Introducing Race Walk Races
If you've never been part of a race walk event before, these pages will provide information on a typical race.
The Basics (Courses, Rules)
Typical race distances are 1 mile and 5, 10, or 20 kilometers. A "5k" race is about 3.1 miles while a "10k" is 6.2 miles and a "20k" race is about 12.4 miles. Common longer distances are the half marathon (13.1 miles), and marathon (26.2 miles).
Some races are not set by distance but by time - for example, a One Hour race in which participants walk continuously for exactly 60 minutes after which their total distance is determined.
Some races are held on a track, others may be on a road or paved trail. Courses are as flat as possible.
In the Sacramento area, we are lucky to be able to race walk year round but most races occur in the Spring, Summer, and Fall months.
Official race walks are conducted in accordance the two major rules of race walking:
1. 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.
2. 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 position.
The first rule means that before a race walker lifts the rear foot off the ground, the leading foot must make contact with the ground. For a brief moment both feet appear to be in contact with the ground simultaneously. It should never appear as though the walker has left the ground. Failure to comply with this rule is commonly known as "lifting". The symbol notation for a lifting call looks something like this ~. If a judge thinks you are in danger of lifting, he or she may show you a paddle with the ~ symbol facing you.
When beginning race walkers hear the second rule they sometimes think that they must walk with their legs straight all the time. This is not true. The "straight leg" rule means that when a race walker's lead foot strikes the ground, the leg should be straight. It must stay straight until it passes under the body. Then it will have to bend to swing forward. Failure to comply with this rule is commonly known as "bent knee". The symbol notation for a "bent knee" call looks something like this >. If a judge thinks you are in danger of lifting, he or she may show you a paddle with the > symbol facing you.
For more information on these rules and on race walking in general, refer to the USATF Race Walk 2008 Handbook.
In addition to the two official rules above, there are other rules and courtesies that are generally followed:
" Race walk athletes must not wear clothing that could impede the view of the judges.
" Race walk race numbers are usually worn on the front and back and must be visible at all times.
" Race walk athletes do not interfere with another's progress. There is no pushing or shoving and while people often walk very closely together they do not intentionally trip, elbow, or otherwise interfere with another walker.
Before the Race
Arrive early for your race, generally about 30-60 minutes before the starting time. This gives you time to visit the registration table and warm up before the race. At the registration table, you will fill out a race form, pay, and get your bib numbers. You'll need to pin the numbers to both the front and back of the top you will be wearing during the race. Pins are usually provided but it doesn't hurt to carry spares in your sports bag.
Warm up as you usually do before a workout. In general, the shorter the race the longer the warm up.
A few minutes before the official start time, athletes will be called to the Start line. If the course consists of multiple circuits you will be assigned to a lap counter. This person will track how many times you complete each circuit of the course.
Line up on whatever line the Head Judge indicates is the Start line. Prepare yourself for the Start commands (the Head Judge or the Starter will let you know what the commands will be, usually something like "Ready, Go"). Start walking with good technique when you hear the "Go".
During the Race
A common beginners' mistake is to start out too fast at a pace that can not be sustained for the full distance of the race. Instead, stay with the pace you planned during your workouts prior to the race.
If the race is on a track, you don't have to stay in an assigned lane. Generally walkers move to the inside track in order to minimize the distance they will cover. On any course, everyone is free to take the shortest path possible to the finish line as long as they stay within the bounds of the course. In fact, taking the shortest path is a key part of race strategy that becomes especially important in any race where there are twists and turns in the course.
There are several judges at a race walk. The judges carefully watch all the athletes as they pass. They do not confer during the race. If in a judge's sole opinion, a walker is in danger of violating one of the two rules (see above), the judge may show the walker the appropriate paddle and may say something like, "Number 32, Bent Knee". The race walker should keep walking while paying attention to proper race walk form - the judge will not offer further information during the race.
If a judge identifies that a race walker is violating a rule, the judge will fill out a card (called a "Recommendation for Disqualification") and a volunteer "Runner" will take the card to the official who is staffing the "Recommendation for Disqualification Board" (informally known as the "DQ Board").
Another official (the "Board Minder") will place a mark - often a red dot or X - next to the appropriate bib number on the board. This serves to let race walkers how many violations have been recorded. Each race walker is permitted two violations during the race. A third violation is grounds for disqualification. Even if a walker sees three markers against his or her name, he or she should continue walking in the best possible form until being notified of disqualification. This sometimes occurs after the Finish line because it takes some time to deliver the cards.
Only the Head Judge can disqualify a walker. He or she does this by approaching the athlete and showing a red paddle, generally accompanied by words such as, "Number 47 you are disqualified. Please leave the course." Although this can be disappointing, all athletes are expected to show good sportsmanship and comply with the request to leave the race course immediately.
During the race it is important to take food and drink as needed, so stay aware of how you are feeling.
For longer races (over an hour), fuel (food) is important. Because the body is burning calories to sustain the athletic performance and the body can carry about one hour's worth of race walk energy, the calories need to be replaced. Many race walkers use pre-packaged sports gels. Beginners should try several brands in order to identify which are most appealing and best tolerated. Any type of fuel should be tested during training workouts (not tried for the first time in a race).
Hydration is always important for race walkers. In most races with beginners, volunteers staffing the water table will fill paper cups with water and hold them out toward the race walkers. If a race walker wants water, he or she takes the cup and keeps walking. If not, the race walker ignores the cup. It might take a bit of practice for a beginner to get comfortable taking water while maintaining proper form. The athletes seldom drink all the water in the cup. If the weather is warm, it is common to see them throw the water on themselves. When the race walker is done with the cup, it is tossed aside where it will (hopefully) be out of the way of following walkers. There is no need to try to deposit it neatly in a garbage can -- volunteers will clear up the discarded cups.
When you have one lap to go in a course with multiple loops you might hear someone ring a bell or say, "Bell Lap". This is your signal that you have just one more loop to complete before you cross the Finish line for the final time.
After the Race
After you cross the Finish line, walk to the edge of the course so you are out of the way of others. Take as long as you need to catch your breath, but it is a good idea to keep walking slowly. You'll often hear competitors congratulating each other on the race and cheering for those who are still walking.
After you've cooled down, it is a good idea to stretch thoroughly but carefully.
After all athletes have finished and the results have been turned in, especially in local races, the judges are available to answer any questions you have. They are very knowledgeable about the rules and can often explain what it was in your technique that caused a violation.
In local races all the officials, lap counters, registration table staff, water table staff, and board minders are volunteers. They are all a vital part of the race walking community - without them, there would be no races so it is appropriate to offer a "Thank You".
Many races are followed by simple awards ceremonies shortly after the race is completed and the results are calculated. Awards are often for the top finishers in all age categories.
What to Wear?
Race walkers usually race in whatever clothing they wear for workouts. It might not be a good idea to try new clothing for the first time in a race. While clothes in wicking fabrics are a good idea, it is not necessary to buy specialized athletic attire.
Many people wear singlets, tank tops, or short or long sleeve t-shirts on top. Women wear a sports bra underneath.
For bottoms, there are generally two types of shorts - the looser ones (with or without built-in liners) or the closer-fitting compression-type short. Below-the-knee shorts or pants are never worn regardless of the weather - they interfere with the judges' view of the legs.
Shoes should be flexible and comfortable.
Everything should fit comfortably and allow freedom of movement. Many beginners overdress for a race - they wear too many or too heavy clothes and face being overheated by the end of the race.
The general rule is to "dress for the finish" by wearing clothes that will be appropriate given the temperature by the time you expect to finish the race.
For further information, please come to a race or Contact us