It was on the way home that I got a text from an engineer friend of mine who was in town for the weekend and a few of them were meeting up. Suffice to say, a few guinness and the conversation got on to race walking. Most of them laughed and commented on the style of race walkers (I'm keeping it clean here, the comments were the usual Northern insults towards anything vaguely effeminate!) but after demonstrating the walk across the pub floor, my friend cast his engineers eye over it and offered an explanation.
As the body slides along, it is similar to a turbine. In a turbine, you have a central shaft that must be accurate to within thousands of an inch, while all around it things fly about willy nilly. The more accurate the central shaft, the less energy is wasted. Now, the body during a race walk is similar. Apparently, you draw a line from the centre of the pelvis up through the centre of gravity, to the centre of the head. The steadier this "line of gravity" passes through the air during the walk, the less energy is wasted, and the less impact is put on the rest of the muscles. It means that in a normal walk at speed, the centre of gravity bounces up and down as each step is taken, and every time it comes down to its lowest point, it needs to stop and start going back up. This causes pressure on the landing leg, all the way down, a little like a shock absorber in a car, resultant pressure on the joints, and stretching of muscles, and therefore damage.
So, as soon as the competitors on the start line finish counting down and you put your first foot forward to start the 85 miles, the damage starts. Micro tears and the build up of bruising. Add in the resultant push to get the centre of gravity to rise again and the wasted power, and you can see the need to train, stretch, and walk as smoothly as possible. A good race walk means that the body travels smoothly through the air, no energy is wasted lifting the body every step, so all the energy can be put to us propelling the body forward.
He is a good engineer, quite high up in the London underground network, and has worked on many projects all over the world, so his input was interesting and informative, but I'm afraid as the guinness count went up, the conversation was put to standard beer mode, that setting which makes the mind forget as soon as you sleep and reset to default, so anything else he said is gone. Sorry. Still, It all made sense to me at the time.
It's something for me to think about when I'm out training this morning. Concentrate on keeping the line of gravity steady.