2021 Virtual Canadian Race Walking Challenge

For the 1st time Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend has created walking categories in recognition and support of participating walkers and of the inaugural Virtual Canadian Racewalking Challenge. 

Racewalking is a unique, challenging sport that pre-dates organized athletics and began in the 1860s-1880s and grew to be the most popular sport in North America and Europe. Rules evolved to define what was and was not walking. The sport, technique, and rules developed as time went on and walking was pushed to its limits. Racewalking is defined and has two rules; the walker walks so no visible (to the human eye) loss of contact with the ground occurs and the advancing leg must be straightened (not bent at the knee) from the moment of first contact with the ground until in the vertical upright position.

Noel Paine, a vetran runner of 30 years, discovered a talent for, and love of, racewalking while in lockdown over 2020. He picked up racewalking after interviewing Olympian racewalker Evan Dunfee, gave it a try and got pretty good at it. In September 2020, he set an Ontario Masters record for 5K in 25:31. 

“I still run, but racewalking gave me a new challenge and I have had a lot of fun trying to work on my technique and to get faster. During the pandemic it gave me something new to try and I fell in love for the second time”, shaes Noel enthusiastically, ”Now I am known as the wiggle-walker and I get waves and encouragement as I train in my community!”

In 2020, Paine started with the Bytown Walkers (an Ottawa racewalk club) and now trains on his own. His new found passion for the sport led him to create a Canadian Facebook group to connect racewalkers across Canada along with a Twitter and Instagram account. He was soon involved in trying to promote the sport, which led to creating the Virtual Canadian Racewalking Challenge – part of Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend. A virtual event to promote the sport of racewalking, to give walkers a chance to compete before in-person events return and to connect racewalkers in Canada and around the world. 

“So far Ottawa race weekend has over 600 people registered for walking events with, I hope, a good number of those racewalkers, which is pretty impressive for the event and the race weekend,” Paine shared. The racewalking community is still small in Canada, a community formed through social: Instagram, Facebook Groups, Twitter, and websites along with some small clubs scattered across the country. There are resources, tips, and videos for the seasoned and novice racewalker through Paine’s website

The event kicked off in late April with Canadian record-holder Evan Dunfee walking a blistering 10k on a treadmill in 39:02 to establish the first official, judged racewalk treadmill record (Video below). 

The Virtual Racewalk Challenge collects the racewalk results and posts the top walkers, and age-group winners, prizes are awarded to the top finishers and age-group winners along with printable certificates for participants. There are recreational but competitive young and older racewalkers along with some pretty elite walkers including Canadian and US Olympians and elites from Brazil, Venezuela, Sweden, South Africa and Japan.

Evan Dunfee will compete in the Tokyo Olympics 2021 for Racewalking. This May, Dunfee has registered in the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend to speedwalk 5K, 10K, ½ Marathon, and Full Marathon. Dunfee will enter his times into the Virtual Canadian Racewalking Challenge website. He says he is slowly chipping away at the races, having completed the 10K May 1, but wanting to beat his time of 39:42. Dunfee uses a 7km stretch of greenway along the old railway tracks in his home of Richmond, BC and is using these times as benchmarking sessions in training for Tokyo. “It gives me an extra boost and is a lot of fun,” Dunfee says. 

“This whole year has been strange, for everyone! Usually I would go to Europe to train in high altitude, then compete in Nationals, then Championships, it is about three months of being away, preparing. I will arrive a few weeks before the Olympics having trained at home, a very different experience. At home I have to say “no” to things in a way I don’t when I am away, it requires extra discipline.”

During the pandemic, racewalking felt like a blessing, “all we need is a pair of shoes and the outdoors! Even then people on stay-at-home orders used treadmills, run back and forth on balconies or stairs. People find a way to stay active. It was the only time I ever saw other people, when I was out racewalking, and there would be nods, eye contact, hellos, it was something to look forward to. It is amazing how we all had so much more appreciation of the ability to go for a walk.”

Dunfee uses his platform as an Olympian to get more kids access to sport, by raising awareness about the importance of sport and setting down challenges like the recent world record he set on a treadmill. He lays down the challenges and gives people something to beat as a world record, it had not been set before. 

Follow along with Paine and Dunfee and over 600 other walking registrants as the results of the first Virtual Canadian Racewalking Challenge are posted. Good luck everyone!