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Arkansas Gazette
Monday, September 10, 2001

Clinic teaches walkers how to twist their way to the finish line

Fit Happens logo "I don't know how up you are on your Bible verses," racewalking instructor Dave McGovern said with a you-get-it-don't-you? look, "but you need to remember to turn the other cheek."
    We got it. The 28 of us in McGovern's recent racewalking clinic laughed as we instantly understood that he was referring to our lower cheeks -- and the distinctive twisting step that enables racewalkers to move at such high speeds.
    The funny thing is, it made perfect sense. For me, it was an aha! moment -- it was the turning point in my up-till-then not-so-great attempts at the unusual sport.
    People of all sizes and ages attended the clinic -- Arkansans from as far away as Mountain Home and Fayetteville, and out-of-state folks from Tennessee, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas. Reasons for attending were as varied as the participants, ranging from needing something to help deal with grief and weight loss ("My husband said it was time to start losing weight or quit complaining about it," one woman said) to shaving time off a marathon.
    From the looks on people's faces, it was clear they thought their time and $125 clinic fee were well spent. The woman who recently lost her father and needed impetus to "get up off the couch" turned out to be a gazelle in disguise. The smile that spread across her face over the weekend was as wide as her racewalking stride.
    Those interested in weight loss definitely learned a great way to burn calories with a smaller chance of injury. "You actually burn more calories per mile racewalking than running because you use your upper body more," McGovern says. "[The amount] depends on body weight, but somewhere around 110-120 per mile."
    Despite the high calorie-burning potential, racewalking is fairly low-impact and easy on the joints.
    "Since you don't come off the ground, there's a lot less pounding than running. And the straight knee keeps your joints in alignment. I get a lot fewer injuries racewalking than I do running," McGovern says.
    That doesn't mean racewalking is pain free when you are learning -- especially in the shins. An interesting thing at the clinic was that the nonathletes picked up the technique instantly and more easily than the runners and fast fitness walkers, because they had no habits to unlearn, McGovern says. "Some people get it right away -- kids usually do," McGovern says. "Other people need to work a lot to get the hang of it."
    As for those who laugh at racewalkers, McGovern couldn't care less.
    "Athletes don't laugh at us, they respect us (especially runners when we beat them walking!) Racewalking is sort of like the breast stroke in swimming. It's not as fast as the freestyle, but it's an equally valid way of getting across the pool. But if all you've ever seen was the crawl, it would look a little funny."
    The 1:38 quarter-mile lap he demonstrated would wipe the smirk off any bystander's face.
    For more information, visit McGovern's Web site,
Write to Laura Cartwright in care of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, P.O. Box 2221, Little Rock, Ark. 72203 or e-mail

This article was published on Monday, September 10, 2001

Copyright © 2001, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc. All rights reserved.
This document may not be reprinted without the express written permission of Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc.

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