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Stockings filled with ice keep Richmond racewalker cool at Olympics

Evan Dunfee will compete in the 50-kilometre racewalking competition on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. PST.
Evan Dunfee, right, and Mathieu Bilodeau, both Canadian 50km race walkers, in Tokyo.

TOKYO – Well, race day is upon us. All of the hard work is done, now it’s just convincing my body that the last week of easy training has been good for me and that my fitness hasn’t all suddenly disappeared.

The last couple days have been pretty busy. Besides being the loudest cheerleader for my teammates (how amazing was Camryn Rogers?!), getting to the start line of a 50km takes a lot of prep. First there are my bottles. We race on a 2km loop which means every 2km we can grab stuff from one of our staff members at the aid station.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, our bottles won’t be retrieved and brought back to our table so that means preparing 25 bottles with sports drink that I mix up to a specific percentage, and a couple of flat colas as well.

For my fuelling I will drink over 3.5L of fluid throughout the race and consume close to 1,500 calories in sports drink and gels. My gels are called Endurance Tap, which is literally just maple syrup… how Canadian.

Race day will be hot, with temperatures in the mid 30s and humidity over 60 per cent. To stay cool I’ll also grab ice cold towels and women’s nylon stockings stuffed with ice to put around my neck each lap (we are very low tech), so I’ve been preparing those, too. To keep my core body temperature as low as possible, I will also cover myself in ice towels before the race.

During the race, we will also have a couple of extra stations around the 2km loop with cold water bottles on them and I’ll be grabbing those whenever I can and pouring them on my body to stay cool.

If you are new to watching race walk, which I’m sure most of you will be, the most helpful tip I can give you is that the yellow paddles you’ll see flashed at the athletes are cautions that the judges think the athlete is close to breaking the rules.

The two rules we are judged on are that one foot always has to be in contact with the ground as judged by the human eye (no slow motion cameras) and the front leg has to be straight at the knee. If a judge thinks an athlete has broken one of the two rules then they can give them a warning. We have a big board with all of our numbers on it that shows us the number of warnings we have.

Three warnings and it’s a five-minute time penalty, four warnings and you’re disqualified. So don’t pay too much attention to the yellow paddles.

Last week I wrote about being inspired by all the amazing Canadian athletes and performances. For my part, I am ready. Ready to race: national records over the shorter 5km and 10km races recently and a myriad of training best times have me confident that I’m in the best shape of my life even if the last few days have been sluggish.

And I’m ready for my turn to inspire: since the last Olympics, I’ve become a Right to Play ambassador, helped raise money for KidSport BC, mentored with Head2Head, and spoken to over 10,000 school kids about the power of setting big goals and chasing them with unabashed passion and determination.

Unlike five years ago, I realize that my pursuit is more than just a selfish one to see if I can be the best in the world at this niche, silly-looking event I’ve called my own for the past two decades. I’m excited to go out and show all of you, who have seen me putting in work day in and day out for years on the streets of Richmond, what I’ve been working towards.

The race itself will be a fascinating one. My tactic will be similar to what I did in Doha at the World Championships, hang back a bit early on and then try to make my way through the field in the second half as the heat starts to take its toll on the fast starters. So don’t be surprised if I’m not up at the front early on, I’m hoping to be there at the end!

I hope you’ll be inspired. I hope you’ll want to set your own big goals and chase them down. I hope you’ll want to get out and go for a walk. I hope you’ll be able to look to your own strengths and find ways to use them to try and better your community. If I can play a role in inspiring you to do any of those things it will be a fulfilment greater than any Olympic medal could ever have.

You will be able to stream the race online on CBC at The race starts at 1:30 p.m. PST on Aug. 5.