Why walk when you can run?

This is a question that every race walker has undoubtedly heard at some point in his/her career.

The reason this question is posed so many times is that everyone learns how to walk and must maintain the ability to walk in order to get around everyday (if you fail to you must rely on a medical device to enable mobility). On the other hand not everyone is capable of running or at least not for a sustained period of time. Just think back to when you had to run the mile in gym class. Unfortunately for many students completing a mile, 4 laps around an outdoor track, was a daunting task. Therefore, people naturally respect an athlete’s ability to run but question the athleticism in walking. But remember race walkers don’t just walk, we race walk, which is a highly efficient form of walking. This is much like driving. The average adult knows how to and routinely drives a car, however this does not in any way mean that every person who drives a car is able to race in NASCAR.

Let’s look at another example. I like to use the following analogy: race walking is to running as the breast stroke is to freestyle. In swimming there are four different strokes, freestyle (front crawl), butterfly, backstroke and breaststroke. Each stroke specifically defines acceptable motions and timing of both the upper body and lower body as well as limiting time spent underwater, and even how an athlete makes a turn off the wall. Technically “freestyle” allows the athlete freedom to choose any stroke but since the front crawl is the fastest, elite swimmers only use the front crawl during the freestyle event.

Now back to my analogy, breaststroke is by far the slowest stroke, as you can see below are the Men’s World Records for the 200m swim for each of the following strokes set in a long course pool. The Freestyle World Record is just over 25 seconds faster than the breaststroke World record. Now I would guarantee you that Olympic breaststroke swimmers never get asked why they chose to compete at the slowest stroke in swimming, or why they just don’t swim the front crawl. The major difference is that most people can’t swim, whether it simply is the front crawl or a much more technical stroke such as the breaststroke or butterfly.

200m Freestyle- Paul BIEFERMANN 1:42.00

200m Butterfly- Michael PHELPS 1:51:51

200m Backstroke- Aron PEIRSOL 1:51:92

200m Breaststroke- Christian SPRENGER 2:07.31

The reason I walk instead of run… well that’s simple, I want to make it to the Olympics. My natural biomechanics have predisposed me to race walking rather than running. Since race walking is a distance event and I have a very good cardiovascular system, I therefore do well in longer distance races, especially compared to the average athlete stepping on the line. Another reason to race walk, even if you can run is there is less impact on your joints. Race walkers stay in contact with the ground and therefore eliminate the repeated pounding down on the pavement. Therefore it is easier on the joints especially the knees. Some great race walkers in the US began as runners but kept injuring their bodies and transitioned over to race walking. Now don’t be fooled because race walking is a distance event, which requires A LOT of mileage and therefore sets us up for chronic injuries. That is true of any activity that requires a repetitive motion.

How does a race walker earn a living?

In the US, there is no such thing as a professional race walker. Therefore, all race walkers in the US must have a “day” job or be lucky enough to be supported by their spouse or parents. While I do have the loving support of my family, I am financially on my own.

To fund my training and travel expenses I live off my graduate school stipend, which allows me to get by. I supplement this stipend with prize money earned from winning races, which compared to most track and field events has a much smaller prize purse. Additionally, my club team Walk USA helps fund my travel to and from Indoor and Outdoor nationals. In 2011 I was also fortunate to receive the Women’s Sports Foundation Travel and Training Grant. This helped to financially make ends meet.

In 2012 I took an official leave of absence from graduate school for 6 months to allow me to focus on my training full time. By doing this I forwent my stipend and had no formal income. I had anticipated accruing some debt with the hope and belief in myself that achieving my Olympic Dream would fully be worth it. It was without a doubt completely worth it! With that being said I graciously am accepting any and all donations. To help fund my dream into a reality checkout my “support me” tab.

Are you sponsored?

No, but I hope the answer is not yet….are you a company that embodies fitness and/or nutrition? Are you a company/product looking for an upbeat, positive, goal orientated ambassador? If so please reach out to me, I’d love to discuss your company/product, its image, and a mutually beneficial partnership! Don’t be afraid to think outside the box; physical athletic talent alone doesn’t create an Olympian!

While not a technical sponsor, as mentioned above I have received several awards/grants over the years that help supplement my income. I am very grateful to the Women’s Sports Foundation, WalkUSA, and Mount Sinai School of Medicine Graduate School.


How can I help support you?

Please visit the “support me” tab on my site and donate in anyway possible. All donations are greatly appreciated as they will help financial support my training and travel expenses.

What is an Olympic Standard?

Olympic standards are qualifying marks set by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). In order for an athlete to compete at the Olympic Games they must have achieved and Olympic Standard. There are two types of standards, designated “A” and “B”. In track and field each country can send up to three athletes in any event.

In order to send 3 athletes, all athletes must have achieved an A standard in a sanctioned meet. If only two athletes have met the Olympic A standard then that country can only send two athletes. If only one athlete has achieved an A standard then only one athlete can compete. If no athletes have an A standard, or only one athlete has an A standard, then the fast finisher at Olympic Trials with either an A or B standard makes the Olympic Team.

For race walk an Olympic A Standard is 1:33:30.0 and a B standard is 1:38:00.0.  I currently have a B standard with a PR of 1:34:52 making me 82 seconds off the A standard. This year I am training to obtain the A Standard. With that being said, if you followed the above explanation, achieving the A does not guarantee I make the team; I still have to win Olympic Trials this July, unless of course another woman also achieves the A Standard. Therefore, it would be extremely advantageous for both me and at least one other athlete to achieve the A Standard, because that would ease the pressure of the Trials race because both of us would just need to finish the race and not worry about who finishes first. Yes, it is a rather complicated system

What distances do people race walk?

In US competitions you can compete at distances between 800m and 50 km (31 miles). The most common high school distance is 1500m with a few miles (1609m). The junior distance (for athletes aged 14-19) is 10 km (6.2 miles). For senior athletes the official Olympic distance for women is 20 km (12.4 miles) and 20 km and 50 km for men. In the US our grand prix contains races from 1 mile to 50 km.

Where can I go to find out more about race walking?

Glad you asked, for basic info checkout my “About Race Walk” tab. Still want to know even more checkout this race walk site or these publications:


What opportunities exist for race walkers?

If you live in New York you’re in luck. New York, especially Long Island, has one of the strongest contingency in race walking. This is largely due to the fact that the event is included in the girls high school state program. Another positive influence is the Long Island based club team, Walk USA. Gary Westerfield is in charge of the club and hosts race walking practices every week at the H L Denison Building in Hauppauge NY. For more info about these opportunities check out Long Island Track and Field’s Website.

7 Responses to FAQ

  1. Humor News says:

    Wow Excellent blog

  2. Alfreda James says:

    I am a novice at race walking. But I’ve met Gary Westerfield and even participated in the 7/14 race walk you led in Farmingdale, NY. However, I didn’t fully understand your commitment to excellence until reading this blog. The physical effort appears in record. The mental discipline and resilience, the effort hidden, jumps out in your blog.

  3. Rachel Paul says:

    Maria congrats on all your success! I just finished reading this page…you’re an amazing writer and really do explain everything so well! Good Luck at the London Olympics!! I’ll be cheering for you 🙂

  4. Dan Morgan says:

    Thanks for this blog Maria from a couple of new fans. My daughter just started competing in race walk this year as a 8 year old in the 9 -10 age division in USATF. She’s wanted to do it since the first time she saw a race as a 6 year old. She was finally old enough to compete this year and did quite well with a silver in the Junior Olympics in the 1500m RW. You sort of touched on it in your FAQs about “Why race walk?” I’ve found that my little athlete is very attracted to events the require technical expertise to succeed at, which is also why she loves to throw shot put and javelin. The point being that the race walk requires not just great endurance, but an attention to detail over a prolonged period of time to maintain correct form. Runners need not fear being DQ’d due to a break in concentration or exhaustion. My Madison has seen quite a few vids of you racing now and is trying to figure out when she’ll be able to compete in the big girl Olympics. She’s determined to keep practicing and aims to break some 9-10 records next year. We are going to keep cheering you on, especially next year as we move into the Olympic season. Go Maria!

    • mushie0408 mushie0408 says:

      Hi Dan and Madison,

      Thanks for writing. It sounds like Madison is off to a great start. My best advice right now it to keep it as fun as possible. The road to any Olympic Team is a long one for sure and the best way to get there is to make sure she (and you too) enjoy every step of the journey along the way. What’s up next on her racing schedule? My Coach and I are still working on designing my 2016 racing schedule. I am looking forward to a really exciting year of training, racing, and traveling with plenty of new experiences. The ulitmate goal is to make my second Olympic Team and represent the USA in Rio this coming August!Thanks for the support! Be sure to stay tuned, more blog posts on the way and I’ll have Team Coffey support t-shirts coming soon!

      Best of luck to Madison I hope she has a record breaking year!


      • Dan Morgan says:

        Thanks Maria, we will keep an eye out for updates!
        The USATF has the Hershey Youth Indoor Championships March 11-13 in your area (Staten Island, Ocean Breeze Track & Field Athletic Complex) which she will compete in. She is REALLY looking forward to it so she can see the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building. Plus, since the youth indoor program is relatively new, the indoor 15oo RW record is quite slow. Qualifying is through zone championships which is in our area at University of Houston. This is fun for the kids because Carl Lewis and Leroy Burrell often present the medals.
        Make sure your t-shirts come in a youth large/ladies x-small!

        • mushie0408 mushie0408 says:

          That’s when we have Nationals too, except I will be out in Portland, Oregon. Otherwise I would have loved to come and cheer seeing as it’s in NY. I’ll have to settle for looking up her results this time around. NYC is an awesome city, although I am obviously biased.

          Until next time, Happy Training!

          P.S. yes of course I will have youth larges

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