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Walking on the Road to Rio

She missed the 2012 London Olympics by a mere 3 seconds at the 20k qualifier -- followed by a devastating year of injuries that included 4 broken ribs from being hit by a cyclist during training, hamstring issues, and severe planters fasciitis, but gritty Miranda Melville has race walked her way back to becoming the 2015 USA National Champion and 2016 Olympic Hopeful.

Miranda Melville holds the American Record in the 5000m indoor RW along with 10 national championship titles. She is currently the 2nd fastest American ever with a PR of 1:31:42 at the Asian Championships in Japan in March and was the top American finisher in Rome Italy, in May at the IAAF World Team Championships of Race Walking.

Miranda Melville is very passionate about race walking and currently has the standard to compete at this year’s Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

She has represented the United States on 10 international teams including last summer at the Pan Am Games in Toronto, Canada and World Games in Beijing, China.

Her enthusiasm for the lesser-known Olympic event is evident when you talk with her, she will tell you “this event has become such a large part of my life, the more I participate in the event, the more passionate I become”.  For those who aren’t familiar, race walking is a physically demanding event in Athletics contested in all levels of the sport of track and field, from youth athletics up to and including the Olympic games.

Plenty of sports look silly if you don't appreciate the skill and technique they take to do well.

Beginner race walkers seem to wiggle their way along as they learn and develop good technique. However, elite race walkers like Miranda move with a fluidity and grace that are the envy of anyone who has tried the high-intensity sport. Capable of traveling in excess of 10 miles per hour, they zip along with rhythmic synchronicity as their arms, legs, and hips drive them forward, efficiently utilizing 95% of their muscles.

During a 12k race Miranda can walk a mile in about 6:35 using a near flawless technique that propels her over 227 steps/minute.

Training for the Race Walk

Like any elite athlete, training becomes a race walkers full time job.  Depending on the time of year, Miranda trains as high as 90 miles a week along with strength training 3 times a week, drills, and stretching through out each day.  In addition time is set-aside for chiropractic visits and other sport medicine specialists as needed to keep healthy.

Her diet focuses on trying to eat lean and non- processed foods as much as she can. It includes lots of veggies and protein and she emphasizes, “Stays away from as much processed foods as possible”.

Although not all race walkers train with her intensity Miranda says, "race walking is a event of intense technical ability -- you just have to practice, stay focused and stay committed."  She emphasized, “The number one rule to remember at all levels is listen to your body, if your body tells you it needs a rest, do it.” 

Although it may look easy, race walking is really very difficult.

Race Walkers need to be strong and have the endurance to race a 20K (12.4 miles) or a 50K (31.2 miles) while adhering to stringent rules. Judges are stationed along the course to make sure they follow the rules and won’t hesitate to show an athlete and caution or yellow paddle or a red DQ paddle. 

Judges watch to be sure:

  • When making contact with the ground, the knee is kept straight until passing beneath the body. Failure to do so is a "bent knee" and can result in a warning or red card.
  • One foot must be appear to be in contact with the ground at all times (judged by the human eye, equipment such as cameras cannot be used to determine this). Failure to maintain contact is called "lifting" and can result in a warning or red card.
  • After three or more red cards (from at least three different judges), an athlete can be disqualified from the race by the head judge. 
  • In addition an athlete can be disqualified the last 100m of a race if they make any rule infractions during those final 100m.

Race Walking Facts

  • Race walking can be faster than running, improve your aerobic fitness, and burn calories with a lower risk of sports injury than running.
  • Because of the technique there is less pounding of the lower extremities, producing less joint impact that running. Many runners use race walking as cross training when injured.

The race walk has been a part of the Olympics since 1908; however, the women’s race walk only became an Olympic event in 1992 after years of lobbying.

There are currently only 2 states in the US that include the Race Walk in their High School track programs, New York and Maine.

Although not as popular in the USA as in Europe and the other Americas the sport continues to grow in popularity across the younger and older age groups because of its fitness and competitive aspects.  Baby boomers in the USA have especially embraces it as a way to stay fit and healthy I spite of aging joints.

When Miranda started race walking on her high school track and field team at Rush-Henrietta (Rochester) NY, most of her family had not ever heard of the sport

Back then she would have never expected to be where she is today, preparing for Olympic trials and hopefully the Olympic games. 

“I knew the London Olympics were a long shot because I did not have the standard in 2012, but I went for it and had a 3-minute PR that day, and was the Olympic team alternate. In 2013 I had some set backs with injuries but I crossed trained and kept strong and made the US World Cup team that competed that year in Russia.”

Since then she has been making steady improvements on her time and placement internationally.

“This year, I already have the Olympic standard going into trials and have improved my 20km time by 89 seconds.”  My improvement makes me the 2nd fastest woman in America at the 20km race walk.”

The USA 20k race walk competition will open the USATF Olympic Trials June 30th at 10:30am pacific time in Salem Oregon with successful race walkers being named as the first Olympians to be named at the USATF 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials on July 1st at Hayward field in Eugene Oregon.

References:

www.MirandaRaceWalks.com

www.Miranda-Race-Walks.com

www.runnersworld.com/beginners/basic-walking-training

www.nhmagazine.com/November-2013/Racewalking-for-Beginners/

www.active.com/walking/articles/how-baby-boomers-can-stay-fit-with-race-walking

www.usatf.org/Events---Calendar/2016/U-S,-Olympic-Team-Trials.aspx

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