the walking purist, but can make long training walks more enjoyable. (Besides, it is said to strengthen some of the muscles not used in walking.)
- Speedwalkers: The terms "speedwalk," "speedwalker" and "speedwalking" are often used indiscriminately as generic terms for anyone who walks fast--including race walkers. There are a few Web sites that address "speedwalking" but they can not even agree on the limits of speedwalking speed. Most give the slow end as about 17-minutes/mile pace (3½ mph) and some give the fast end as high as 12-minutes/mile pace. Regardless of the confusion, I have seen many, bent-knee walkers (who don't care what you call them) pass all but the fastest race walkers in an unjudged race--and walk a mile in less than 10 minutes. They need to be included in this list, and I call them "speedwalkers" for lack of a better term. (I might add that these very fast walkers tend to walk alone or in pairs and, so far as I can tell, are not the type to form clubs or put on events.)
- Race walkers are easy to define. They are walkers who (1.) keep their knees straight from the time of ground contact with (usually) the heel until the supporting leg has passed under the torso of the body AND (2.) who want to be called race walkers. (Some speedwalkers meet these requirements but would never consider themselves to be race walkers.) While race walkers are often the fastest walkers, there is absolutely no requirement for them reaching a certain speed or for participating in judged race walking events.
- Long-Distance Walkers are, in my opinion, those who walk much farther than required for mobility or basic fitness but who do not carry it to the degree of Ultra Walkers (noted below). This group includes those walking at least the half-marathon distance but not the 50-mile threshhold for Ultra Walkers.
- Ultra-Distance Walkers are very easy to define. They walk 50 miles or more in "ultra" events. Some of their events are defined by distance (generally no more than 500 kilometers / 310.7 miles), and some of their events are defined by time (generally from 12 hours to no more than 6 days). While they are identified by the distances they walk, there is usually an element of speed noted in how they report events (e.g., who reached 100 miles the fastest, how far someone walked in x hours or x days).
- Cause Walkers are those who walk extremely long distances to raise awareness for a cause. Transcontinental or round-the-world walks are typical. Such walkers often have a support team and regularly stop along the way to promote their cause.