As part of the official press at the 12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics - Berlin 2009 it saddened me that I could only cover one American race walker. With a full squad equaling nine race walkers, we were a little light. After watching Teresa Vaill struggle in the women’s 20K and eventually drop out, the thought of no American race walker completing their event just didn’t sit well with me. What could I, a former competitive race walker and now photographer and promoter of race walking do about it? Well, under the direction of race walking legend Elliot Denman a plan was hatched.
Elliot entered me in the media 800 meter race. Held at every World Championships it’s an event like all others and dare I say ran rather professionally. There were eight heats and the winning time can be under two minutes. I don’t know about you, but I have never competed in an 800. Back in the day I could walk it in under three minutes, but that was long ago. Elliot put me down as a 4:25, seemed reasonable considering I don’t think I’ve walked under 10 minutes per mile in years.
To train, I warmed up. Walked a lap in two and a half minutes, did some drills and looked to the sagely Denman for advice. “Walk fast and then speed up,” he said with an air of glee. OK, I could do that. Surprisingly, I wasn’t in the slowest heat, but that was mainly because everyone didn’t give a seed time.
The first heat had some speedsters, but also one or two around the four minute mark. OK, I won’t totally embarrass myself race walking with all these runners. When my heat was called, I walked up to the line and sized up my competition. There was at least one old overweight dude. Hopefully, I could take him. The gun went off and the runners well ran. I started race walking and actually received quite the warm reception. Pacing myself I went through 100 meters just under 30 seconds. Yes, when you race 800 meters suddenly 100 meter splits mean something. I clocked another 30 second 200 hundred and was on pace to break 4:00. At this point there were two runners behind me. Smelling easy pickins, I picked it up and started reeling in the runners. I came through the 400 meter mark in a blistering 1:56 and then there was this bear at the corner taunting me. He had a sofa and a refrigerator, the same ones from when I used to race the mile. He said you better slow down or I am going to put these on your back. So I controlled the pace back to around two minutes per lap and cruised. Sadly, one runner cruised by me and the ones in front sprinted in. I walked a few seconds under four minutes and am no worse for the experience. However, now I can say I competed in an event at the World Championships of Athletics, just like my idol Tim Seaman!
Of course, many of you might not know I owe it all to my childhood friend David Savitz. He made me run after him, while he was on the bike, so that we could play video games. Thanks Dave!
Photo Credit: Elliot Denman
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