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SMITH: Walking the walk

Non-runners are an important part of the race

Not all the people taking part in the News and Sentinel Half Marathon or Two-Mile Race are runners. Around a third of them are race walkers. Race walkers don’t just go out and stroll for the 13.1 miles. They walk with purpose mile after mile, frequently passing some of the slower runners in the process.

When a person runs there is a brief amount of time during each step that both their feet are off the ground. This vertical travel is what makes running harder than walking at the same speed. It also puts more stress on your joints because you are hitting the ground with more force each step. When you race walk you always keep one foot on the ground. It’s that simple. Since a race is a competition, we have judges on the course to make sure no one breaks into a run.

The range of people’s race walking varies a lot. First you have the truly competitive walkers out there. You will know them when you see them. They know what they are doing. Swinging their arms more than you might be used to, they can walk for miles at extremely fast speeds. Once we had an Olympic caliber walker do our race and he finished ahead of most of the runners. If you would like to become a true race walker, there are several tutorials online that can teach you the technique better than I can in a few words.

Next you will have a group of people who are competitive but walk with a less aggressive technique. Finally, you will have a group of people that know they are going to be in the tail end of the pack and are fine with that. In the two-mile race many of them will even have baby strollers with them. We are glad to have all of them as part of the race. They are all doing their race, and that is what it is all about.

My wife, Lori, and daughter, Emily, registered as walkers for the 2019 Half Marathon. I would put them in the middle group. They are both fast walkers. I kept an eye out for them and took photos of them at different parts of the race. Always a few hundred feet in front of them was a man in a yellow shirt. They tried for 13 miles to catch “yellow shirt guy,” as they called him. They never did. In the photo of my family coming up to the finish line, there he is, still ahead of them. He of course was trying to catch the guy in front of him, which is what racing is after all. A few weeks later he came into the office to pick up his trophy. I recognized him from all the family photos. I sent my family a photo and pointed out that although they could not catch “yellow-shirt guy,” I had.

Some people walking races have always done so, some are working up to running, or a few are former runners that want to continue but also want to do something that is a little gentler on their bodies. When you register for either the half marathon or two-mile, remember to pick the option that best suits you.

If you are a runner, but you think you might walk some, or most of the race, register as a runner. If you know you are going to walk all of it, register as a walker. The main thing to remember is that runners can walk, but walkers can’t run.

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Art Smith is co-director of the News and Sentinel races and is online manager for The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. He can be reached at asmith@newsandsentinel.com. His column about the races appears each weekend.

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