I'm very isolated down here in the Deep South of Ontario: there don't seem to be any race walk groups or coaches around (and believe me, I've scoured and asked everyone in the know). Then, my long-distance coach/friend/cobbler Carmen Jackinsky from Oregon told me about a friend of hers who lives in London (about a two-hour drive from here). I googled Sherry Watts, found out she is a level 4 coach with the London Pacers AND that she was going to do a day-long race walk clinic in London in a week (June 3rd)!!!! From poverty to riches just like that! I immediately signed up.
Originally, I was going to get up super early and drive there for the 9 am start. Instead, Mike booked a hotel room in London and we drove up on Saturday night through torrential rain. Ironically, there was a convention of Amphicars staying there! (Remember those amphibian cars from the 60s that you could drive from the road right into the water? Looked like they would be able to use them based on the downpour). After a solid sleep, we left for the clinic the next morning (a ten minute drive).
Mike dropped me off and went to hike in nearby Komoka Park for the day. The RW group was very welcoming, consisting of about 14 attendees of varying experience, and we settled in at the condo of two London Pacer members for intros and initial presentations. Sherry had a great Powerpoint production ready to go, as well as some of Jeff Salvage's video primers. We discussed the basics of RW and some of the more advanced features of the sport. Shoes were discussed and two large bags of footgear were shown and offered for loan if anyone didn't have proper RW shoes. I had brought my New Balance 730s, so I was good to go. The rain held off, so we then went outside to the park across the street, and divided into two groups: beginners and those with some experience, with a coach for each group. There were two moderately-sized parking lots which were empty, it being Sunday, so we each appropriated one, after going through a warmup walk and drill work together. Many of these preliminary drills I do already, but after breaking up into groups, Sherry led us in some more advanced ones, which I found very good. The ones that helped me particularly with toe-off (especially that "popping" off the toe) were a form of 1-2-pop and "putting out a match". Tougher drills (for me, because of the fused vertebrae in my back) were the "flower-picking" and "lost quarter" ones, but they really did help loosen me up. We did some work with cones (weaving around them), on lines, etc. etc. Since judged RW events generally go around a fixed course, cornering can be where technique really falls apart, so we were shown a great little technique bit which REALLY helped with that: tuck your inner arm (i.e. the one closest to the cone) tight against your body and work your outer arm a bit more aggressively as you corner. It really works for tight cornering! As luck (or maybe foresight) would have it, we had a ramp between the two lots to use, so we did a lot of hill work. Although hills are absent from judged RW events (thank goodness, because they are very difficult to maintain perfect technique on), they are usually VERY present in road races. Going up, push with toes, keep steps smaller, keep arms bent tighter (with hands almost at shoulder level) and try to stay upright. Going down hills is more difficult without running, but keep arms less bent (hands down at thigh level) and really loosen the hips. Let 'er rip! We were flying down the hill without running! Kind of thrilling, actually. Sherry then went and got the video camera and had us pass her individually so she could get us from both sides and then coming towards her and going away. By now it was time for lunch and as we went up to get the beginners from their lot we could see that they really had come a long way that morning! We all trooped up to the condo where a lovely lunch awaited us (and some of the best coffee I have had...and I am a coffee aficionado if I do say so myself). Sherry uploaded the videos to her laptop while we ate, talked and thumbed through a pile of books.
After lunch, we watched the videos of ourselves (oh, agony!) using a really amazing piece of software called Dartfish. With this, Sherry was able to slow us down, stop us, zoom in, work out angles and ratios (like the amount of step before and behind your centre line), etc., etc. It was really informative, not only seeing our own vids but those of others. My ratio was really good, as was my toe-off (only because of those drills we did in the parking lot - usually my toe off is awful) and my posture. Not so good (as in: terrible!!!!) my bent knee and arm work (range of motion in one shoulder quite bad right now). Ways of remedying these were given, and everyone was helpful rather than critical. Seeing the beginners was quite informative as many of then seemed to catch on quite quickly.
Next, a powerpoint show on training (everything from lactate threshold to good training outlines), and a very informative presentation on what to expect at a judged event, broken down into exactly what happens with DQs, etc. Then some vids of past Olympic events. Sherry then had handouts for us on all of the drills we did, some good websites and an article on Heart Rate Training. Then, a very pleasant surprise - each of us got a CD chock full of articles on all aspects of training and technique. Really, there's about two months of reading on that! The whole day for $25!!! Sherry is also going to go through the vids of us and send us pertinent bits with more suggestions.
This was a really awesome experience, and Sherry was a wonderful coach and presenter. It was well-organised, well-presented and very, very informative, and our hosts for the day were truly welcoming and attentive. When I got home, I joined the London Pacers and hope to have further coaching from Sherry. Maybe, just maybe, I'll get to where I can do a judged event!....but don't hold your breath.