Blog by Tim Seaman
Over the course of my career, many people have asked me what is “speedwalking” or what is “powerwalking”. Well……it’s actually called race walking and it has been in the Olympics for over 100 years. Race walking is an event in the sport of Track and Field and it first got its start way back in the 19th century in England and at the time was one of the most gambled on sports in existence. Today, race walking participants are one of the most diverse at the Olympic Games, with countries from every continent being represented. In most running events, the African countries dominate much of the scene, but in race walking, someone from Asia, South America, Europe, North America, Central America or Australia can have a shot for a chance at Olympic greatness.
In 2012 at the Olympic Games, the US sent three race walkers to compete in London. Two of them, Trevor Barron and Maria Michta, went on to walk the fastest times ever by Americans at the Olympic Games in the 20km for both men and women, and the 3rd, John Nunn, walked his PR in the men’s 50km.
There is a two part definition that separates race walking from running. It is as follows:
- 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.
- The advancing leg must be straightened (i.e., not bent at the knee) from the moment of first contact with the ground until in the vertical upright position.
It sounds pretty complicated, but in practice and when done properly, it is safer and has less risk of injury than running. When TV shows try and imitate what racewalking is, they typically show you someone who looks nerdy, has funny clothes on, and exaggerating their body movements. That is not race walking. Race walkers try and keep their bodies as low to the ground and as smooth as possible to conserve energy.
In the Olympics there are two distances for the men, and one distance currently for the women. Both the men and the women compete in the 20km (12.4 miles) event, while the men compete in the longest footrace in the Olympic program, the 50km (31 miles). The men average just over 6-minutes per mile in the 20km, while the women are just under 7 minutes. For the 50km, the elite men split the marathon at just over 3 hours (yes, 3 hours!) and then continue on for another 5 miles. From experience, I can tell you that those last 5 miles could be the longest 5 miles of your life.
If you would like to know more about the technique of race walking, please check out this series of explanations from our online Race Walk Clinic:http://www.racewalkclinic.com/Technique/Technique01.asp
If you would like more info on race walking, please feel free to contact me.
Tim Seaman is a 44x National Champion and a 12x US Record Holder. He currently holds 8 American records and 4 US Masters records and is the Head Men’s Cross Country Coach and Head Women’s Track Coach at Cuyamaca College in El Cajon, CA.
The Zone Drill
Invented by Mr. Wilbur Ross, this drill is widely recognized as the single most important workout for the elite athlete during the competitive season.
1.) To condition the hurdler to hurdling timing and technique at hyper speeds during a workout routine.
2.) To condition the athlete to crave speed in the later half of a race.
3.) Elimination of fear at top speeds.
Place ten hurdles at their normal distances and heights. Remove hurdles four, five and six (blank space effectively becomes the “Zone”). Athlete comes out of the blocks obtaining full speed over the first three hurdles. Upon reaching the zone, athlete must accelerate to hyper speeds on the flat. As they approach hurdle seven, the athlete must make a choice to attack the hurdle or to bail out. The athlete who chooses to attack the hurdle must then maintain the hyper speed while securing a three-step running pattern over the remainder of hurdles.
The speed in which they take the last four hurdles is effectively what the drill is designed to improve and test. The athlete must be maintained his technique over the hurdles once exiting the zone at this new and unfamiliar speed. However, due to the increased speed in which they have assumed this task it is very difficult to obtain. The key is to take the hurdles blindly (blind faith) and stay relaxed reacting quickly and aggressively instead of defensively.
Each run should be timed. Once an athlete is able to do this drill at 100% effort, accurate race times within .28 seconds (if hand timed, add .28 sec.) can be predicted within a two-day window period.
Do this drill during the spring season when weather conditions are favorable. Zone drills should be done within two days of competition due to the emotional benefit and psychological boost the athlete gets from this drill as well as the reaction time decay of most athletes per a given week.
Back and Forths
Mr. Jean Poquette, developing coach of former world record holder Renaldo Nehemiah, invented this drill.
1.) The purpose of the drill is to give the athlete speed plus endurance training.
2.) Creates concentration, stamina and discipline over the barriers.
Set the first five hurdles at normal spacing and normal height. Set a second row of five hurdles returning (a lane apart facing the opposite direction) with a pair of blocks at the beginning of this row (must be measured for correct distance).
The athlete begins with a standing/running start for the first of the five hurdles accelerating to 100%. At the conclusion of the first five, the athlete is given a maximum :15 seconds rest (time enough to get in the blocks) and takes the second set of five hurdles. The drill is to be done at 85-90% effort. Pace and relaxation for efficiency is stressed in this drill.
This workout is good to do when the athlete is in transition from their fall training to beginning season and can be used sparingly as a conditioning workout during the season.
A timed recovery is best for these drills (approximately 4-6 minutes) a total of five runs over the entire drill would be considered an excellent work-out.
Side steps with speed
This drill was created by Mr. John Isaac of Great Britain and used to train hurdlers like Tony Jarrett and myself.
1.) To increase leg speed between hurdles. Reaffirming the philosophy of “hurdler as sprinter”.
2.) To allow the athlete to isolate a particular regions of his body.
3.) To eliminate fear of the hurdles at hyper speeds.
The first five hurdles. The spacing is reduced (at coach’s discretion) normally 12″ or 1 foot. The hurdles are lowered 3″ inches. The athlete takes the hurdle with only one side of his body (i.e. the trail leg or the lead leg) while accelerating to hyper speeds or greater than 100%.
The philosophy is to reacquaint the hurdler with the importance of the sprint in between the hurdles and proper acceleration into and off each hurdle. By lowering the hurdles, we have eliminated the athlete’s concern for hurdle clearance. By moving the hurdles in closer, we have eliminated the athlete’s concern of distance, giving the hurdler amble confidence in his abilities and allowing him/her to concentrate on speed.
Have the athlete do these workouts during competition season in place of “Zone drills” if the athlete has particular difficulty with the zone drills. However, this drill should not completely replace the zone drill or vice versa. Use this drill as a complement to the zone drills or perhaps a reward for a tough week. This drill should be done within two days of competition.
The athlete should do a minimum of five passes down each side then five over the top for a complete workout in order to yield maximum benefits from the drill.
Optional suggestions would include; when your athlete has mastered this workout but his technique still could desire more, the coach may raise the height of the barriers or increase the distance of the barriers.
By increasing the height, the athlete will develop stronger and more flexible technical abilities along with greater speeds. By increasing the barrier length the athlete will develop greater ground speed overall.
This drill was given to me by 1992 Olympic gold medallist Mark McKoy of Canada.
1.) This drill is great to use when warm-up facilities are limited and your athlete needs several passes over hurdles to warm-up.
2.) Also this is a great drill to do when an athlete is “Flat” (tired, non-aggressive, tight, sluggish) this stimulates tempo and mental alertness.
3.) Gives the athlete a greater number of hurdle passes without a large volume of distance.
Set hurdles at normal distance and normal height followed by simply inserting a hurdle between each effectively having placed a hurdle at every five yards.
The athlete is to condense his steps to fit a three-step rhythm. The faster the tempo, the harder and ultimately more beneficial.
Can be used as a warm-up for race, setting hurdles up on a “as needed” basis.
In a workout, an athlete can set up as many as 19 hurdles making up to 20 passes during the fall training season and decreasing the load as the competitive season approaches and the athlete’s conditioning increases.
If you are a beginner or a competitive runner, knowing when to exercise if you don’t feel well can be difficult. When you have an infection such as a cold or stomach flu you need to decide how exercise might affect your health and your road back to recovery.
When your body is fighting an infection your performance and fitness benefits will likely be less than optimal. When this happens I think missing a few days of training is not the end of the world and the best option is not to run.
However, sometimes physical activity can help you feel better. For example, running a short distance can sometimes temporarily clear head congestion when you have a cold. The times when you do think exercise might help I suggest trying the “neck check” for your symptoms. If your symptoms are located above the neck like a stuffy or runny nose, sneezing or a sore throat then exercise is probably safe. I suggest you start running conservatively and if you feel better after 10 minutes then you can increase your pace and finish the workout. Obviously, if you feel really bad then stop running.
On the other hand you may want to pay close attention to “below the neck” symptoms. I suggest you avoid intense physical activity if you have muscle aches, hacking cough, chills, vomiting, diarrhea and a fever of 100 degrees or higher. Running when you have below the neck symptoms may result in feeling weak and dehydrated.
I often inform my athletes they can resume running when below the neck symptoms subside. However, when recovering from an illness that prevented you from running, it’s important to ease back into activity gradually. A good rule to follow is to exercise for 2 days at a lower than normal intensity for each day you are sick.
There are many activities that stress repetitive movements such as aerobics, cycling, swimming and running. Unfortunately, these types of fitness pursuits tend to cause overuse injuries. There are many reasons why you can develop such an injury. Outlined below are some reasons why overuse injuries occur.
Inadequate Conditioning: When you increase your workload before you are ready to progress you can overstress your body.
Improper Technique: Some runners seem to float along in a natural way while others run awkwardly. If you are the latter learn proper form and technique.
Generic Configuration of your Body: The way you are built will affect your athletic performance. For example, if you are knock-kneed with wide hips and you take up running, you could develop problems in your knees.
Improper Equipment: The way your shoes fit can set you up for injury. This includes shoes that are lacking adequate cushioning or arch and heel support.
Type of Exercise: Running is more likely to cause overuse injuries of the lower extremities and the back than other sports. In contrast, tennis players are likely to have more shoulder and elbow pain.
The primary goal of every runner should be to remain injury-free. Running goals and times cannot be achieved without consistent training. Consistent training cannot be maintained without getting healthy and staying healthy. Optimize your health instead of minimizing your symptoms and you will run injury-free for years to come.
The sport of running is a unique blending of spiritual, physical, environmental and mental challenges. It is both a sport and an experience. One often overlooked ingredient that is vital to success in this demanding activity is a proper warm-up routine. A proper warm-up prepares you to fully utilize your physical, neurological and psychological capabilities.
The muscular system must be properly prepared and so the temperature of the muscles must be elevated in order for them to work with optimal efficiency. The circulatory system must be properly stimulated in order for the most efficient transfer of oxygen and carbon dioxide. The working muscles must be saturated with as much oxygen rich blood as possible prior to running. In addition, the body’s cooling system must be elevated to its most efficient level. In my opinion, all this cannot happen without a structured warm-up.
The neurological system must be prepared in order for the proper laying down of the technical neural patterns required for efficient running. With proper and consistent warm-up the correct neural reflexes will be programmed. This will allow you to rely on proper conditioned reflexes for efficient movement. This also helps to allow for proper running rhythm.
The warm-up must also prepare you for the psychological demands of training and racing. I believe you must have some sort of structured warm-up procedure that gradually increases your focus until a total relaxed concentration is reached.
In closing, without optimal preparation of the physical, mental and neurological systems it’s impossible to expect optimal performance in training or competition.
Throughout the years I have been asked specific questions on how to get started in a running program. Provided are five of the more common questions that I address with beginners in regards to running:
How do I Start Running?
My suggestion is you start walking for a period of time that feels comfortable, which can be anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. Once you can walk for 30 minutes easily, proceed and add one to two minute running sessions into your walking. As time goes on, make the running sessions longer, until you’re running for a solid 30 minutes.
Should I breathe through my nose or my mouth?
I suggest you do both. It’s normal and natural to breathe through your nose and mouth at the same time. It’s good to keep your mouth slightly open and relax your jaw muscles.
I always feel out of breath when I run. Is something wrong?
Yes, you’re probably trying to run too fast so relax and slow down. One of the fundamental mistakes a beginner can make is to run too fast. Concentrate on breathing from deep down in your abdomen and when necessary, take walking breaks.
I often suffer from a side cramp when I run. How does it go away?
Unfortunately, side stitches are more common among beginners because your abdomen is not used to the movement that running causes. In my experience most runners find that stitches go away as fitness increases. I also suggest you try not to eat any solid foods during the hour before you run. When you get a stitch, breathe deeply, concentrating on pushing all of the air out of your abdomen. By doing this it will stretch out your diaphragm muscle which is usually where a cramp occurs.
Is it normal to feel pain during running?
I believe some discomfort is normal as you add distance and intensity to your training. However, real pain is not normal. If some part of your body feels so bad that you run with a limp or otherwise alter your stride, you have a problem. Immediately stop running and take a few days off. If you are unsure about the pain, try walking for a minute or two to see if the discomfort disappears.
Remember to give yourself time to improve. Be patient, grow stronger, get faster and run like the wind!
The human foot is comprised of some 28 bones, 20 muscles and tendons, 112 ligaments and 33 joints. The individual characteristics of each of these components and how they work together create an endless variety of feet and foot movement. I believe by understanding the characteristics of your feet and their motion through analysis at a specialty running store, by a podiatrist or through your own observations, you can take the initiative to make sure that you end up in a running shoe that best serves your needs.
First, I suggest you begin by determining your own foot strike and motion. When you run, do you land on your forefoot or your heel? If you land on your forefoot, you need a cushioned shoe. If you land on your heel, it’s determined by one of the following factors:
1. Do you roll up the outside edge of your foot?
2. Do you roll pretty evenly up the center area of the foot?
3. Do you roll toward the inside edge of your forefoot to toe-off?
This can be difficult to determine, especially since wear patterns on your old shoes can be misleading. The ideal standard is biomechanical analysis of your gait. A less technical method is to stand on a flat surface with your knees bent and your feet flat and ask a friend to look at your achilles tendons. Do they curve or tilt noticeably inward from vertical or do they remain fairly straight up and down?
If you fall into the first category, you are probably part of the 65% of the general population who overpronates which means you roll to the inside edge of the foot. Severe overpronators need a motion control shoe to help curb this extraneous motion. Milder overpronators need a stability shoe, which provides structure to guide your foot to a more neutral motion. If your achilles remains relatively vertical, you are among the 30% who have neutral feet and simply need cushioned shoes.
Next, determine the shape of your foot by the following criteria:
1. Approximately 35% of us have high arches and require curved shoes.
2. 40% of us have medium arches and require semi-curved shoes.
3. The remaining 25% of us have minimal to no arches and require semi-straight or straight lasted shoes.
Please feel free now to use this shoe information as a starting place to view many of the latest offerings from shoe companies. Good luck!