“As a child in Argentina, I never did any sports,” Lily Whalen, 58, admits. But at age 26, she tried race walking at a weekend track meet in Toronto and was hooked. It's challenging — one foot must always be in contact with the ground, with the knee of the leading leg straight. Hips rotate down, forward and then back up, creating the sport's quirky “wiggle.” (Check out Cary Grant in his boxers race walking in the Tokyo Olympics in the 1966 film, Walk, Don't Run.) The technique doesn't harm the hips and its smooth, fast gait avoids the jarring of running. “Race walking takes more energy; you have to condition your body more than a runner would,” she says. “You use every part of the body, including your upper body.”

Whalen's training includes race walking, workouts on an elliptical trainer, race walking in a pool and weight training for strength.

“I remember a race in Montreal when everything clicked,” she says. “I kept pushing. It hurt but I felt great. I did an amazing time.”

Three times a week, she trains with the Ontario Racewalkers (www.ontarioracewalkers.com) and races 1,500 or 3,000 metres indoors in winter and five-, 10- or 20-kilometre races outdoors at the Masters level in summer. “I love pushing myself to the extreme,” she says. “And race walking is great on a social basis. It also keeps your mind sharp

--Jayne MacCaulay

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