Every Saturday morning just before 10 a.m. there are taps at the door of the Law Courts Building in downtown Whitehorse.
Voices echo and feet shuffle, sometimes more quickly on the cold days. The Whitehorse Walkers energetically gather and get ready for their weekly two-hour walk.
The group has formally been getting together since 2003 and informally for a lot longer. They inspire, encourage, support and motivate each other in staying fit and staying happy.
Bonnie Love is one of the many regulars.
“At first I was like so many runners who think walking isn’t exercise,” she says.
“But I was surprised and enjoyed the company and found I was a bit competitive about it. It is amazing how quickly you can see improvements in your fitness and overall health and it doesn’t hurt like running.”
Love, like all of the walkers I spoke to for this column, told me a surprising fact: “Mile for mile, racewalking burns more calories than running.”
Walking takes a number of forms from the casual stroll, to power walking, to racewalking, an Olympic sport that is judged. Racewalking has two rules:
1. One foot must be in contact with the ground at all times (i.e. no running).
2. The advancing leg must be straightened when it lands.
Liz Hulley, an avid and decorated racewalker, judge, coach and walking advocate, is coming to the Yukon on behalf of Athletics Yukon in July to train and inspire the local walking community.
“I am passionate about encouraging people to get active so that they can enjoy a healthier life,” she says.
Hulley started racewalking over 30 years ago, left the sport behind for awhile and then resumed it again 12 years ago.
She has competed nationally and internationally; won gold at the 2009 Canadian Masters Championships, two silvers at the 2010 World Masters Athletics, and holds several Alberta provincial championship records in her age category.
She offered a few tips on how beginners can get started.
“Find a buddy and start walking. Walking with someone increases motivation, maintains accountability and makes exercise way more fun!
Along with John Stanton’s book, Walking: A Complete Guide to Walking for Fitness, Health and Weight Loss, Hulley recommends two other books onracewalking—Racewalk Faster by Training Smarter and Race Walk Clinic in a Book, both by Jeff Salvage and Tim Seaman—as good resources for those starting out or getting faster.
“Whether you racewalk or power walk, it is important to engage your core, use your arms, and move briskly so you get a good cardio workout.
“Most Canadians don’t get enough daily exercise, and health problems such as obesity, heart disease and high blood pressure are on the rise,” Hulley says.
“Walking offers a number of benefits: it strengthens the heart, is good for the brain and the bones, alleviates depression, helps prevent type 2 diabetes, reduces the risk of certain types of cancer, and of course improves fitness.”
Racewalking uses 95 percent of the body’s muscles, she points out.
Add in the great social benefits and fantastic walking community in Whitehorse and what more could one ask for?
“You can have wonderful friends and enjoy the scenery along the way,” adds Love.
The Whitehorse Walkers can be found cheering each other on in many local events including the weekly Intersport Fun Run/Walks, the Klondike Road Relay and the Mayo Midnight Marathon. They welcome beginning walkers with open arms.
Hulley will also be teaching a Walking for Health class that encourages predominantly inactive people of all ages to get fit through walking in a non-threatening, fun environment.
“Everyone knows how to walk, but we will look at ways to change up your technique so you get an all-over body workout, not just a workout for your legs.”
Hulley’s sessions will include three components— walking technique, strength training and stretching—that will be aimed at a broad range of skill levels.
John Stanton, founder of the Running Room, summed up walking nicely in an article in 2010.
“The number one thing that keeps people from a fitness program is fear of embarrassment. Running can be intimidating, but everybody can walk. Walking is invitational, non-threatening. It’s social, or you can do it on your own. It’s easier on the body than running, and doctors recommend it. It’s truly a marvelous thing!”
To learn more about racewalking head over to www.racewalk.com. To start your weekend off right, join the Whitehorse Walkers at the Law Courts building on Saturday mornings.
The walk starts at 10 a.m. and is usually followed by breakfast at the Chocolate Claim.
Until next time, keep putting one foot in front of the other towards a happier and healthier life.