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Did you know that today is National Walking Day? Each year, on the first Wednesday of April, the American Heart Association (AHA) kicks off a month-long campaign to encourage people to literally get up and get active. According to the AHA, inactivity that comes from prolonged sitting (at work, for example) increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and other heart-related diseases.

Inactivity is not a problem for the race-walking members of the marathon and half marathon training group USA Fit Denver. Each Saturday morning, this sub-group of the popular running training program, trains for various upcoming full and half marathons. 

"Race-walkers utilize 10 percent more of their muscles and expend 15 percent more calories than runners," said Mike Smith, USA Fit Denver's walking coach and, at the age of 75, has race-walked for the past 13 years. "Why? Because of the required hip movement and the very high arm swing to the rear of the body. When you watch race-walkers versus runners, race-walkers have a more animated form."

One of the most important areas of focus for Smith is to ensure that his walkers have this technique down in order to cover longer and longer distances throughout the season safely. In addition to specific training schedules and expert coaching, USA Fit Denver also provides walkers a motivating and fun atmosphere.

"Historically, our running and walking groups were very separate," said Smith. "But today, we four coaches have made a conscious effort to do some things together. We’ve modified it the last two years so that the runners meet the walkers on trails about once every four to six weeks. That alone has made a huge difference in the camaraderie between the two groups."

Some runners have even switched from running to walking for various reasons. Among them, said Smith:

  • Aging. Most of the walkers are over 55 and want an aerobic exercise that is as demanding as running.
  • Injury to knees, calf muscles (soleus or gastroc), hamstring, IT band or gluts. He invites runners each year when they become injured to join the walkers. He works with them to inch back to running and not lose the conditioning they have built up.

The above are common injuries to runners because of the greater impact of runners landing. Runners when they land do so at 300% of body weight primarily because runners are airborne and land with greater velocity.

Not convinced that race-walking is for you? Here are a couple more facts that Smith shared:

  • Walkers when the land they do so with 150% of body weight because walkers never leave the ground. In fact racewalkers by rule must have one foot on the ground at all times.
  • Power walkers or race-walkers suffer fewer injuries. All the walkers I’ve trained with and coached are not nearly as fast as the runners. USA Fit Denver walkers per mile pace ranges from 12:45 to 16:30.

Here are a couple USA Fit Denver members who found long distance and fitness success through the walking program.

Mary Lynne Koepke's Story

"When I retired in 2007, I read Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy until You're 80 and Beyond by Chris Crowley and Henry L. Lodge. The basic premise of the book is that the only way to curb the decline of aging is by exercise - aerobic exercise, which pumps the heart and gets blood flow to the brain. 

Since then, I have participated in classes at rec centers, worked with a personal trainer and followed my own loosely structured fitness plan. I participated in triathlons for a few seasons but have always returned to walking as the activity I most enjoy.

Last August I found out about USA Fit Denver from a friend who has a friend who's been a member for years. I love the concept of walking together with a group, each member with individual goals but with the camaraderie and support of each other. I also like the individual training programs and the specific strategies for optimum walking. I have also chosen walking as my main activity because it causes less injury and can sustain healthy joints and ligaments over a long period of time.

Over the past ten years, I've observed the decline of my mother, 96, from dementia and my father-in-law, 97, from old age. Their journeys have been long and difficult, as well as emotionally and physically painful. As I age, it gets harder and harder to remain healthy and fit, especially on my own.  I've seen the alternative and don't want this for myself or loved ones. Staying fit is the only way to go, and I have found USA Fit Denver a very supportive, fun, and healthy way to plan for the future."

Ginny and Rob Crist's Story

"Last spring, my husband and I looked for a fitness activity that we could do together and that we would both enjoy. When I found USA Fit Denver, I liked that there was both a running and walking group, that you kept your own schedule during the week and that we met on Saturday mornings for group outings.

It didn’t take more than a few Saturdays before we became 'really into it' and made a goal to do a half marathon. As more Saturdays continued, we loved the camaraderie of the group and learning how to prepare for our first half marathon. Mike Smith is our Coach and we could not thank him enough for his guidance and commitment and for just being so fun to be around! In 2016, we have already completed one walk with plans for another half marathon in May."

Start Training for a Full or Half Marathon Today!

USA Fit Denver will begin its new season for both walkers and runners of all ability levels on Saturday, April 23rd. New members are invited to attend an orientation event at 8 a.m. on Saturday, April 16th, at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Washington Park (700 S. Franklin Street, Denver 80209). Those unable to attend either orientation or the first day of training can still register online at through May 15 and start training any of the following Saturdays: April 30th, May 7th, 14th or 21st.