Stephanie Casey has her eye on the 2020 Olympic trials.
The competitive race walker placed second at the USA Track & Field National 50-Kilometer Race Walk Championships in California earlier this year with a time of 5 hours, 4 seconds.
Last weekend, she shaved nearly 20 minutes off her time while competing in the 50k at the Pan American Race Walking Cup in Mexico.
It was a sunny day when she raced, with temperatures in the 80’s and humidity at more than 60 percent.
Despite the heat, she came in sixth with a time of 4 hours, 41 minutes, 12 seconds.
There’s not a crowded field of women who are willing to walk at a rapid speed with specific technique for more than 30 miles. In 2017, only seven women competed at the World Championships in that distance.
But for Casey, competing in the 50k as opposed to the shorter 20k distance was where she found her niche.
“It’s a true endurance event which I think has always been my strength,” Casey said, adding that she’s always been a longer, slower walker.
To adjust to more than double the race mileage she’s spending a lot more time on the road than she’s used to.
She walks a 5k loop around her neighborhood in Reedsport, and runs or bikes on her recovery days. She said she averages 120 kilometers per week, or 74 miles.
“Most people know me as the walking girl who just goes around and around,” Casey joked.
The 50k race walk is the only Olympic track and field race that doesn’t have a women’s competition.
It’s not official if it will be added to next year’s Olympic games, but many are hoping for its inclusion, including Casey.
The women’s 50k distance was first added to the International Association of Athletics Federations World Championship two years ago.
Before that, female race walkers could only compete in the 20k distance.
The event was added to that race to ensure gender equality, according to reporting by Reuters.
When asked about the first 50k she participated in this year, Casey said “Overall it felt good to back into things.”
Her fourth child had just turned one year old, but it wasn’t even two weeks postpartum that Casey was back out on the road training.
“I’m a little crazy,” she said. “My husband looked at me and said you’re going to go back to race walking aren’t you?”
The 35-year-old started race walking at a young age; her dad coached the sport and “it was kind of the natural thing to do.”
Race walking wasn’t offered at her high school, so she tried running.
“I lost every single running race,” she remembers.
After sustaining an injury running a marathon, Casey took a break from both walking and running.
While she was recovering, her dad told her she could qualify for the Olympics. It was 2008 and Casey hasn’t considered the idea.
“I had never thought of the Olympics. I was in college and getting ready for medical school,” she said.
She finished sixth in the 20k at that year’s trials with a time of 1 hour, 43 minutes, 51 seconds and went off to medical school the following week.
A year later, she had her first child.
She qualified again for the 2012 Olympic trials six months after her second child was born.
While training to qualify in 2016, she broke her arm.
She made it to the national championships the following year, but a hamstring injury plagued her.
Race walking requires athletes to keep one knee straight at all times and Casey said her injury made it difficult for her to do that.
In addition, the IAAF rules specify that there should be no visible loss of contact to the ground. The race has several judges that warn and potentially disqualify athletes.
Now, Casey said she’s getting more intensely back into training, but still recovering from her injury.
“It is quite a battle because you want to be out there training and not sitting around,” Casey said.
Casey, a doctor at Lower Umpqua Hospital, has lived in the area with her family for the last four years.
“We really just enjoy being part of a smaller town,” Casey said. “My patients are also our friends and our neighbors.”
Before last weekend’s race, she said her goal pace was 8 minutes, 40 seconds per mile.
“I joke with people that I can walk faster than I can run,” she said.
And later, “You’re always trying to push the limits of how fast you can go.”