How to Train for a Race Walk: A Beginner’s Guide
Race walking is a unique sport that requires technique, endurance, and mental focus. Unlike running, race walkers must always have one foot in contact with the ground and lock their knees straight as they stride.
In case you’re new to race walking, preparing for your to-begin-with event can be overwhelming. But with proper planning, anybody can successfully complete a race walk! This beginner’s guide covers everything you need to know about training for and completing your first race walk.
What is Race Walking?
Race walking is an Olympic track and field occasion with rules set by the Worldwide Beginner Athletic League. Competitive race walks events include distances from 3000m up to 100km on the road or track.
Unlike running, race walkers must abide by two rules:
- One foot must be in contact with the ground at all times. Both feet may not be airborne, or it will result in disqualification.
- The advancing leg must be locked straight from heel to toe when the foot makes contact until the body passes over it. Bending the knee will result in disqualification.
Judges watch carefully for these two rule violations, which can be difficult for new race walkers. With practice, the race-walking method gets to be natural.
The distinctive hip swaying gait of race walkers is a result of locking the lead leg straight while powering from the hip. When done correctly, race walking is a low-impact, full-body exercise.
The Basics of Race-Walking Technique
Mastering proper technique is essential for beginners. Start by walking exaggeratedly gradually, centering on these key focuses:
- Keep your head and chest upright, eyes looking ahead.
- Drive each stride from your hips, not your knees.
- Roll from your heel to toe and lift your feet gently!
- Keep supporting leg straight as your body passes over it.
- Relax your shoulders and lightly bend elbows.
- Swing arms in opposition to legs in a controlled motion
- Concentrate on making each step smooth and controlled.
Try to walk in a straight line and lead with your hips. At first it may feel unnatural, but with regular practice race walking technique will begin to feel more comfortable.
When you can successfully walk slowly with proper form, gradually increase your pace. Aim to race walk at a brisk pace similar to a jog but remember: no running allowed!
How to Train for a Race Walk
Completing a race walk requires endurance and stamina. Follow these training tips to prepare for any distance:
If new to race walking, begin with 10–15-minute sessions 2-3x a week at an easy, comfortable pace. This allows your body to adapt to the unique motions. Slowly increase duration.
Add speed intervals as you build endurance, add short speed intervals. Start with 30 second fast bursts and increase to 2–5-minute tempo segments to condition your body.
Lengthen long walks to get ready for endurance race walks, including a week-by-week long walk. Start with a 60-minute walk and gradually progress to 2-3 hours at race pace.
Mix up terrain Train on varied terrain – hills, trails, treadmill – which stresses your body differently. Don’t just race walk on tracks.
Increase weekly Build your weekly training volume steadily using the 10% rule: limit weekly increases to 10% more than the prior week.
Rest and recover Balance training with rest days for recovery. Your body strengthens during downtime. Light cross-training like swimming or yoga can aid active recovery.
Pay attention to form Regularly evaluate and correct your race-walking technique during training. Proper form must become second nature before racing.
Sample Training Plan for Beginners
Use this 12-week race walk training schedule to prepare for a 5K-10K. Adapt it as needed to fit your current fitness level.
Tuesday: 30 min race walk + strides
Wednesday: 60 min race walk
Thursday: 30 min race walk + speed intervals
Saturday: Long walk – start at 60 min and build to 2 hours.
Sunday: Rest or 30-60 min easy race walk
Strides are short, controlled sprints at the end to work on speed. Intervals can range from 30 seconds to 5 minutes fast with recovery jogs.
Listen to your body and take rest days whenever needed to avoid overtraining. Consistency with this plan will get you race ready!
Common Mistakes to Avoid
Here are a few visit mistakes race walkers make, and how to fix them:
Focus on driving from the hip, tighten core, and think tall posture. Shift weight smoothly from leg to leg.
Limit up and down movement by gently rolling through each step. Aim for smooth, not bouncy.
Keep your elbows bent at 90 degrees and move arms in controlled motions no higher than chest level.
Keep head and chest lifted. Look ahead, not down. Shoulders should be loose and relaxed.
Concentrate on compact, efficient strides. Landing with feet too far ahead strains the back and hips.
Engage core muscles and align head over shoulders over hips. Maintain upright balance.
Practice often in front of a mirror to correct errors. Getting coaching can also help reinforce proper technique.
How to Stay Motivated
Race walk training takes dedication. Here are a few tips for staying motivated:
- Find a training partner – Pairing up makes training more fun and introduces accountability. You can critique each other’s form.
- Connect a club – Neighborhood race walk clubs prepare partners, experienced advice, and support.
- Sign up for races – Having events on the calendar gives you goals and deadlines. The atmosphere at races is energizing.
- Mix up routines – Prevent boredom by cross-training, walking new routes, listening to music/podcasts, or watching videos while training indoors.
- Focus on progress – Measure improvements in speed, endurance, and technique. Seeing progress motivates.
- Consider rewards – After certain milestones treat yourself to a massage, new gear, or fun non-training activity.
- Emphasize health – Remind yourself of all the mental and physical benefits you gain from training. Prioritize self-care.
Staying positive about race walking will get you across every finish line!
Tips for Race Day
Use these strategies to perform your best on race day:
- Practice race fueling – Test nutrition on long walks to determine what your body tolerates. Don’t try anything new on race day!
- Set realistic goals – For your first race, making the distance at a comfortable pace is the goal. Don’t worry about time.
- Warm up well – Dynamic stretches and race walk for at least 15 minutes beforehand to prep muscles.
- Start slow – Adrenaline may speed you up at the start. Stick to your planned pace and save energy.
- Observe hydration – Drink regularly if conditions are warm. Dehydration damages performance.
- Focus on form – Maintain proper technique even when fatigued. This prevents injury.
- Smile for cameras – Judges assess walking form from photos, so smile through discomfort!
- Recover properly – Cool down, stretch, hydrate, and refuel after finishing. Use ice baths or compression socks to reduce soreness.
With preparation, nerves will turn to excitement, and you’ll be ready to achieve success on race day!
What to Wear for Race Walking
Selecting the right clothing and gear can enhance performance. Follow these tips:
Shoes – Properly fitted race walking shoes offer cushioning for heel-to-toe rolls and support for your ankles and arches. Replace shoes every 300-500 miles.
Socks – Blisters are common with race walking’s constant friction. Wear synthetic moisture wicking socks and apply petroleum jelly or tape to blister-prone areas.
Shorts – Lightweight shorts allow free hip movement. Compression shorts also aid muscle recovery.
Top – Opt for technical fabrics that wick sweat. Tank tops allow arm swing. Add layers as needed.
Reflective gear – For dusk or nighttime training, add reflective strips and bright colors to be seen by cars.
Hat/visor – Shield your face from the sun’s glare.
Sunglasses – Protect your eyes and improve sight lines.
Body glide – Apply anti-chafe balm to inner thighs, underarms, neck, bra line, and feet. Prevent skin irritation.
Water belt – Hydration packs with bottles or bladders ensure you can drink consistently on the move.
What to Eat and Drink Before, During, and After a Race Walk
Proper race day nutrition provides energy for performance:
Before: Eat familiar high carb foods like oatmeal, whole grain toast, or fruit 2-4 hours prior. Hydrate well in the days beforehand.
During: For events over 60 minutes, carry water and quick energy sources like sports drinks, gels, chews, or bananas. Consume 30-90g carbs per hour depending on intensity and your body’s needs.
After: Refuel depleted muscles within 30 minutes. Combine carbs to replenish glycogen stores (yogurt, chocolate milk, banana) and protein to repair muscle (lean meats, eggs, nuts) for optimal recovery. Continue hydrating.
In training, experiment to find foods and drink mixes your stomach can handle. Don’t overeat right before or during a race walk. Focus on adequate fluid intake before, during, and after. Proper nutrition and hydration allow you to go the distance.
How to Prevent Injuries
Race walking is low impact but injuries still occur. Follow these form guidelines and training practices to stay healthy:
- Build training volume gradually to avoid overuse issues.
- Wear properly fitted race walking shoes.
- Replace shoes every 300-500 miles.
- Stretch calves, hip flexors, quads, hamstrings and glutes.
- Strengthen core and lower body muscles.
- Use proper technique – don’t overstride or bend knees.
- Lean slightly forward from ankles to align weight.
- Drive from hips and glutes, not knees
- Land on heel and roll gently through foot.
- Keep supporting leg straight until body passes over.
- Rotate arms naturally and freely.
- Cool down and stretch thoroughly after training.
With careful preparation and attentive self-care, you can avoid injury and successfully meet your race-walking goals!
Where to Find Race Walking Events
From local 5ks to world championships, race walking events exist across the globe. Here are some resources to find upcoming races:
- Local running stores – Staff often know community race schedules.
- Walking clubs – Clubs organize training walks and regional events.
- USA Track and Field – Sanctions competitions including race walks.
- Racewalk.com – Database of race walk events searchable by state.
- Running USA – Online race finder with filters for state and distance
- International athletic sites – IAAF and Olympics sites list major global races.
- Facebook groups – Enthusiasts share local and national race info.
- Running magazines/blogs – Websites like Runner’s World post calendars
- Race organizer pages – Check sites for big events like Rock ‘n’ Roll marathons
For beginners, choose a local 5k or 10k to experience a race environment before attempting marathon distances. Have fun achieving your goals at each distance!
Here are answers to some frequently asked race-walking questions:
How is race walking judged?
Judges watch for “loss of contact” where both feet are airborne and bent knees. They issue red cards for violations, which can result in disqualification after three cards. Video cameras are also used.
Is race walking hard on your knees?
When performed correctly with a straight leg gait, race walking is low impact. The constant hip rotation strengthens muscles around the knees providing stability. Gradually build up distance to avoid overuse issues. Proper shoes and rest days also prevent injury.
What is race walking good for?
It provides an excellent full-body cardiovascular workout that burns calories without high-impact stress on joints. It improves stamina, strength, flexibility, posture and circulation. Race walking is considered a lifelong sport.
How fast do elite race walkers go?
The men’s world record for the 20km race walk is 1:16:36, which is an average pace under 7 minutes per mile. The women’s record is 1:24:38, averaging 8-minute miles. Olympic qualifying standards require walking 5k in under 22 minutes.
Can I listen to music while race walking?
Many races prohibit headphones for safety reasons. Get used to training without music so it’s not a change on race day. Use podcasts or audiobooks if permitted instead for entertainment without tempo cues that can alter your pace.
With dedication and patience, anyone can successfully train for and complete a race walk. Start slowly, put in consistent mileage following a training plan, and pay close attention to technique. Select the right gear, fuel properly, and recover well. Soon you’ll be hooked on this fun, full-body sport and ready to check off personal bests at events near and far. The rewarding challenge of race walking is worth every step!