In recent weeks a number of events have transpired that have lead me to write up this review. First, I went to the European Race Walking Coach's Conference in Leeds England. While I knew before going that America was behind, it is only afterwards that I realized how far behind we are. I planned to write a public review (which follows), but a few other events occurred that I feel merits comment.
The recent breakthrough by Trevor Barron, although not unexpected, shows that we can compete on the world stage. Trevor has a wonderful support system and his future is bright. It's one of the first times in years that I feel we are moving in the right direction, even if on an individual level. Tim Seaman's efforts with Champions International is paying dividends.
Our Race Walking Clinic of Excellence in Springfield, IL was of note as well. While the clinic was fine it was two aspects of the clinic that gives me hope for race walking. The first was that there was a clinic in Springfield, IL. Spearheaded by Brent Bohlen, author of "Boomerwalk", Brent was one of the first active race walkers in Springfield just a few years ago. Learning at a Dave McGovern clinic he became an enthusiast wanting to spread the word. He wrote Boomerwalk and started evangelizing race walking to the masses. In addition to the people he lead nationally, this lead to a sold out clinic, where no active race walking activities existed a few years earlier. In addition, it lead to an opportunity for 12 NAIA athletes to attend the clinic for free. We typically discount college athletes to a $50 entry fee, but Ginger Mulanex raised the money for their fee so they got coaching at no cost right at the beginning of the season. Why do I bring this all up? We don't need to wait for USATF, a larger group, or big funds to have an impact. Brent's actions have lead to a thriving walking community where there was none before. Communities like this support the up-and-coming elite walkers and through efforts like this we can rebuild our national race walking program. If 100 Brents existed out there we could have thousands of new race walkers supporting our elite and future elite race walkers. Currently, we have a number of young race walkers with incredibly bright futures, but we need to be able to support them financially, emotionally and with infrastructure. That means going out and building your local walking program.
The second event was the 100th Coney Island race walk. An historical walk by definition, it is the oldest continual race walking event in the country. This year's effort saw a nice turnout to the boardwalk, but nothing like the old days. My fear next year and future years this event will suffer. We need a grass roots movement to build the base back up. When I was just starting I walked in NYC for the first time, it was a local race and I finished 6th with a time of 48:something for a 10K. Think about the depth we had just 20+ years ago. We need to have that again.
In addition, I gave a lecture at Texas A&M and in the process found out they teach 1,000 students a year in a walking gym class where they teach race walking. I am working with them to see what we can do to build on their efforts. Clearly, there are sources of walkers out there, we just have to do a better job recruiting and retaining them.
With that said, the following is my synopsis of what I learned from going to the 1st European Race Walking Coach’s Conference in Leeds, England. The conference was a packed few days of lectures and workshops that were incredibly informative and enlightening. While many topics were covered, my personal interests were on the biomechanics and training philosophy, so those areas are covered in much greater detail. While many statements were made that suggested certain ranges for key parts of the stride, the caveat that the individuality of the walker may require walking outside that range. As an objective observer, if people came in with biases looking for certain beliefs to be reinforced, they could use this caveat to contradict the accepted norm.
While I walked away with great knowledge, I was saddened by how far behind America is in relation to the world’s best race walking programs. While we can learn from them, without the level of support given to other country’s athletes, it is doubtful we can compete unless things change. Efforts to create a center of excellence with full-time athletes are essential to our forward progress and should be pursued as the highest priority. Oh and one very import revelation for Tom and all the other racewalkers, no one gave a presentation on racewalking, they were only on RACE WALKING! ;)
Preparation of Ivano Brugnetti
Antonio La Torre – Coach of Ivanno Brungetti talked about preparing Brugnetti for his 2004 Gold Medal performance at the Olympic Games. While he gave specific examples of workouts, what was more important to learn were the ideas behind it. They are summarized in bullet fashion:
1 Brugnetti trained at a high level. Much higher than most including his teammates. This ability allowed Brugnetti to push harder in training than many. In my opinion, that makes the examples of workouts that Brugnetti did less applicable to the masses. Importantly, to La Torre’s credit, unlike some other coaches I have seen, he acknowledged this and did not prescribe the same level of workouts for Brugnetti’s teammates. This is very wise and shows great insightfulness.
2) Brugnetti was able immediately able to walk at altitude at the same level of intensity as at sea level. This is not normal, especially for athletes that are new to altitude training. Brent Vallance (Australia) said for the typical athlete it can take 6-8 years to achieve this.
3) La Torre feels you build a strong base by training/walking for the 50K and then can step down to the 20K. At least that's what he felt worked well for Brugnetti. (Some of what he said was difficult to understand due to the language barrier).
4) Strength training can be achieved with hill work on mixed courses of up and down. There was high intensity on both the up and down. This was surprising to me. I don’t think we prescribe hard on the down. However, the concept of using hills for strength training is not. This is part of Stephan Platzer's philosophy and therefore part of Tim Seaman's as well.
5) They target preserving stride (both amplitude and frequency) in training.
6) They used a sleep high train low altitude philosophy. Hiked up to the hut. Pointed out sleep initially was an issue and the mental fatigue of living at altitude was also an issue.
7) It seemed like from La Torre was stating that Brugnetti’s inconsistency was mental not physical.
This may have been the most enlightening talk. It demonstrated again how far behind we are in America. The main theme was that race walkers must balance the kinetic chain. If one muscle in a chain is out of balance an injury occurs. Therefore, instead of simply stating we should do a series of drills because we think an athlete needs them based on a subjective evaluation of technique. Fraser McKinney’s evaluation was complex. It started simple and built on evaluating neuromuscular activity. Many athletes can perform an activity in a limited controlled manner. However, if you add more muscles into the kinetic chain, they lose control of the original exercise. Since race walking is a complex series of muscle actions working together in a kinetic chain, then any corrective actions must be accomplished by taken with multiple muscle groups working in concert. Evaluating the motions and deficiencies is not simple. I feel this skill set does not exist for race walking in America and could be the single biggest hole that we could do something about with a minimum of resources. If we could gain this knowledge, apply and disseminate it we could greatly reduce injuries, increase technical competency of race walkers, and maximize the return of our limited pool of race walkers. Given the few talented walkers we have, me must do all we can to maximize their results. We are investigating working with Fraser so that we may bring this knowledge stateside and beyond.
Here is a synopsis of the biomechanical technique evaluations:
Interestingly, at multiple times it was mentioned that race walkers push forward with the calf. Some American coaches have dictated that race walkers do not propel their body forward by significantly pushing off the rear foot, this was resoundingly contradicted by any expert that discussed the forward propulsion of a race walker. “The ankle muscles are a hugely important source of propulsive power for race walkers.” It was interesting to note, that while elite walkers have lower measurements for push off on a pressure plate, this is misleading because pressure plates measure pressure only in the vertical direction. Therefore, beginning walkers measure higher since less of their propulsive force is in the horizontal direction.
While we have taught that elite walkers land with footfalls in a straight line due to proper pelvic rotation, in actuality elite race walker’s footfalls are separated by 3cm (on average). If footfalls are directly in a straight line or cross over the line, that is a sign of excessive pelvic rotation.
Race walker’s feet land slightly inward, but should fall close to 0 degrees. Race walker’s do not get injured by the rotation because they have gotten used to it.
Another point that was brought up was that eccentric action causes injury. This reinforces what I was taught by Nadia D. (Gary Westerfield’s wife) who stated shoes without enough arch support cause an eccentric contraction of the hamstring and lead to injuries.
In terms of legality, interestingly many walkers make heel contact with the knee not full extended but at 178 degrees. This small difference, cannot be picked up by the human eye.
Focus on pelvic rotation was also covered, with emphasis on the effects of fatigue. More on this later.
In general, it takes 4-6 weeks to get athletes to neurologically change their muscle patterns, but it takes months of work to maintain the new pattern for the duration of a race walk.
Proper shoulder and hip rotation is required for proper race walking technique. However, in order to rotate properly, the sequence must be correct. When we researched “Looking at the Best” we noticed that elite walkers had more shoulder rotation that we previously thought. This was confirmed at the conference, but what was stressed was that it wasn’t the amount as much as the sequencing that was key.
Again, I repeat that there are norms for athletes and any recommendations depends on the specific athlete. That said at an elite level: The longer the step of the athlete the faster the athlete went. Elite athletes overcome long steps with high cadence. Elite athletes maintain both. Step length was 70-75% of height. Anyone over 75% tended to have excessive loss of contact to the point that the athlete should get proposals for disqualification.
A race walker's foot landed an average of 36 cm in front of the body. When the foot of the support leg is in front of the body the walker slows down. When the support leg is behind the body the walker speeds up.
Kaniskia is an outlier. Her range is greater. She slows down considerably when her foot is in front of her body, but she compensates with keeping her foot on the ground longer and speeds back up at push off.
Average placement of foot behind the body was 26-26% of height, measured from the point of heel contact to toe off.
Flight time for a race walker increases on a treadmill over the track/road.
The farther in front the foot is planted, the slower the walker becomes.
A reduction in pelvic rotation leads to a decrease in speed.
Slowing down related greatly to a lower loss of contact time.
Most people looked relatively the same from beginning to end.
There were often no correlations in some places where you would expect them, but that was probably due to the fact that most elites are already walking correctly and the variation wasn’t great enough to show up in the statistics. Therefore there was no correlation between pelvic rotation and step length or speed.
Junior women in particular are all over the place. Sometimes due to size lighter walkers have more rotation.
Hip drop increases with fatigue and results in decreased hip rotation.
The discussion on judging was troublesome. The lack of any semblance of scientific analysis was shocking. The IAAF judging exam was created by filming world class race walkers in racing conditions. Twenty sample clips were composed and played from one to twenty three times. The answers to the test were not assembled by the accepted scientific analysis that walkers off the ground for more than 40 milliseconds should be visible to the human eye and walkers with < 178 degrees of leg extension should receive a proposal for disqualification. Instead, the group of IAAF officials voted by majority rule which answers were correct.
After watching the video we were asked to judge whether each walker was legal or illegal. No distinction was made between calls for bent knee or loss of contact. This may be one of the reasons for contradictory calls by officials at major competitions as well as the large number of phantom bent knee calls.
How did I do? Let me preface with saying I never thought I would make a great judge. My skills are in photographic and video analysis, not live action. I scored 16 out of 20. Is that good? Apparently, it was higher than the average IAAF official. I couldn’t make out if they said that 13 or 15 were the average. So at face value I am better than the average IAAF official. However, that assumes the answers to the test were correct. Brian Handley, the biomechanics expert felt some of those proposed for disqualification were too close to call and should have received yellow paddles. This synchs more with my exam results. So how good were the IAAF judge results? If 13 is the average and random is 10, the results are frightening. If 15 is the average, this is only slightly better. We need to seriously overhaul our judging exam and training of IAAF judges. Until we have a definitive test that is scientifically-base, how can we hope to have a consistent standard of judging.
I proposed helmet camming the judges at major competitions for educational purposes only to see what judges see and to see if the judges are making the proper scientific calls.
In addition, Dave McGovern brought up that if judges, by nature, can’t give a paddle at the time they observe a walker deserving a caution that the cautions should go on the DQ board. This was an excellent suggestion.
Finally, a review of the change in judging verbiage was introduced. This can be reviewed from the power points.
Here are a few interesting random thoughts.
Not much new under the sun. Most athletes reach their nutritional needs from commonly available foods. Each athlete has a personalized eating and drinking plan. Appetite and thirst are not good indicators.
Consuming less than 20% fat does not benefit performance.
Preparation of Jared Tallent
Again random thoughts