Walk, Don’t Run: Olympic Race Walker Shares Tips About the Sport

Jul 13, 2021

Okay, so, racewalking lacks the drama of the 100-meter dash. You’ll never see a racewalker diving for the finish line because one of the cardinal rules of the sport is that feet must remain in contact with the ground at all times (as visible to the human eye). But it’s got all the makings of a nail-biter.

“It’s more of an attrition race, like cycling,” says Olympic racewalker Mathieu Bilodeau, who recently spent a month at the Mammoth Lakes Crib training for the January 2020 Olympic Trials (he hopes to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics ).

And the rules are so quirky (the second rule is that a racewalker’s leading leg must remain straight until the body passes over the leg) that disqualifications are common—and crushing. At the 2000 Summer Olympics, Australian Jane Saville was disqualified for “flying,” or loss of contact with the ground, just as she entered a stadium full of cheering hometown fans in Sydney.

Bilodeau, who began racewalking professionally in 2015, says he’s never been disqualified. The sport is tough because it’s judged by the human eye, which is, understandably, fraught with the possibility for error.

For each violation spotted by a judge, a racer receives a red card. If they receive three in a race, they are disqualified. But, “if you sprint the last few meters, you can get disqualified right away, even if you have zero cards,” says Bilodeau.

How has training in Mammoth Lakes prepared you for the 2020 Olympic Trials?

High altitude training, says Bilodeau, “is exactly the same in the racewalking world as in running.” However, he says, “you’re not going to see a lot of racewalkers coming to Mammoth Lakes because there’s a lot of hills, and it’s not super warm.” Racewalkers compete on a flat track, so hill intervals aren’t as helpful for them as they are for runners. However, Bilodeau says, “I’m kind of different. I’m using cross-country skiing as my secret weapon, that’s why I’m here!”

Why should more racewalkers train in Mammoth Lakes?

Bilodeau says he’s going to try and push Mammoth Lakes as a destination for training to members of the racewalking community. The main draw is the proximity of lower-altitude Bishop to high altitude Mammoth Lakes. “I love being able to ski and walk in the same day,” he says. “I wish we could have a place like this in Canada.”

What’s your go-to fuel for racing?

“For a short race, I’ll have a bagel with honey on top and coffee—pure carbs, no protein,” says Bilodeau. “For the 50k, it’s always a big bowl of oatmeal, peanut butter, almonds, berries. And of course, my coffee.” Bilodeau is known to carry his French press with him wherever he travels. In Mammoth Lakes, Bilodeau has fallen for the chicken burrito at local favorite Latin Market for a cheap post-training meal.

Do you have a pre-race ritual?

Bilodeau always washes his sunglasses and downs an espresso on the morning of a race.

What keeps you going through a 50k (31 mile) race?

Coca Cola. Yes, you heard that right. Apparently this is a thing among race walkers. Everyone drinks it for the carbs, sugar and caffeine when their bodies start to break down after 30 miles of maintaining a technical gait at high speeds. However, “once you start drinking it, you need more every 15 minutes or so,” says Bilodeau, so he saves it for the last push. He’s not a fan of the beverage outside of races. “You have to shake it like crazy the day before to get rid of all the bubbles.”

Watch Mathieu Bilodeau compete for a spot on the 2020 Olympic Team at 7 a.m. on Saturday, January 25 at USA Track & Field’s website, www.usatf.tv.


Sarah Rea

Sarah Rea has lived in the Sierra for 20 years (eight in Yosemite and seven so far in Mammoth Lakes), but has been eating cast iron skillet pancakes for most of her life. She learned how to make soap from bacon grease when she was four and has always loved picking wild berries. She thinks…

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