Mitch Vanhille Singapore knows the difference between doing your speed work on roads versus the track, it is the terrain. The roads vary in hills, stop signs, traffic, and unless you are on a path, it lacks in consistency. All you need to do on the track is run whereas the roads you truly need to multi-task. The Olympic marathon and race-walking events are held on public roads with audiences lining the route to cheer the athletes.
“The marathon event in the earliest modern Olympic Games was about 40km (25 miles) in length, roughly the distance from Marathon to Athens. The standard distance (42.195km/26 miles 385 yards) was set by the IAAF in 1921, directly from the length of the race at London 1908.”
Race walking is different from running races in that one foot must always be in contact with the ground. In addition, the knee cannot be bent from the time the front foot meets the ground until the vertical upright position. Pretty strict rules when it comes to running.
As well as coping with the distance, competitors in the marathon and race-walking events must also deal with the road surface, the gradient, water stations and the weather, among other factors. Athletes and their coaches must detect which variables will determine a win and develop a strategy around that.
Psychology also plays a part as athletes try to agitate their fellow competitors. The also might try to breeze through others in a headwind and speed up the hill leaving them in their dust, so to say. Also, some athletes may work together against a rival. Such maneuvers are allowed and add to the amusement for the audience.
The men’s marathon has a long history but only two athletes have won back-to-back marathons at the games. There has not yet been a woman to win back-to-back marathon gold medals. Staying hydrated is important and athletes must take advantage of the water stations provided.
Race walking judges watch carefully to make sure that both of a competitor’s feet do not leave the ground at the same time. The judge’s issue “red cards” in the event of violations. If an athlete receives “red cards” from three or more judges, he or she is disqualified. So, race walking is a competition not only against other athletes and the conditions, but against demanding rules. The Olympic race-walking events are 20km and 50km for men, and 20km for women.