In the Long Run, Boomers May Discover That Racewalking Is the Way to Go
There's a running gag in my family that goes like this: We'll be driving through some neighborhood and come upon one of those women (it's always a woman) power-walking down the sidewalk. You know the type: wildly exaggerated stride, arms pumping furiously, sometimes with a small weight in each hand.
"Dork walker!" one of my kids will cry out.
Sometimes it's me who does that.
Okay, it's usually me.
I think I might have to stop now. For I have met some walkers, and they make a pretty good argument about why I might be joining them in the not-too-distant future.
Not the dork, er, power walkers. No, these are racewalkers, and they believe that once word gets out to the nation's more than 70 million baby boomers, their sport could become the Next Big Thing.
"I want racewalking to become for baby boomers in their 50s, 60s and 70s what jogging was for them in their 20s," says Brent Bohlen, author of the new book "BoomerWalk: Why Baby Boomers Should Replace Running and Jogging With Racewalking."
It's hard to dispute Bohlen's main point: Racewalking is low-impact. As we age, the sport is much easier on our backs, feet, ankles and knees than running. How many people do you know who have been forced to give up running because of the constant pounding? I've run for years with a nagging knee injury and a recurring foot problem that requires occasional cortisone shots.
Bohlen cites research showing that racewalkers on average suffer only a single injury for every 6.4 years of participation, and only once in every 13 years is an injury serious enough to affect a racewalker's training. Other studies indicate that runners and joggers can expect to get hurt about three times as often.
And racewalkers need only an appropriate pair of shoes and a flat surface, making the sport inexpensive and accessible.
Bohlen's other big point is that racewalking provides a vigorous workout. In fact, he and others say, because the hips and upper body are so heavily involved, it uses more muscles than running.
That I needed to see for myself. So I went to a recent racewalking clinic and track meet held by the Potomac Valley Track Club at Falls Church High School. On a gorgeous Saturday at 7 a.m., Lois Dicker, a 69-year-old racewalker who competes nationally in her age group, was teaching the sport to first-timer Tom Gargan, who works at the U.S. Army Center for Environmental Health Research at Fort Detrick in Frederick.