Diary of an Olympic Speed-walker

Blog || Politics || Philosophy || Science || Fiction || Quotes

Dear Diary:
Today I watched the Olympic Games on television. I sat there on my couch admiring the sheer physical talent of those great athletes, but I was most inspired by one event in particular: speed-walking. Now here is an event for the Everyman. You don't have to be blessed with the right genetics to have any hope of competing (like with, say, Olympic Weightlifting or Olympic Dwarf Tossing). All you need is your own two legs.

Hell, *I* walk to the kitchen at least six times a day to pop something in the microwave. And really, I have to say, I walk pretty damn well. Anyone can walk -- well, except people without legs -- but aside from them, anyone can walk. Which means anyone can compete.

I decided today to make a pledge. I will compete in the next Olympic Games. I will become an Olympic Speed-walker.

Training Day 1:
Today I researched my new sport on the internet. It turns out there are a lot of speed-walkers out there. I didn't realize how much competition I would have, but I guess that just means I will have to train that much harder. Also, I sent an email to the Society of Long-distance Olympic Walkers requesting they send me information and an application. Soon I will officially be a member of SLOW.

As a side note, my training technically started today because I had accidentally left my laptop in the other room, so I had to walk all the way over there to get it and walk all the way back to the couch before I could sit down and start researching speed-walking. I didn't time myself, but I think I got to the laptop and back really fast.

Training Day 2:
I did a lot yesterday, so today I took the day off and treated myself to pizza for dinner. I tipped the delivery guy really well since he got here quickly, and if there's one thing us speed-walkers appreciate, it is swiftness.

Training Day 3:
Walked to the mailbox this morning to see if any information had come from SLOW. No such luck. Walked back inside at a brisk pace. Also, I made a point of making four more trips to the kitchen than usual today. I need to build up my endurance if I'm going to be in the Olympics, and that means lots of trips to the kitchen.

Training Day 4:
The information packet came today! I was so thrilled I jumped up and down.

Turns out I shouldn't have jumped up and down. According to what I read, the basic rule of Race Walking (that's what it's called when Speed-walkers race each other) is Rule 230.1 of the International Association of Athletic Federations, which states:

"Race Walking is a progression of steps so taken that the walker makes contact with the ground, so that no visible loss of contact occurs."
Jumping up and down is strictly forbidden in competition, so I better get used to keeping one of my feet planted at all times.

This evening I filled out my SLOW membership application. I could barely contain my excitement, so this time I walked in circles. Excited circles.

Training Day 6:
Holy heatstroke! I just got back from my most grueling day of training yet. I decided to take a walk around the block (well, okay, I went in a circle around the cul-de-sac) and by the time I got back, I was sweating more than an icy bottle of beer put under a heat lamp. It must be over 80 degrees out there.

Not only that, but my feet are killing me! I think I need better shoes. After all, an Olympic Skier wouldn't cruise down the slopes on just any old planks of wood. The Olympic Table Tennis champion didn't get to be champion by using just any old balls. I need the proper equipment.

Training Day 7:
Today I went to the mall to buy walking shoes. I brought a stopwatch with me and timed how long it took me to get from Footlocker to Payless. I think I did pretty well, but it is hard to be exact because I stopped for a couple minutes at Cinnabon in the food court half way between the stores.

At the shoe stores I found running shoes and tennis shoes, but did they have a section for walking shoes? No. Frankly I was a little offended. Speed-walking is an Olympic sport. You would think shoe stores would respect the needs of athletes like me. I almost bought some running shoes, but I can't let other Walkers see me in running shoes, so I ended up just getting a comfortable pair of casuals.

When I got home tonight I added racing stripes to the side of my new shoes. I don't know if it actually makes them more aerodynamic, but they sure look badass.

Training Day 8:
On my daily walk to the mailbox today -- 1:27 there, 1:29 back, baby! -- I got my official membership acceptance from SLOW. It came with a membership card and a metal keychain of a guy walking (you can tell he's walking, not running, because his advancing leg is straightened).

But even better, the packet had a brochure for a local SLOW Club that meets downtown twice a week. That's perfect! I'll be able to hang out with other athletes like myself and maybe find a training partner. I bet they have great tips on how to improve your times. The first meeting is tomorrow. I'm stoked.

Training Day 9:
I totally would have walked the mile to downtown, but it was really hot out today and I need to conserve my energy for training, so I took the bus. However, I walked from the bus to the Club Hall in what I'm sure was record time.

The Walkies -- that's what they call themselves -- were awesome. They were very encouraging and supportive, and best of all they take their sport *seriously*. I had almost expected a bunch of older folk. You know, the grey-haired couple you see every day perambulating along the sidewalk as you drive by. But the Walkies are young, energetic folk like me, not a one over fifty-five. Granted, a few looked, well, overweight. They were probably just here for weight-loss support. I mean, hey, I've got a few extra pounds myself, but I've also got the *drive* to win, and that counts more than how much you weigh.

I got some great tips from my fellow Walkies. Apparently the key thing non-walkers fail to appreciate is that with speed-walking, it's all in the arm swing. "Swing it in, you're set to win; swing it out, you'll lose no doubt."

Training Day 16:
I've been too busy training to write very much. I got in touch with a fellow Walkie and we have been working out together. He found this great place to practice our form: the local elementary school has a regulation-size eighth-mile track. Let me tell you, an eighth of a mile might not sound like much, but when you walk it for *speed*, it's killer.

It's a little annoying dealing with the presence on the track of all the kids running for gym class. Today this little punk with a club foot stuck his tongue out as he passed me by. Walkers get no respect. But I'll show them when I win the Olympic Games.

Training Day 24:
Sal and I -- Sal is my training buddy -- have shaved entire seconds off of our time, and not only that but today we completed the entire track. Getting lapped by fourth-graders or not (hey, they get to lift both feet off the ground!), it feels good to know that you really have it in you.

Tomorrow we are going to take the day off for rest, and then the next day we will be trying a new workout routine we heard about at the last Club meeting.

Training Day 26:
Oh man am I sore. Get this -- we spent the whole day walking *backwards*. According to the experts at the Club, it helps build more balanced calf muscles and teaches your body to control its own movements better. What they failed to mention is that it also results in you walking backward full speed into the hood of someone else's car and clumsily rolling across it Dukes of Hazard style before sliding off onto the hard pavement. Ouch. I'm bruised all over.

Maybe next time I'll carry a handheld mirror when we do backwalk training.

Training Day 30:
Okay, I got back out on the track today. Sal made a lot of progress in the days I was recovering from my sports injuries. He finished a second lap on the track, while I had to push myself to get one and a half. I felt a little disheartened. No one likes to come in second.

However, when we calculated out our actual times, I had actually been walking faster than him on average! I've got Olympian in me after all.

Training Day 33:
Sal and I have been consistently upping our distance and increasing speed. Today I almost tripped and fell when he bumped against me going around the third turn. He says it was an accident, but I almost wonder if he might have been intentionally trying to trip me so he could win. We are getting rather competitive.

I'd hate to think anything could come between two Walkies, but I guess to be an Olympian you have to care more about winning than anything else. Still, Sal has been a good training buddy. We push each other to succeed. I think we just need a new outlet for our competitive spirit, and I think I know exactly what we should do.

Training Day 47:
I tried for a week to persuade Sal into doing the charity walk with me, but he was worried we weren't ready for it, so he wouldn't do it. But I decided to go without him anyway, so last Wednesday I signed up for the Walk Against Cancer in Kids.

And guess what? I won! Everyone else was meandering slowly, not expecting a trained athlete like myself to be there. But I showed up with my A game and I kicked everyone's tail. I got so excited as I neared the finish line that I shouted "take that!" in the face of the scrawny, bald 10-year-old I passed by on my final lap. Maybe he would walk faster if he wasn't in that hospital gown.

The event committee did not have any sort of medal or trophy or plaque for the winner. They said it was not that sort of event, that the real winners today were the kids whose lives might be improved because of our generosity. Whatever, I know in my heart I beat all those kids, and that's what matters.

Today was my first victory, but it won't be my last.

Training Day 68:
What a bittersweet day. I made eight laps around the elementary track today -- a full mile! -- and did so faster than the chubby fifth grader who was running beside me most of the way. I was absolutely ecstatic. Sal, however, was still on his sixth lap, and never even finished the seventh. That's when I realized I had completely surpassed my training partner. He just was not on my level any more. Sal had become a friend, but I cannot afford to let him hold me back.

I told him we couldn't walk together any more. I was hoping he would take it better. I thought maybe he would be a little sad. But instead he was just angry. He said I had betrayed my walking spirit, that friendship means more than winning.

Spoken like someone who doesn't have win in them.

Training Day 80:
I've been avoiding Sal at the track, doing my laps at night. My time is coming down quickly, but I realized my form has been slipping, so I have rededicated myself to perfecting my stride even if it means slowing down a bit. When I'm in the Olympics, I cannot afford to slip into a mild jog for even an instant.

Training Day 87:
Ran into Sal at the grocery store today. He pretended not to see me, and bumped right into me as he walked by. What a jerk! There could have been other Walkies around and if they saw me lose walking honor to a snail like Sal I'd be the laughing stock of the Club for months. I had no recourse. I challenged Sal to a Walking Duel.

You see, the unwritten Walker's Code states that if a fellow walker disses on you or your walking form, you may challenge him or her to a Walking Duel. A Walking Duel is very serious, not to be taken lightly. They say people have died from Walking Duels, and at the very least injury is inevitable.

The duelists stand back to back, then in unison they take ten very long steps directly away from the opponent without turning around. Then on the 10-count, both duelists spin around and speed-walk toward each other at the highest of velocities until they collide. Whoever is left standing (if anyone is) after this brutal showdown, they have won the Duel.

Inside, I hoped Sal would turn down the Duel and just accept the loss of dignity that comes from declining a challenge. But the headstrong bastard, he accepted. Next Tuesday, we Duel.

Training Day 92:
Oh god. What have I become.

Today I knocked my closest friend to the ground and walked away.

Is this what it takes to become a winner?

Training Day 108:
Okay, I lost valuable training time the last couple weeks sitting around on the couch moping like an emotional wreck, but I can't afford that any more. I may have ruined an important relationship. I may have given up my humanity. But damnit, I am still an athlete. I am still going to win the Olympics! I will train twice as hard, twice as fast, twice as often, even if I have to go the rest of the way completely and utterly alone.

I walked today like I was being chased by Death himself.

Well, assuming Death wasn't allowed to run, anyway.

Training Day 151:
My calves are now bigger than my thighs.

Training Day 180:
The Walkies kicked me out of the Club. They say I've been disrespecting other members and that my actions have reflected badly on the Club among the local community. Just because I pushed Old Man Douglas out of my way on the sidewalk so he wouldn't interfere with my time trial doesn't mean it is my fault he broke his hip. He should have known the right half of the sidewalk is for speed-walkers.

It's okay. I don't need to be a SLOW Club member anyway. I can out-walk any of those fools.

Training Day 231:
I took first in the American Society of Speed-walkers annual local competition. The Walkies were there, and even Sal was there; but none of them could hold a candle to my new technique. I've perfected a move where on the forward swing I flap my leg out slightly like a chicken scrambling to escape the butcher. It looks -- and feels -- funny at first, but the chicken move improves my speed perceptibly.

The American Society of Speed-walkers gave me a solid gold-covered medal with a big number one in the middle. I held it up to show it off to those around me before I realized I didn't really have any friends or family at the event. It's okay, soon enough I'll have all the fans I could want, and I can proudly hold my medals up to them.

Training Day 266:
The American Society of Speed-walkers regionals are coming up soon. I don't know if I'm ready to take it to the next level. I've started to doubt myself. I mean, sure, I'm the cock of the walk around town here. But regionals...those guys are hardcore. The best walkers in the state come together there. It makes or breaks a walker's career.

Can I really do this?

Training Day 278:
Regionals are tomorrow. I've been drinking Gatorade all day to hydrate up and my pee has turned blue. The competitors look less intimidating in person. I thought these guys were going to be monsters, but it seems like they'll let anyone walk these days as long as they have a pair of legs. I mean, come on, one guy here looks like a couch potato. How's he supposed to compete?

There is one guy who worries me. He wears a red racing uniform, and he does the chicken move too. Boy does he fly. What if he beats me?

Training Day 279:
Oh god! Not this! Not now! The doctor says it could take months to fully heal.

How ironic that I make it all the way to regionals without a serious injury and then on the very day of regionals, on the very last lap, far ahead of anyone else, I break a damn metatarsal!

The newspaper called me "heroic". They said it was pure dedication and athletic spirit that let me stand back up after falling down and race the last few paces to the finish line for the win. I'd like to think that was it, but deep down I know I would have lost to the man in red if he had not DQ'd. Apparently the chicken move I've been using to boost my speed increases the likelihood of one's second foot accidentally slipping off the ground for an instant, breaking the rules and resulting in disqualification. Or in my case, resulting in a nasty fall.

Doc says with a strict physical therapy regimen I'll be back on my feet and training again long before nationals.

Training Day 326:
The cast came off today. I'm in one of those big, special support boots now. I look like a confused snowboarder who forgot to take off both boots when he got out of his snow clothes. The doctor says I can walk on it lightly, but no speed-walking for quite a while yet. It's so hard not to race from the couch to the kitchen, but I can't risk re-injury.

Training Day 369:
Boot's been off for a week. I have been walking for real again, and it feels good. This is slower than I have been in a long time, but I can get back to my old times again soon.

Training Day 411:
I got chased by a neighbor's pit bull today while walking a little too close to their yard. The crazy thing ran after me for three blocks while I speed-walked for dear life. If not for the last year of intense training, I could have died today...or been forced to break into an actual run. You never realize how fragile your life is until it flash-walks before your eyes.

Training Day 452:
A month until nationals and my time is better than ever.

It gets lonely training alone though. I miss Sal. I miss the way we used to knock the elementary kids over when they got in our way. I miss our daily stops at the pizza place every day after training. We were a pair of hardcore athletes...and now, it's just me alone.

Training Day 470:
I looked at myself in the mirror today. My calf muscles have developed their own calf muscles. I'm kind of creeped out and turned on at the same time.

Training Day 482:
It's six in the morning. Nationals are today. I'm so excited I just peed myself a little.

I saw the man in red arrive yesterday. He flipped me off. When I asked one of the nationals coordinators how he was able to compete after being DQ'd at regionals, it all came together. Turns out the man in red is actually Bobbie Monday, fiercest walker around, and a former Olympian. Thus he gets into nationals each year automatically, regardless of how he performs at regionals.

Training Day 482:
I did it! I took third! Third amongst over two-hundred of the best walkers around. Bronze metal, baby! I'm going to the Olympics!!

I still can't believe how easily I passed some of these people. It kind of makes you wonder what kind of walkers Texas is sending, because these guys sure weren't built like rangers. And what was with the peg-leg from Maine? This is a sporting event, not a pirate festivity. Someone should tell him to go speed-walk the plank.

Bobbie Monday took the lead early. I almost caught up to him but then he pulled out the chicken move again. Such a risky strategy, but it paid off for him. Monday took first, and I ended up falling behind a 7-foot-tall walker whose strides were longer than I could leap, which put him in second place. But third place is enough for me. Third place is amazing.

Come next summer, I'll be representing the United States in Olympic Speed-walking.

Training Day 540:
I've started training with Monday. The man is crazy. Today he took me to a wind-tunnel, strapped a parachute on me, and I had to walk into a thirty mile per hour gust.

Training Day 602:
There have been no journal entries for a couple months because Monday took me to Alps to practice walking in high-altitude conditions where the air is thinner. We went rock climbing using only our feet -- he calls it vertical walking.

We're back home now and he tells me that next week he'll teach me the Moon Walk. I don't know what it is, but it sounds intense.

Training Day 689:
What a day. It all started out like normal. Three protein shakes and four raw eggs for breakfast, a brisk 2-mile stroll to warm up, a 12-mile time trial weighed down by wearing a hazmat suit, then in the afternoon a race between Monday and I.

I lost the race because of a cramp. Monday told me real walkers don't get cramps. He told me my walking style was lacking.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm a patient man, but no one insults my walk. If they do, they better be ready for the consequences. That's just how I stroll.

I challenged him to a Walking Duel right then and there. He accepted.

We hit at full speed and both bounced back a good five paces. But we kept on our feet. So we charged once more (but without letting both feet ever lift at once), and collided like two massive trucks that are limited to first gear. Both of us tumbled backward to the ground like turtles knocked on their backs.

By the time the ambulance arrived and the EMT stopped laughing at the method by which we had sustained our "injuries" (she actually used air quotes), we were able to stand up again. The paramedic declared us perfectly fine and told us to be more careful where we walk next time.

Monday reminded me that we are on the same team, that we are going to the Olympics to represent our country, not ourselves. And he was right, this wasn't about me. But the Duel had made me realize something else. It's not just about representing my country either. I'm doing this for Sal. I owe it to him to win.

Tomorrow, Monday and I hit the track for some crab-walking. In a little over a month, we board a plane for the Olympic Games.

Training Day 729:
I can't believe it is the night before the big event. I've waited for this my whole life, or at least since I got the idea in my head a couple years ago.

When our flight touched down this afternoon, we put on our official team uniforms and were escorted from the plane by armed guards. It was like I was the President or something. At one point the guards had to ask us to slow down -- apparently we were walking too fast for them.

I saw Sal in the crowd cheering me on. I knew then he had forgiven me for how I treated him. I knew he understood deep down the importance of the competition, the importance of representing our country and our sport. After all, Sal and I were athletes, and this was not a time for pettiness, but for showing the world the greatness of speed-walking.

The Olympics Games:
Well shit.

Turns out speed-walking isn't a real sport after all, and the Olympic Committee removed it from the Games. Apparently it was added years ago as a joke and they never thought anyone would actually enter the competition. When a bunch of semi-overweight people signed up, they didn't want to hurt peoples' feelings by turning them away, and so speed-walking became an Olympic sport.

But the Committee decided it is time for the Olympics to stop being a laughing stock, so they are canceling all the fake sports that were added over the years and getting back to their roots. In the old Greek tradition, the only Olympic events that shall be retained are naked weightlifting, naked pole-vaulting and naked curling.

Originally Written: 07-14-06
Last Updated: 07-14-06