Alan Price has probably walked more miles much faster than most of us will in a lifetime.
In New York and Seattle, Pennsylvania and Los Angeles, Connecticut and London, he has walked mile after mile after mile.
Price does all this walking as sport. He is a race-walker, one of an esoteric breed of competitors who stride along with an exaggerated hip-wobbling movement caused by their heel-and-toe technique. They are judged on time and distance.
Price took up the sport in 1974 due to a comination of fate and opportunity.
"I had been running the 880-yard run for a club called the Travelers," recalled the 33-year-old Price. "The trouble was that I never seemed to finish better than last.
"There was this one meet where I finished my usual last. Then I heard the announcer make the first call for the race-walk. I looked around and saw that only one person had responded. Since there were three trophies being given out for the event, I decided to give it a try."
Ultimately, three other hopefuls got the same idea and entered the event. Price ended up in third place, thus beginning his new career as a race-walker. p
Price has gone on to improve on his techniques in the event through trial and error. He admits that having been disqualified on several occasions for technical errors has had its advantages.
"There can be a thin line between walking and running," he explained. "It all depends on how the judges view it. When I first started out, I was guilty of things like not having both feet on the ground at all times. That made me more careful than anything else. It's no fun to go out for five or six miles and then have someone disqualify you." Price added that walkers are given warnings before disqualification.
Based on his race times, Price is ranked among the top 15 in the United States in the 20-kilometer and No. 10 in the 50-kilometer.
But it is the longer distance races where he has no peers. He holds the record for 100 miles with a staggering time of 18 hours, 57 minutes. He is also American record holder for the 24-hour race with a mind boggling distance of 118 miles, 1,500 yards.
Price credits his unique training regimen for his endurance and stamina. "In the winter, it's too cold to walk so I train by running distances of 10 kilometers to 100 miles weekly.
"On the other hand, it's too hot to run in the summer so I walk the same distance. That's how I get balance out of my training."
Despite the rigorous training schedule, Price says he never really considered himself more than a mediocre race walker until 1976.
"I used to basically do it for personal satisfaction," said Price. "It was something that I felt natural doing."
Then there was a meet in Niagara Falls where the top race walkers in the country were trying out for the Olympics. The top three finishers would qualify for the games and I just missed by one minute. I was surprised and it was at that point that I knew I could hang with the big boys."
Other than an occasional half-fare sponsorship by an area track club, the Potomac Valley Seniors, Price foots his own bill. The meet in London was sponsored by a group of stores there as a promotional venture.
Price says because many people don't understand the sport, he has, been the object of taunts and laughter on occasion. "People see the switching of the behind and arms flailing and they seem to get a big kick out of it. But after seeing for a while, they begin to realize that there must be some difficulty in it. People who have seen me train in Malcolm X Park over the years now respect what I am doing."
Price keeps abreast of race-walking news, upcoming events and other tidbits through race-walking newsletters and publications. By his estimate, there are probably 60 race-walkers in the country. Price claims he is the only ranked black.
Price has some vivid memories of his more interesting experiences during his race-walking career, like the time he ate too many grapes during a race and almost had to regurgitate in order to finish.
But probably the most memorable came during his record-setting race in Columbia, Mo. "The temperature dropped to about 35 degrees and I wasn't dressed properly. I developed hypothermia (a condition when the body suffers from extreme cold). I began to literally walk all over the track due to the discomfort.
"But I kept telling myself that I wanted that record and that's what kept me going. I'll never forget the feeling I had when that warm sun came up the following morning. It was like new life was being injected into my body."
Since the United States will not be in the Olympic games in 1980, Price says he will continue to race and prepare for 1984. He plans to run in Zurich, Berlin, England and Sweden in the coming months.
Race-walking gets little or no exposure except during the Olympics and there is little opportunity for monetary gains. So what is the reward for such an unpopular sport?
"The traveling, the competition and the developing of friendships among your competitors makes it all worth it," Price explained. "I really enjoy it."