Walking Together

By Judy Heller

As summer has drawn to a close and the seasons change, we look back on a season filled with road and track races, marathons, half marathons, triathlons, and relay events.  Reflecting on this past season, team participation is becoming quite popular, as noted by the hundreds of relay events found on the Internet. A Relay distance may be anywhere from short track lengths to marathon and ultra marathon distances. “Relay” is defined by Webster as a race between teams, each member of which goes a part of the distance. But part is not the goal. The goal is for everyone working efficiently to make the team function effectively. Terry Orlick in Embracing Your Potential says it well. “A team shares a goal. As each individual works on something to become a little better, wiser, stronger, or more focused the team improves a little. When all team members work collectively toward those goals, the team improves a lot.”  Team goals are as varied as there are members and teams.  In recent Portland to Coast Walk relays there are family teams (i.e., mothers and daughters, three generations, all cousins),  teams of organ transplant patients, teams walking in memory of a loved one, celebrating cancer survival, or the passage to a new decade. Teams walk to support and raise awareness for the organ donor program. Still others use a relay with fellow workers as a support program to build trust and learn to rely on others.  And, of course, always to have fun! 


What are your goals?  A relay event can be a short term step for a long term goal (such as a marathon or triathlon). Perhaps it may be a long term goal related to general health or fitness. Making a commitment to participate is a motivator to be active. Maybe your goal is to just get moving again after a long layoff.

What do you enjoy doing?  Browsing the Internet, you can find run, walk, bike and swimming relays nationwide. Once you decide on the event, narrow your search further by determining how many miles the relay is, how many team members you need, and how long each leg is. For walking relays in the Northwest you can choose from the Rainier to Pacific or the Portland to Coast Walk Relay.  As Co-Director for the PTC Walk Relay, I am partial to this event. It is the largest and longest walking relay in the world! It has grown from the original 22 teams in 1991 to full field of 400 teams in 1999.  What is your fitness level?  Evaluate your fitness level when choosing distances and team goals. Be realistic about the amount of time you are willing to (or can) commit to a training program.


The best way to ensure a fun time is to be prepared by properly training for the event. Whatever your fitness level, a balanced walking schedule should include warm up, cool down, flexibility, hydration, and proper nutrition. If you have never competed in a relay walk, now is the time to start planning.  Decide on a relay then determine when registration begins. Either put together a team or seek one needing members. If you are inactive, begin a walking program to build a mileage base-gradually adding weekly and monthly miles. Use this time to focus on form, technique and breathing. Vary your mileage, intensity and terrain. Your base building will enable you to walk 1+ hours continuously. Remember to include recovery days which are as important as walking days. Keep in mind to avoid the “too’s”: walking too far, too soon or too fast, all of which can lead to injuries. Once your mileage base is accomplished, focus training on endurance and strength. This is the training that will enable to you to climb hills and ensure you cross the finish line feeling good. Endurance means going longer distances, generally once a week. Strength training is usually in the form of hill work.  If you are a veteran walker wanting to improve your times, the same principles apply. The fall and early winter months are the time to focus on your walking form. If you are interested in race walking, this is the time to begin technique training to be ready to work on speed by spring. Speed can mean different things to different people. For some athletes, speed means breaking records and winning times. For the general population, speed  means moving faster than normal. Moving faster than normal is a realistic goal, but competing or sprinting beyond capacity can be dangerous. Again, avoid the too’s.


Regardless of the planning by event organizers or teams, there is always the unexpected. Each individual and team may face challenges, before the start of the race and during the event. The more planning items you take control of before the event, the better you will be able to cope with the unexpected and your memories will be good ones.  So, why would someone want to participate in a relay? Relay events are about teamwork, camaraderie, sportsmanship, a sense of community, compromises, challenges, triumphs and disappointments. They represent an opportunity to stretch personal limits and to be the best you can be. To participate in and ultra distance relay is to experience starry moonlit nights, a brilliant full moon, gentle breezes, sunny skies, blazing sun, dark shadows, sunrise and sunset. It is about volunteers, neighbors, families, business and communities sharing in a common goal. It is about fun and memories that last a lifetime.