Race Walking at a New York Pace

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Stephen J. Caruso
  • 514th Air Mobility Wing

When people from around the country visit New York, they are often surprised at how fast people walk. But Capt Lisa M. Anello, an assistant staff judge advocate with the 514th Air Mobility Wing Judge Advocate General, is especially fast, even for New York standards.

Anello, a career prosecuting attorney, mother of two and a native New Yorker, is a high-energy and resilient airman, as well as a competitive athlete. As part of her busy lifestyle over the past two decades, Anello has worked hard to become a champion in a sport many people may not even know about.

The sport?

Race walking.

And she walks at a New York pace. As a competitive race walker, Anello has posted times that would be respectable for the average runner.


Race walking is defined simply as the competitive sport of walking at a very fast pace.

While it is relatively unknown as a competitive sport, race walking has been an Olympic event for more than a century. The first men’s event was held at the London games in 1908. The sport emerged more recently as a women’s Olympic event, with the first female competition held during the Barcelona summer games in 1992.

The rules of race walking are designed to ensure walkers are not actually running, which is a disqualifying offense. First, when the heel makes contact with the ground, the knee must be locked. Second, one foot must be in contact with the ground at all times. There are officials stationed around the track at all times to make sure walkers do not run.

Race walking has grown in popularity around the globe in recent years among distance athletes, both as a high calorie-burning activity and as a lower impact alternative to running.


Anello’s family was always involved in track and field and encouraged her to pursue running from a young age.

"My mom ran the New York City Marathon in 1984,” Anello said. “She was definitely a pioneer to running. My father was a coach for my parish's track team so I was always involved with track and field to some extent," Anello said.

Despite the upbringing in the sport, there were plenty of challenges for Anello along the way to competitive running.

"I joined the track team my freshman year of high school, but didn't really stick with it," Anello said.

She rejoined the track team in her junior year, thinking she would make a good candidate for the shot-put. It was then that another female teammate began to mentor Anello, introducing her to the idea of race walking.

"She was phenomenal," Anello said of her mentor. "She just picked it up and she ended up being the Staten Island champion."

Despite not knowing much about the sport and being a bit timid to try something new, she decided to talk to her coach about race walking the following season, Anello said. But getting into race walking happened a lot faster than Anello thought it might. With just a few track meets left in the season, her coach told her he would train her to race walk immediately.


Anello’s transition to race walking was surprisingly challenging.

"I'll never forget my first meet," said Anello. "I got lapped. I was dead last. I think I walked my mile in thirteen minutes. But I kept going. That was my first race and I knew I hadn't earned my way into the sport. I had to keep on practicing and working hard. Then the next meet, I was at 11 minutes."

During entire summer following her junior year of high school in Staten Island, N.Y., Anello participated in as many track meets as she could to compete and improve as a race walker.

Her fellow race walking teammate continued to inspire Anello, qualifying for and competing in the Empire State games. But when her teammate decided scale back competitively to focus on her studies, it was Anello's time to shine.

As a high school senior, Anello started gaining recognition as a competitive walker in local track meets around the city. Her hard work and training quickly began to pay off.

"The same race I finished dead last in the previous year, I was first," Anello said, with a chuckle.

She earned an invitation to the city championships on two occasions and qualified for the Empire State games in Buffalo, N.Y., representing New York City as a junior race walker.

"I stuck with it—I didn't give up when I got last place," said Anello. "I continued on."

That perseverance continued in college. Despite being ineligible to compete on the track team her freshman year, Anello continued training. She joined the team as a sophomore and began competing at the Division II collegiate level, as well as in other outside national races.

"In college, I was walking in the low eight's for the mile," said Anello.


Unlike distance running, the world of race walking is fairly small, so there were a lot of opportunities to meet high-level people, said Anello.

During the summer after her sophomore year, Anello traveled to northern Virginia for a race. After competing in the ten thousand-meter event, she and a friend went to dinner at T.G.I. Friday's, where Anello found herself sitting next to Jefferson Perez, a world-renowned race walker and 1996 Olympic gold medalist.

"This is a sport that I started in high school, dead last, and now I'm sitting next to a gold medalist," said Anello, laughing.

"I found that with race walking you had an opportunity to excel and compete with the elite, and hang out with the elite, too," said Anello. "It's a small circle, and it takes a lot to stick to a sport that people make fun of.”


After college, the busy pace of life in New York City caught up with Anello and she veered away from competitive race walking.

While working full-time as a currency trader and later as a tax analyst at an international banking firm, Anello began law school at Brooklyn College. With a hectic work, law school and commuting schedule, her time was very limited.

Diet and exercise became very difficult to prioritize during those years, said Anello.

Stress management would also quickly become an issue.

Additionally, on September 11, 2001, just a few weeks into her first semester of law school, New York City suffered the worst terror attack in American history.

That fateful morning, while on the bus into Manhattan, Anello looked up and saw the Twin Towers highlighting the city's famous skyline for the last time.

“It made it tougher, as a first-year law student, dealing with the emotions of what happened in the city," said Anello.

Despite the traumatic events, Anello persevered again.

Nearly five years later, in her final year of law school, she realized she needed to get back to competitive race walking, said Anello.

"I kind of had an awakening, like in my junior year of high school," said Anello. "I was like, 'You know what, I've got to really start focusing on my health again.'"

That summer, she started running again and lost about forty pounds.


On her journey back to competitive walking, one key to success was to build her schedule around her fitness goals, said Anello.

A few days per week, Anello would wake up before 5 a.m. to train, putting in several miles on the treadmill at her gym, speed walking in Central Park, or running the Brooklyn Bridge.

While studying for the New York State bar exam, she would schedule a four-hour block of time every Saturday morning to train for distance competitions.

She remembers waking up before sunrise on Sundays to walk, before going to an all-day bar exam review class in Manhattan.

With the help of a coach that year, during her first indoor meet in half a decade, Anello walked the mile in 07:47.

"I blasted everyone on the track," said Anello, proudly highlighting the importance of her training routine. "I hadn't done anything fancy."

"There's a way," said Anello. "You have to figure it out. There's always time to work out."


Soon after law school, Anello began a high-powered career as an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, arriving at the office at 6 a.m. on Monday mornings and frequently working until almost 9 p.m.

The hectic pace continued, and competitive walking helped her stay balanced.

With a busy case load, she had to wake up at 4:30 a.m. in the morning on training days to get to the gym for a workout on the treadmill.

"It would let me focus, to reflect and think," said Anello. "Think about things going on in my life. Organize in my head what I had to do for the day."

Working in Brooklyn, she became good friends with many New York City police officers she would regularly see at crime scenes in various parts of the city, including Coney Island. She remembers regular visits to Nathans, where she munched on extra greasy french fries while her friends in blue enjoyed the landmark's famous hot dogs.

"I do this [race walk] so I can eat whatever I want," said Anello, smiling.


In 2006, with the help of a coach, she began racing again. By then, she had settled in to her work routine and was able to balance a busy training schedule. And in 2008, Anello turned her sights to the Olympics.

"My goal was just to qualify for the Olympic trials," said Anello.

To accomplish that, she knew she needed to break one hour and 50 minutes in the 20 thousand-meter event.

"I walked a 1:50:01.07," said Anello, grinning proudly. "Now 20 thousand meters is 12.6 miles. That's eight minutes, 57 seconds per mile that I was able to walk."

Ultimately, she did not qualify for trials, but she got into great shape by putting in 30 to 40 miles of extra walking each week, said Anello.


Walking is a great way to train for running; it takes less of a toll on the body due to the lower impact, said Anello.

It not only helps her maintain optimal fitness, but it has helped her immensely to stay in shape and motivated to excel on the Air Force fitness test, Anello said.

"I used the principles of training from race walking for my PT test," said Anello. “I break down my intervals as I get close to testing. I do quarter mile intervals and mile intervals. Once a month, I give myself a mile and a half test to see how I run. You know, I enter a PT test like I'm doing a race, every time. It's competition. I'm trying to beat everybody else on that track."

Having been introduced to race walking in high school, Anello speaks passionately about sharing this sport with others, including Air Force members who may be interested.

While she is not an Air Force physical training leader, she is always willing to show people how to race walk and help them train for their annual evaluation using walking, said Anello.

"I definitely believe in sharing the wealth," said Anello. "I don't keep my sport to myself. I'm a big believer in helping others. We have people in our units that might not be as good in PT. You have to be there for each other because we have this mission we have to complete together."

"If anyone has questions about the PT test, I can certainly help with the running portion, but I'm still working on the pushups," Anello said with a laugh.


Recently, Anello has taken a hiatus from competitive race walking, but her break is only for a season, she said.

After a torn meniscus in 2012 and having recently become a mother of two children, Anello says she plans to compete in race walking for years to come, possibly in the masters division now that she's in her 40s.

"But when I come back, I want to come back with a vengeance," said Anello. "I want to kick the 20-year-olds' butts."

Anello plans to gradually get back into the sport like she did at the end of law school, possibly by running and doing interval training, she said.

Competitive walkers can race well into their 80s, even 90s in some cases, said Anello.

And at 40, it seems like this fast walking New Yorker is just getting warmed up.