A fortnight ago, Taradale High School year 13 student Laura Langley won the New Zealand U20 10km at the Athletics New Zealand Long Distance Walks Championships. This Sunday, she competes in the Girls 2,000m Track Walk at the New Zealand Secondary School Athletics Championships in Timaru. We caught up with Laura ahead of the meet.
You’re entered in the 2,000m Walk this weekend, what are your expectations?
The aim is to win. I have got my eye on the record of 8.57 set by Kate Newitt [Linwood College] in 2007 although any time in the low 9 minute range I'll be happy with.
What other events are coming up after the NZSS Championships?
At the recent Long Distance championships I was hoping to qualify for the race walking World Cup 2016 (U20 10km road walk), but I was 2 seconds off the qualifying time for that. So after the NZSS nationals, my next goal is to qualify for that. I also am planning on competing in a couple of races over in Austalia next year, to get some more experience of racing against other people, as there aren’t a lot of race walkers in NZ.
How did you get into your sport?
At the 2014 NZ road champs, I went away with a team to run in the 5km U18 race. The manager of the team was a race walker from my harrier club and after my race he asked me if I was interested in trying race walking. So I thought, why not. So in December last year, I began race walking with Graeme Jones, and absolutely loved it. I gave up my running soon after and became a walker.
Talk us through your achievements thus far in 2015?
My first nationals were in March this year, where I did the 3000m track race and placed first in that (well... I was only one in my age group). I also won the 10km road race, which, at the time, was the longest distance I had ever race walked, even in training. At the recent Long Distance champs, in Auckland, I came 2nd overall, in the 10km race but as it was a NZ event, the Aussie girl that won it wasn't able to get the NZ title. It was awesome to race against her, she was the top Aussie for her age group, and had placed 18th at the world junior champs last year in the 10km race. The difference in time between my first 10km and most recent 10km is 13 minutes, which I believe is one of my greatest achievements so far.
Do you prefer the shorter or longer distances?
I love the 2km and 3km track races, they're pretty fast and fun. Although, if you intend on competing internationally, you must be prepared to do the longer distances [the Olympic women’s race is 20km]. For my age group, I race 10km. In 2017 and onwards, I will have to be able to race 20km. I also really enjoy the 10km races, although, you have to be smart when you're racing in a 10km. If you race off too quickly at the start, you blow out, and end up with a disappointing result (as I found out at long distance champs). The 10km is a great challenge though. I really look forward to doing a lot more of them next year.
Who are the New Zealand walkers to look up to?
Although there are not many race walkers in NZ, the ones that are in the sport have all achieved significant things nationally, and gone on to compete internationally. In the first few months of training with Graeme, he told me a lot about two walkers in particular. Alana Barber, and Quentin Rew, who are kiwis living in Aussie. They are our best female and male race walkers. Both of them competed at the World Athletics champs in August this year, Alana Placed 18th in the 20km race, just 20s off qualifying for the Olympics next year. Quentin placed 10th in the 50km race.
This year I was able to meet Alana a few times, when she came over to compete in a few smaller events. It was so amazing being able to meet her, and talk with her. She is incredibly inspiring. She holds the NZ 20km record, of 1.33.20. The 10km record for the junior age group is 49.29, set by Courtney Ruske. I also have been able to race against Courtney (who is now 21). She is amazing. Another great race walker who I have been lucky enough to meet.... although I am looking at chasing that record next year.
Overall, the race walkers in NZ are very dedicated to their sport, and have been very supportive of me and welcoming me into their sport. All of them help me to improve and achieve things with my own race walking.
How tempting is it not to break out into a run? Is it all technique?
A lot of people ask me that! If you do it properly, you will not be tempted to run. The feeling of race walking and running is totally different. Also, it doesn't hurt your hips - people who haven't race walked think that. To me, I feel race walking is much smoother on the joints. But that's with a good technique; I owe that to my coach, Graeme Jones. Graeme is an incredible coach. He has taught me everything I know about the sport. He is a pretty amazing walker too. This year he broke four NZ records on the track: the six hour record, the 12 hour record, the 50 mile record and the 100km record. He also holds the junior 3000m record of 12.16, which he set 25 years ago.
What does your training consist of?
There is a lot of training that goes along with preparing for big events. I walk six days a week, which is usually on the roads around home and sometimes on the track for speed sessions, swim once, and do core work 2-3 times a week. I can never get enough of it. I love walking, and preparing for big events. If you are focussed on a goal, it's easy. I get excited just for training sessions quite often, because with every session I'm getting better and making another step towards my goal of being an Olympian and competing at a world class level.
How many pairs of shoes have you burnt though?
With running, I would need a new pair every year, and I could use my training flats to race in as well. With walking, they get destroyed after six months. I have lighter shoes for racing, and a more durable shoe for training.
What are your plans for next year study or work-wise?
Next year I am taking a gap year, to work and earn some money (to walk in events overseas). I also don't know exactly what I want to do as a future career. So at the moment I am working on an orchard, and will most likely continue working there until February next year.
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