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Yolanda Holder — September, 2022
Yolanda Holder, the ‘Walking Diva,’ completed the 2017 Sri Chinmoy Self Transcendence 3100 Mile Race in the allotted fifty-two days and is the only walker to accomplish that feat. In 2010, Yolanda established a Guinness Record for most marathons in a year with 106 completed and broke her own record in 2012 by finishing 120 marathons. She has power walked over 540 marathons and ultras. Yolanda is the American Woman’s Ten-Day Record Holder at 622 miles in 2014 and set American and World Records for the 60-64 age group Six Day Race with 413 miles in 2019. She eclipsed four hundred miles in six days at four other events, the 2014 Six Days in the Dome, 2015 Icarus Florida Ultrafest, and twice at the Across the Years Six Days (2015-16 and 2016-17). In the sport of race walking, in 2019 Holder earned the designation as United States Race Walk Centurion #94 by race-walking one hundred miles in 23:52:17, the first African American woman, second African American and the oldest person to earn Centurion. Yolanda is the 2022 USATF Outdoor Masters National Champion for ages 60-64 in the 10,000m and 5,000m race walk. Her Personal Best times include: 5,000m race-walk – 36:46; 10,000m race-walk – 1:14:09; marathon power-walk – 5:30:07; 50k power-walk – 7:24;05; 100-mile race-walk – 23:52:17; Six-day power-walk – 413 miles; Ten-day power-walk – 413 miles and 3,100-mile power-walk – 51 days, 17 hours and 13 seconds. Gary Corbitt, official historian for the National Black Marathoner’s Association, says, ‘I consider Yolanda the greatest black female endurance athlete of all time.’ Yolanda has two adult children, R.J. and Tiffany, and lives in Corona, California with her husband, Rogelio. She was generous with her time, spending an hour and forty-five minutes on the telephone for this interview in August 2022.
GCR: THE JOURNEY We don’t always plan our journey and destination. When you reflect on the last fifteen years as you have progressed from fitness walking to power walking to race walking and from marathons to ultramarathons to multi-day events, how does your thought process as you began your fitness journey compared to the uncharted pathways you have travelled?
YH It’s a great question. I started fourteen years ago. For my fiftieth birthday I wanted to do something different, so I set out to do fifty marathons in fifty weeks. I didn’t accomplish that as I ended up doing sixty-six marathons in fifty-two weeks and I haven’t stopped fifteen years later.
GCR: What was your fitness background as a youth and during the years that you were newly married, had children and you focused on raising your two children?
YH In high school I did African dance and modern dance class and was never noted to be an athlete. In ninth grade I made the gymnastics team. But back in those days where I lived in the San Francisco Bay area, we were bussed to a school that was about twenty miles from my home. I would have had to take the late bus home after gymnastics practice, and I didn’t feel comfortable with it. So, I dropped off the team. I was good at dance and gymnastics, but that was the extent of my athletic ability. When I got married, I did the ‘mommy thing’ and was a stay-at-home mom. While I was a stay-at-home mom, I did have little odds and ends jobs here and there. In my early thirties, it was back in the Jane Fonda workout days. Gosh – do I sound old? (laughing) I was telling my daughter recently about Jane Fonda and she said, ‘Who is that?’ Anyway, I did step aerobics. I had my leg warmers. I dropped my kids off at school and took the eight o’clock class of step aerobics. That was the extent of my exercise.
GCR: Why did you begin walking for exercise and how did this morph to a marathon at the 1998 Portland Marathon?
YH When I realized that I was forty, I did my first full marathon. I had always been a leisure walker who walked the neighborhood so since I turned forty a girlfriend and I decided we would do a marathon. We had done plenty of 5ks and one or two 10ks. We picked the Portland Marathon because it was walker friendly. It still is to this day with a race walk category. We didn’t enter that because we weren’t race walking at the time. We were power walking. In 1998 that was my first full marathon.
GCR: What was it like to cross the finish line in Portland, receive a marathon finisher’s medal and to participate in the excitement that everyone was feeling?
YH It was amazing. I didn’t cry, but I couldn’t move after I crossed the finish line. I pinned my knees on the ground, and thought ‘Hey, I did it.’ And I couldn’t get back up off the ground. I swore that I never, ever would do another marathon again. That was in October, but in March of 1999 I did my first Los Angeles Marathon.
GCR: How exciting was it to participate in marathons and longer events and were you doing many of these longer races?
YH Back then we would do one full marathon and talk about it all year. We would do a lot of 5ks and 10ks, maybe one or two half marathons, but we always talked about the one yearly marathon we would do in Portland or Los Angeles. That went on for ten years where I did a total of twelve full marathons and tons of half marathons, 5ks and 10ks and that was it.
GCR: What was the genesis of your running weekly marathons at age fifty?
YH For my fiftieth birthday I decided to step out of my comfort zone and to do something amazing that not many people had done. When I look back now, it did take a lot of dedication and determination, a lot of tears, and a lot of money. I was gone every single weekend.
GCR: In 2010 you broke the Guinness World Record for marathons in one year by completing 106 marathons. Can you describe what it was like physically and logistically to undertake this challenge? Was the excitement building as the number of races completed increased and were you becoming a celebrity at these marathons?
YH Among the marathon community there was recognition of what I was doing. We all ended up knowing each other. Larry Macomb and I broke the world together in Florida. It was my first Guinness Record and his second. I was becoming popular, but only in the marathon community. The two clubs I belonged to were the Marathon Maniacs and the Fifty State Marathon Club. We were a great community. Outside of the two clubs, no one knew of us. Sometimes the logistics were hard because there weren’t many Saturday afternoon flights. Being a marathon finisher was about earning the medal and we had to finish in under six hours. I have about fifty marathons that I finished in 5:59:59 or close to it – they were taking down the equipment and the clock. There were a few times where they ran out of medals and had to mail me a medal. I was saying after the race, ‘I was out here six hours and nothing! Give me something!’
GCR: Outside of your core marathon groups, what was the reception for you after breaking the record?
YH When I first broke the record for most marathons in a year, I broke the record of a lady in Italy who had done a hundred marathons in 2002. I knew I had to do 101 or more and I did 106. At the Rock ‘n Roll Las Vegas Marathon in December, I finished my 101st that year. I was still able to do five more by December 31st. In 2011 I got more backlash which hurt me more than the glory I was receiving because of the backlash which was, ‘She’s just a walker. Anyone can walk a marathon. It takes her six hours. It takes her all day.’ So, 2011 wasn’t pleasant because of the negativity. But, on the positive side, form others I was hearing, ‘You are amazing. There are opportunities for you now. Are you getting sponsorships?’ I got none of that. There were newspaper articles in my area and there was one in the L.A. Times. My local Fox News channel in Los Angeles had me on their shows. Those were amazing, but the backlash was so hard, that I kind of hid. I ran almost no marathons in early 2011. I was new on Facebook and that was when people were really bashing other people on social media. Now, I just hit the ‘block’ button. I do remember at that time that I was in my bedroom and my son’s girlfriend lightly knocked on the door and she came in and said, ‘Ms. Holder, wear your crown. You have done something that nobody on this earth has done. You are amazing. Stop moping. Don’t read all that negative stuff.’ After a week that sunk in.
GCR: You broke the Guinness World Record for marathons in one year again in 2012 with a total of 120 which included over thirty-five 50k races and three 100-milers. How difficult was it logistically and what did you learn in 2010 that helped you the second time around and how much more challenging was it with so many races that were longer than a marathon?
YH I decided, ‘Bam - in your face!’ With the Guinness Records, anything of a marathon distance or above 26.2 miles is considered to be one marathon. 50k races, 50-milers and 100-mile races were one marathon. I came back and ran the Javalina Jundred 100-miler, which was a Western States qualifier, two timed hundred-milers, and about forty 50k races in brutal mountains. The rest of the races were marathons. I travelled all over the place and ended up with a hundred and twenty marathons and ultras. I broke the record and that said to all my haters, ‘Here you go.’
GCR: It's amazing about negative people as I have told people to consider that there are three hundred and thirty million people in the United States. If ninety-nine percent like what you do and are positive, three point three million people aren’t going to like it, so we can’t stop the haters. Let’s talk about multiday walking. I was a sub-elite runner and remember that the most miles I ever ran in a month was 504 miles. In 2014 you walked 622 miles in ten days to set an American Record for women. I can’t imagine being on my feet for sixty-two miles a day for ten days. How tough was it on your body and your mind and how important was hydration, nutrition and sleep?
YH My first six-day race was before that at the ‘Six Days in the Dome’ in Alaska. I knew nothing about multiday races but managed to get sixth place in the world along with topping four hundred miles. After doing a few more six-day races, someone told me about the Sri Chinmoy 3,100-mile race. I had this confidence level that was so high that I felt I could do anything. My body was trained, except for still getting blisters. My body and mind were in sync. When I contacted the Sri Chinmoy race director, he said, ‘Our race is by invitation only and you’re a walker. We have nothing against that, but I don’t think you are ready for 3,100 miles. Why don’t you come and do our ten-day race and let me see what you can do.’ The race came up in a couple of months. When I got there, the race director said, ‘I looked at your past six-day races and they are all over four hundred miles. I think you can do 622 miles.’ I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t realize it was a thousand kilometers. I didn’t know that, if you could do 622 miles in ten days, the Sri Chinmoy Board of Directors would consider you for the race. I had two things against me since I had never done 622 miles and I was walking. I started it, but I didn’t know what was going to happen past the sixth day. I was afraid of what the next four days would bring. You don’t know the unknown. Once I hit the seventh day and day eight, I knew I could do it. One of my social media followers lived in New Jersey and he was a fan of me and of ultra-racing. I was mentally losing it a little bit. I would argue someone down that two plus two equals five. I was over five hundred miles and 622 sounded huge. He came the last three days and stayed for eight to ten hours. His name was Sean, and, on my last day, I kept saying, ‘Sean, do you think I can do it?’ I don’t know where the speed came from, but I was walking at eleven-minute mile pace. He told me that was going to make it. I stayed with him and ended up hitting 622 miles with thirty minutes still on the clock. I stopped and threw in the towel. I never did that again. In future races, I walked until the clock ran out. There is something within you when you believe you can do it, and everything starts to come together.
GCR: You took the multi-day walking to an unbelievable level in 2017 when you competed in and finished the Sri Chinmoy Self Transcendence 3100 Mile Race. What was it like getting ready to push your body for five times as long as 622 miles? And can you describe this race including how long you were walking each day and the mental, emotional and physical highs and lows while you were stretching to the limit over a period of weeks?
YH The highs were amazing to know that my body was capable of doing this. The lows were starting at 6:00 a.m. and trying to come up with a daily plan of how I was going to do sixty miles. What happened with me was that I got sick several times with stomach issues. The lowest I pulled off was thirty to forty miles in one day. It turned out that I was forty-three miles behind schedule. They kept telling me there had been only one person that got behind like I did and finished. When people get that far behind, they don’t finish the 3,100 miles. I never felt that I wasn’t going to finish. I felt that I had to take it one day at a time. By this time, I had to average sixty-two miles a day for the last twenty days to make the 3,100-miles in the allowed number of days. My followers on Facebook, and all my ultramarathon friends, were following my progress very closely. I’ll never forget one guy, a Marathon Maniac named Steve, who sent me a message that said, ‘Yolanda, you can do this. It’s just a hundred kilometers and you’ve done that many times.’ It just took that. He was right. I thought, ‘I can do a hundred kilometers.’ I wasn’t thinking that I hadn’t done that much every day for twenty days.
GCR: What was it like when you finished this journey, and you could stop and rest? And how long did it take to recover after this took such a toll on your entire being?
YH I finished with less than an hour remaining. We had to finish by midnight, and I finished at 11:03 p.m. There were so many people there. They had a chair for me to sit. I was crying and it was the first time I ever cried in a race. My daughter was there, and she looked at me. She said, ‘Mom…’ and she started crying. ‘I’m so proud of you and I’m so sorry.’ I said, ‘Sorry for what?’ She answered, ‘Because I’m always mean to you.’ And I said, ‘That’s normal.’ So, I had that moment with my daughter and that moment when I finally cried at a race. What I did that I will never do again is I flew out the next morning which was only a couple of hours later. My daughter and a couple of ladies were packing for the flight. It was horrible. When I got home, I dreamt that I was on that course for almost a month. I could see myself and the people and everything that happened to me. I would wake up every morning out of my dream and say, ‘Ah, thank God I’m home. It was just a dream. It took a toll on me mentally and it took a toll on my body. I lost maybe twenty or twenty-five pounds, lots of weight, and I didn’t regain it back for at least two months. I was getting scared that I wasn’t going to gain the weight back. I did transcend when I was doing sixty-two miles a day. The day before I fell three times on the same knee, and it was torn up. I wasn’t afraid of going fast. I was doing 11:30 mile pace at eleven o’clock at night trying to get in my sixty-two miles. Suddenly, I saw myself in front of me. I looked down and I was wearing a pink skirt. I looked back up and there was me in the pink skirt. I looked down and started shaking my head hard. ‘No! I’m not hallucinating! What’s going on? Stop!’ I did that and she went away. I caught up with one of the runners who was tired and walking and told him what had happened. He shared a story with me about when he transcended, and he told me other people’s stories. He told me it was normal, I was doing amazing, and I shouldn’t let it scare me. The next night around the same time at the same area of that block, I saw myself and this time I said, ‘You go girl! Bring your best. We’ve got to get to sixty-two miles.
GCR: In 2019 you race walked one hundred miles in under twenty-fours hours as your 23:52:17 finish earned you the title of ‘Centurion,’ only the ninety-fourth person to earn that designation. How special was that and how tough was it to maintain that pace and get under twenty-four hours by less than ten minutes?
YH I trained for it. At least I thought I was training for it. I did it at a six-day race. I contacted the Centurion judge and there were five of us race walking. I was the only female. We had a nice crew. We walked on day one of the six-day race. Most of the elites were there. They got mad because they weren’t planning on doing a hundred miles on day one. They didn’t want to do a hundred miles the first day, but they didn’t want us to beat them. It gave me motivation to see my name on the leaderboard with the top, elite ultrarunners. I saw my name in seventh place and in fifth place and that was exciting. It was my goal to do a hundred miles, but it wasn’t in their plans. When I did, it was hard. I didn’t even stop for the bathroom. I kept going around and around the loop. When they said, ‘This is your last lap,’ I almost fell. My friend, Bob, had to hold me up. What happened was, after they gave me by chip and my badge, I went and lay down. I slept so much that on day two I mentally forgot I was also doing this six-day race and I only did thirty-two miles, barely a 50k, on day two. Some friends were saying things like, ‘Yolanda, you’re still in the six-day race and all you’re doing is sleeping.’ I snapped out of it and pulled off 413 miles for the six days. I don’t know how I did it, but I pulled it off, broke records and set lots of records. On top of that, I did what I came to do and walked a hundred miles in under twenty-four hours.
GCR: How did covid and the disruption in our usual routine and resulting cancellation of races in 2020 and 2021 change your regimen which has much consistency, discipline and scheduling?
YH I didn’t realize that it was tough on me. I was looking at that time as a time for my body to heal from all the aches and pains that I had ignored. I let my body heal. I was walking at least one mile each day plus doing my daily headstand. It caused problems later because I was not motivated in my head. I thought, ‘You’ve already done four hundred miles, so you know you can do it.’ No, you can’t. You must train the body. My body was saying, ‘No girlfriend, you aren’t going to do this right now. You haven’t done this in two years.’ I ended up doing the six-day race in the dome as my first race back and only did a bit over three hundred miles, maybe three thirty or three fifty. A lot of people don’t now this next truth, and I don’t want to talk about it too much because of the negativity, but there is taunting in the six-day races. I was taunted very badly at that race. My back went out and my friends were telling those who were doing the taunts to stop. These people thought it was funny or they didn’t want me to win. I left the race. But, if you look back in history to the late 1800s, the multi-day walking races were very popular. There were millions of dollars in the sport and taunting was a part of it. Most of the time I don’t have a crew, and this truly affected me. I ended up with ulcers and anxiety. Those things can happen. I’m better today and understand how better to handle those situations without retaliating and being negative on my part. I want to do this until the day I die. When I did my most recent six-day race in New York, everything went wrong. I ended up with an allergy, my back went out, and everything was going wrong. I did manage to continue on day five and some people gave me great massages. I slept for a total of fifteen hours throughout the day and came back on day six to walk fifty miles. I ended up at three hundred and fifty-one miles. I’m still recovering from that race. I’m learning that food is medicine. I’m not anti-medication, but I’m healthy and have no diseases. I’m looking for diverse ways to eat healthier. When I had the ulcers, the first thing the doctors wanted to do was to put me on some medications. I said, ‘Is there another way to help me to feel comfortable?’ I ate healthy and got rid of them. With my anxiety, I’m learning to be more relaxed. Right now, I’m in Corona and am looking at the beautiful mountains. I’m learning to meditate, be calm. I’m trying sound therapy and light therapy and different methods to help myself.
GCR: Speaking of trying something new or different, though you are known for endurance walking, you also compete on the track. How different and how much fun has it been this year competing in track competitions in the 5k and 10k, racing in Senior Games and even trying the steeplechase?
YH Four years ago, I started doing USA Track and Field events. A friend of mine, Bob Davidson, who is an amazing man and race walker said, ‘Yolanda, you aren’t going to get any recognition for all you have done. Only the top three elite runners are recognized in a marathon and that isn’t you. Though you are a very good power walker, you need to learn race walking because it is in the Olympics and is recognized as an event by USA Track and Field. You will do wonderful and may get ‘Athlete of the Year’ or into the Hall of Fame. If you do what you are doing now, you won’t get any of that.’ It took my three tries in the 50k race walk but, on the third attempt, I finished. I was two minutes off from being the American Record Holder and three minutes from the World Record in my age group. That same year they discontinued the 50k, though they added the 35k. Back in January, I set the American and World Record for my age group for 35k. The 35k World Record has been broken three times by three different ladies who live in Australia, though I still hold the American Record. I’m not a fan of running 1,500 meters or 3,000 meters. I’m okay at the 5k, which isn’t my best, but for 10k and above it fits me because I’m more of a long-distance, endurance walker. The 10k is my warmup. This year I am the 2022 5k, 10k and 1,500-meter champion. When you see me do these track and field races, it is because I want to eventually be recognized for what I have done. When they add my multi-day races and 3,100-mile race, those will be icing on the cake. Last year in Iowa at the outdoor Nationals, my friend, Darlene, and I saw the steeplechase. We were laughing and said, ‘That looks like fun! Next year let’s sign up for it.’ Here at Paloma in California we were going to do the racewalk and Darlene said, ‘They have a steeplechase. Why don’t we try it so at Nationals we won’t look like we’ve never done this before.’ We did it and it was hard. It looks easy and fun. I was trying to run the race without even practicing running. Darlene tried to racewalk the steeplechase and couldn’t racewalk fast. It was different with the hurdles in front of us. We had to stop because we couldn’t jump with just putting our foot on the hurdle or jump right over it. We were thinking, ‘How do we get over this?’ It was hilarious. No one took any pictures of us, but there were pictures of us at Nationals in the water. We didn’t know what to do, but we had to get in the water. We weren’t going to jump over the water. It was funny. Everybody had a wonderful time. I don’t think I will do it again. It looks easy and fun and that first time we thought we would go out there and enjoy ourselves. The judges for the other events were watching because every time I came up to the hurdles, I politely stepped over them. We must have looked like grandmas going over the hurdles, but I wasn’t going to hurt myself!
GCR: THE WALKING DIVA AND EMBRACING OUR COMMONALITY When I interviewed Michelle Carter, 2016 Olympic Gold Medalist in the Shot Put, we talked about her nickname, ‘The Shot Diva,’ as she combined the strength and athleticism of shot putting with beauty and looking her best. Catra Corbett, an amazing endurance trail runner from California who is known for colorful clothing and piercings and tattoos and dyed hair is ‘The Dirt Diva.’ What can you tell us about how you have become known as ‘The Walking Diva’ and are now part of the ‘Diva Trinity’ with Michelle and Catra?
YH I know Catra very well and I have done hundred milers with her. We are very cool. What happened with me when I started out doing marathons is that I would always get my hair done and wear designer sunglasses. There weren’t running skirts at that time, so I would wear tennis skirts. I felt that, if I was going to pay good money to walk for twenty-six miles, why not have fun and look good doing it? When I did the fifty marathons in fifty weeks, I would wear different singlets and colors of skirts and let me hair down. I wore various sunglasses and, before I met Catra, I thought I was the only one wearing a skirt. People would ask with surprise, ‘You have on a skirt?’ I would say, ‘Why can’t I wear a skirt?’ But it became a trend. Running skirts came out, Nike started making skirts and women were having fun with them. The back of the pack was having more fun than the elites. I don’t remember who said it, but I was walking, and someone said, ‘You’re like a Walking Diva! Look at you!’ When I did the 3,100-mile walk in New York, I brought fifty-two outfits. I ended up not repeating, but some outfits didn’t fit with the weight I lost, and I had to mix and match skirts and tops.
GCR: As a black woman over the age of sixty, you may not be the typical competitor at your events. How special is it to you to inspire others by showing that gender, race and age are not limiting factors in exercise and fitness?
YH Sometimes there are haters. Even people who are close to you, like family and friends, they are subtle about it. ‘Aren’t you too old?’ ‘Why are you wearing that outfit? You’re not in your thirties.’ I had to put all of that aside and realize that God gave me a gift. If I can take that gift and show people the straightforward way to get out and start walking and getting fit, then it may lead to running or riding a bike or whatever else someone likes to do. But they have to start out by walking. Now I just say, ‘Move your body.’ June is the start of summer and the time to wear sundresses. Last year in June I took a picture of myself in a dress every day up until June twenty-second. I didn’t know why I was doing it, but I just did. I didn’t get a lot of feedback but this June I decided to do it again. This time something told me to talk about age, which women don’t like to talk about, and talk about menopause. We are in our sixties, and we aren’t dead. I am an athlete and call myself that now that I am racewalking which is a sport that is in the Olympics. My circle changed and I started attracting great people in my life. I started inspiring everyday people like me to get up off the couch. I would tell them that, if they did the hurdles in college, they could do hurdles today with some practice. It has been amazing. This is the first year I have felt that I have touched so many people in their fifties and sixties. A girlfriend passed away last week, and it brought back the grieving of losing my sister two years ago. I talked on Facebook about grieving and what she meant to me. I also said that I was jealous that my sister and friend were singing and dancing up in heaven and I’m stuck here in this ‘expletive’ up world. But one of my followers put me in check and said, ‘Yolanda, you have people you inspire that you don’t even know you are inspiring, and your wording was not right.’ It is a crazy world, and I immediately took out the bad word and replaced it with ‘crazy.’ I told my friend, ‘Thank you. I changed the wording.’ He gave me the thumbs up emoji. Every morning since then I have received a message from different people who lost a loved one and said I am inspiring them. When I said I was jealous about my sister and friend, I didn’t mean it like I wanted to kill myself. I’m hurting like anybody else. When I was asked how I got through this, I said that I walk. That is my meditation when I do my leisure. I walk and pray and ask God what he wants me to do and why things are happening to me. I like racewalking and competing, but I feel I am being touched by God to help people who are grieving. I lost both of my parents to type II diabetes. Since the 3,100-mile race is completed in fifty-two days, I added the fifty-two-day challenge for diabetes that starts the same day on September fifth as the 3,100-mile race. I ask people to join me and to move their body. I encourage them to do whatever they like for fifty-two days.
GCR: Endurance athletes have stories to tell about competing in the Boston Marathon. What can you relate about your Boston Marathon race walking experience and the crowds and fans along the way?
YH I race walked the Boston Marathon the year of the bombing and got to mile twenty before they stopped us. I got into the Boston Marathon because I did a relay from Canada to New York and Dave McGillivray, the Boston Marathon Race Director, was one of our mentors. We went from Canada and through Boston where Dave met us and did part of the course. The next year he contacted one of our group leaders and said, ‘Ask Yolanda if she would like to do the Boston Marathon.’ Dave said, ‘Tell Yolanda not to go on social media and tell people how she got into the Boston Marathon.’ When I got to the Los Angeles airport, I posted on social media that I was headed to Boston. There was an uproar because people wanted to know, ‘She’s a walker. Did she get in through the charity program?’ I understood why Dave said that. People were not being very nice. When I got there to do the race, I was in the back and all the charity participants had their charity’s name on their shirts. I was in my ‘Diva Outfit.’ People were cheering and when I got closer to them, they stopped cheering. It wasn’t because of my skin color. It was because I was walking. The Boston Marathon is like the Super Bowl for people who live in Boston. That’s their baby. You’d better run. You better do their best. That is their baby! When I realized what was happening, I didn’t take it personally. I stayed in the middle. Spectators were camped out and they were cheering, but they weren’t cheering for me. I heard, ‘Look at this speed walker! You better run! Run!’ That is when I put it together. People qualified to be there, and the spectators wanted to see us run. Then the bomb went off. Dave said that, if we made it more than fifteen miles, we were invited to return the next year to compete, no matter how we got in the race. The next year I got cheers. I stopped and took pictures. People took pictures of me. I’m a walker. That’s who I am. I’m not trying to compete for time. I’m here to enjoy. So many others did the same thing and had a fun time. I put Boston second behind New York. I’ve done the New York City Marathon three or four times and they will cheer, cheer and cheer for everyone. They don’t care if you run, walk, hop, skip, or jump.
GCR: TRAINING How many miles do you usually walk in a week, do you utilize a ‘long and short day’ approach, and do you have a minimum number of miles or minutes you walk each day?
YH I try to walk a mile or more every day. When I knew the 10k was coming up, I trained for it with speed drills of no more than three miles total. In the month of August, I didn’t have any races, so I tried to heal my back. I did three or more miles a day. One day I did ten miles, but it was leisure walking at a resort. My next six-day race is the ‘Across the Years’ in Arizona in December. For my fifty-two-day challenge starting September fifth, I put in ten or more miles every day. September is training for my six-day race. I don’t know my exact plan, but it will be more than ten miles per day. Two years ago, in the fifty-two-day challenge, I did twenty-two miles a day and I injured myself. I was race walking and figured out I didn’t need to do that.
GCR: Please describe the difference between power walking and race walking and how you have utilized both methods.
YH When we are power walking, we are doing our own thing, but not running. There is no specific method, just whatever is comfortable for you. Racewalking has judges watching your form. Each time your foot contacts with the ground, your knee must be straight. You must have a straight knee every time your foot hits the ground. The judges are looking to see that your knee is straight. My left knee gives me a lot of problems at my age, but I do manage to keep it straight. A competitor can get yellow paddles, which are warnings. There is a board with each of our race numbers. If the judges give you three red paddles for violating the rules, you are disqualified. That is how I was disqualified twice in the 50k because of my knee. So, in race walking you are judged on your form and in power walking you are doing your own technique.
GCR: What do you do for cross training, and do you utilize stretching, weights, massage and chiropractic care?
YH A year ago, I started riding the bike because I had a small ACL tear in my left knee. My physical therapist recommended that I use the stationary bike. I do almost an hour a day on the bike. The whole hour does make me feel lazy. Then I do stretching. When I worked with my physical therapist, I was doing Pilates, which I love. I do my headstand every day. I don’t do much yoga. I’m a ‘tryer’ now. I used to be a ‘sayer’ and not a ‘tryer.’ I will try. A friend of mine suggested I do hand weights with dumbbells and get up to ten pounds. I recalled that was what I did when I used to do fitness competitions. He told me he would guarantee it would help me with my walking. And it has helped. I recuperated and took it easy in August but added all the other training in September along with the fifty-two-day challenge.
GCR: What do you do in training and racing to reduce the incidence of blisters, overuse fatigue and a sore lower back that we all face as endurance athletes?
YH I’m trying new things so, since last week, I have a back brace. I name everything, so I named it ‘Journey.’ In April, when I did the six-day race in New York and my back was going out, a couple of the runners were wearing back braces. I didn’t know that because they had shirts on over the braces. They had me try their back braces. I’ve had back problems the last couple six-day races that are usually after the race and not during the race. Blisters are my big challenge. I have them under control by using Run Goo and Squirrel Nut Butter. They both work wonderfully. If its raining I soak my feet in Run Goo or Squirrel Nut Butter. I also have found that changing my socks helps by keeping my feet dry. When it is hot outside, my feet sweat. Sometimes I am in my zone and don’t want to stop. I’ll tell myself, ‘Do two more miles and then you can stop.’ I want to crank out the miles, but I am learning to tell myself, ‘No! If you feel something – stop! Take care of it.’ I use several types of bandages depending on where hot spots or blisters develop. Certain bandages work better for various parts of the foot or toes. Stopping and taking care of an issue is important rather than letting it get out of hand.
GCR: You briefly talked about nutrition. What are highlights of your nutrition program as far as balancing protein, carbohydrate and fat intake as you aim to fuel and hydrate and are you improving?
YH I am getting better at it. When I compete in the six-day races, they have plenty of food. I’ve learned to bring my electrolytes and to make myself drink fluids. I’m not a big eater. I’m terrible with my nutrition. Usually, in the six-day races, my stomach is weak until day three. Once I get to day three, I’m okay. The main thing is for me to eat and drink. It doesn’t matter as much what I’m eating as long as it’s a lot of protein. I just have to drink and I’m not very good at that because my stomach will say, ‘No, we’re not going to do this right now. We’ll do it later.’ And I have to force myself. There is no program for me, just making sure I eat and drink. I just started training with electrolytes. I’m not a fan of many electrolyte drinks because, if they are too sweet on my stomach, they will make me throw up, even during training. I do find something that is the opposite of what others use in the six-day races as many of them like lime water and I found that lemon water works for me. If someone is trying to help me, each person thinks they are a coach and nutritionist and I must be able to say, ‘No! That doesn’t work for me.’
GCR: INSPIRATION AND MOTIVATION I see so many great thoughts that you share on social media. So, let’s hit some of them and I’ll let you expand on them. ‘The hardest thing about exercising is to START. Once you’re exercising regularly, the hardest thing to do is STOP.’ How has this been true for you and for others you have encouraged to exercise?
YH People always say to me, ‘How do you get started? I don’t know how to do it. It’s just so hard.’ What I tell them is ‘Put on your shoes, walk to the door, open it and walk outside. That is the hardest part. Once you are outside, get going. It feels good. Enjoy yourself. You do have to come back, so don’t go too far.’
GCR: One day on Facebook you posted, ‘If you don’t make time for your wellness, you will make time for your illness.’ That is very profound. What more can you say about that statement?
YH I took that from somebody’s post on Instagram. And it is true. If you don’t take time to be well. The illnesses will pop up. You just have to spend thirty minutes each day of moving your body. If you don’t, you will spend more time taking care of yourself by popping pills. Diabetes may appear or heart disease. Moving your body and chasing after grandkids will be harder.
GCR: Many people will tell me they took a day off or didn’t feel like exercising and so I love this one. ‘Fitness is like a relationship; you can’t cheat and expect it to work.’
YH It is so true. You must keep it up. You are your own best friend. You only get one body, one vessel, and you must take care of it. It is like a relationship that needs nurturing. You have to spend ‘me time’ and self-care.
GCR: For this next quote, I think of Benji Durden, who was a 2:09 marathoner and a 1980 Olympian who didn’t get to compete because of the Moscow Olympic boycott. Benji is in his early seventies and tracks how much he runs and how much he walks. You have a quote that states, ‘I Walk, you Run, we Both get it Done.’ And it’s true as it is important to get out there, whether you are walking or running, isn’t it?
YH It is so true, and that quote is mine. Going back to what we talked about earlier, there were runners in these lengthy races who weren’t happy that I was walking. So, I would say, ‘I Walk, you Run, we Both get it Done.’
GCR: The next quote is one you featured from the great gymnast, Simone Biles - ‘I’d rather regret the risks that didn’t work out than the chances I didn’t take at all.’ I’m sure you must live by that mantra with what you are doing.
YH Right! I started this journey in my fifties and I went from the 1,500 meters all the way up to a 3,100-mile race. If I didn’t take that chance and didn’t try, I would never know what the outcome would be. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be doing what I am doing at my age.
GCR: Many people spend their time trying to be like someone else, so this quote hit me nicely. ‘Celebrate yourself. No one knows what it takes to be you! Be fearless, be courageous and most of all be you.’ Was there a point where you realized, ‘I just need to be me?’
YH I have had many people say, ‘You look like a runner. Do you do hurdles? The four hundred meters? What do you do?’ And tell them, ‘No, I’m a race walker and power walker.’ No one can change me. That is who I am. I’m not going to try to do something because ninety percent of the athletes run. I’m in the ten percent that is going to be me, and no one is going to change me. Believe me, there are times when my husband would get tired of me griping and say, ‘Why don’t you just run or tell people you are a runner even thought you aren’t running?’ But it reminds me to tell people, ‘Just be you. Don’t let anybody change you.’
GCR: When we are young, we have thoughts about how our future will be and it doesn’t often turn out that way. Life may be sometimes worse, sometimes better or sometimes different. One quote you posted on social media says, ‘Sometimes you have to let go of the picture of what you thought life would be like and learn to find joy in the story you’re living.’ I’m not sure if that is one of your original thoughts or if you found it, but how profound are those words?
YH I found that quote, and it said it was from an unknown person. That quote truly touched me. It’s because I’m learning to live in the now. This moment talking to you is my ‘now.’ I’m enjoying and doing more living in the now. This is my reality and is what is going on right now. I am having this amazing interview with Gary. That takes practice to live in the now. When I saw that quote, I thought, ‘That’s me. I’m learning to live in the now. That’s my reality.’ I’m trying to find the blessings in the now and to be grateful. I am learning all this now and it’s amazing.
GCR: In the Facebook community I tend to be drawn to people like you and Amy Szutowitz and Catra Corbett who lift us up. A quote on your page one day was ‘Surround yourself with people who push you to do and be better. No drama or negativity. Just higher goals and higher motivation. Good times and positive energy. No jealousy or hate. Simply bringing out the absolute best in each other.’ I was thinking, ‘Yes! Exactly!’
YH I like on Facebook the sharing of these good quotes. Wherever we are finding them, they touch us. And I post about how I feel and try to keep it positive. We all have those negative feelings, like when that gentleman corrected me on my grieving post. I’m human and may say things I shouldn’t say. I love my social media because we are all on the same page with that same positive energy. I don’t want more drama and negativity. I just want to be happy.
GCR: Athletes who compete are the only people who move up to a new age group and are happy to get older. Nobody else is happy to be older. You had a quote, ‘Aging is an extraordinary process where you become the person you always should have been.’ People forget that we can compete, become wiser and use our experiences to become better at life.
YH That’s funny what you said because I’m sixty-four and you know where I’m going next year – new age group! I’m excited – yes!
GCR: This last one is the coolest analogy. ‘Life is like a camera. FOCUS on what is important. CAPTURE the good times. DEVELOP from the negative. And if things don’t work out, take another SHOT. Smile it’s your life you own it.’ It gave me a ‘wow’ in my thoughts because it is so good.
YH I found that quote from a fitness motivation page and added the last sentence. That is an old quote that I used a few years ago. I was scrolling and looking for a quote and that one came up and was perfect for that day. I have noticed that I have many new followers on Facebook who are hungry for fitness information and I’m loving it. I don’t know if they just got on Facebook or what’s going on, but I’m touching many great people and letting them know life isn’t over because we are in our sixties.
GCR: WRAP UP AND FINAL THOUGHTS Are there any races from the hundreds in which you have competed that are most memorable for beautiful scenery, overcoming challenges, an effort that pushed you to your maximum or cool finishers’ medals or awards?
YH I think of when I ran the Walt Disney World ‘Goofy’ in January of 2011. I had just finished my Guinness World Record marathon program and enjoyed the ‘Goofy’ without pressure to finish under six hours. It was fun. The characters were out there. They had the best medals, which are even better now. For the half marathon I got a Donald Duck medal. For the marathon they gave finishers a Mickey Mouse medal. And for signing up to run both races, we came home with a Goofy medal. Now they have the ‘Dopey’ where you run four races and come home with six medals. That was the most memorable, the most fun, the prettiest medals and the most enjoyable. That was the best race for me.
GCR: Who have been some of your favorite competitors and comrades throughout the years?
YH I don’t want to name anyone because there have been so many people and I don’t want anyone reading this to feel that I left them out. Each year there are different people and there are so many inspiring and amazing athletes. They are everyday people who are moving their bodies and I want to congratulate them all.
GCR: What advice do you have for youths and teens to have running and walking as a lifetime sport since most other sports are discontinued for them after they are out of high school or college?
YH I would love to see young children start out race walking before they start running. It’s a sport that has a technique that you must master, and you can master. Competitors can usually earn medals more easily in race walking that in running. Its also a competitive, fun sport. My advice to kids is to try race walking first. I encourage them to try it before running.
GCR: What guidance can you offer to those considering transitioning from marathons to ultras and multiday events and from running to power walking or race walking?
YH If you are running or walking a 5k, move up and try a 10k. Then challenge yourself to do a half marathon. Then go to a full marathon and go up the ladder. Don’t stay stuck at the marathon distance. The human body is capable of much more than you can possibly imagine. I never ever imagined that my body at age sixty could do 3,100 miles in fifty-two days.
GCR: As we age and try to slow the inevitable aging process, what advice do you give to us to incorporate daily in addition to exercise?
YH I encourage people to add meditating and to have some quiet time. People should also listen to quiet music. As far as nutrition, try different fruits and vegetables. My overall advice is to just try it.
GCR: What goals do you have for yourself in fitness, hobbies, travel or other aspects of your life for the upcoming years?
YH I have travelled all over the country and my goal as I travel is to visit museums in each city or site I visit and to learn more about each state and our beautiful country.
GCR: What are the major lessons you have learned during your life from your youth, parenting, the discipline of walking and competing, achieving life balance and any adversity you have faced that you would like to share with my readers?
YH The main point I make is to take care of yourself. I am blessed that I am healthy. I didn’t try to be healthy. It was just in my blessings. Put yourself first, especially as a woman. Taking care of yourself is not selfish. Take time for you. Take at least an hour each day to get to know who you are because you are always somebody’s mom, somebody’s wife, somebody’s sister. Get to know who you are and do what makes you happy.
  Inside Stuff
Hobbies/Interests I love gardening and that is one of my hobbies. I have my plants and those are now my babies. The next hobby that I am going to try doing is going back to dancing. That is on my list for next year. And I’m going to continue to smile
Nicknames Now it is ‘The Walking Diva.’ When I was a kid, I was called ‘Londa,’ a shortening of my name
Favorite movies My favorite movie is a girlfriend movie called ‘Beaches.’ I love that one and can watch it over and over again. I call up all my girlfriends and the first thing they say if they haven’t heard from me in six months or so is, ‘You watched Beaches’
Favorite TV shows Now I watch a show that comes on twice a year, and don’t judge me, but I am a ‘Big Brother’ fan. We are now on ‘BB24,’ so it’s been twenty-four consecutive seasons of ‘Big Brother.’ I don’t miss an episode. They started ‘Celebrity Big brother’ and are on their third season. I watched ‘Big Brother’ with my mom until she passed away eight years ago. As a child, I can’t even think that far back. I did watch ‘Happy Days.’ That was a fun show to watch
Favorite songs My favorite is Sade. I like smooth jazz. I like some of Janet Jackson’s hits. I’m a big Beyonce fan and some of her music has been touching me. Recently, and again don’t judge me, but I’m listening to Justin Bieber. I’ve never been a fan, but there is one song that has some lyrics about him buying his weed out in California that I like. It’s called ‘Peaches.’ It’s not the lyrics so much as the music and the way he sings. I was at the gym when the song came on and I said, ‘Who is singing this?’ When I found out it was Justin Bieber, I thought, ‘You’re kidding! I’m a Justin fan?’ There is something about the beat that turned me on
Favorite books I was never a big reader. I do like ‘Waiting to Exhale’ and other books by Terry McMillan. I’m a major fan of her and have read many of her books. I just got the book, ‘Finding Me,’ by the actress, Viola Davis, and it is very good. That is the book I’m reading now
First car A Mercury Monarch. My grandfather worked at the Mercury car dealership, and he got me that car. I kept saying, ‘It’s too big! That’s not what everybody is driving!’ People were driving cars like Ford Pintos. It was small, but large for me at eighteen years old
Current car The car I’m driving now is the C-class Mercedes. My first Mercedes was one I bought when they first came out with the C-class in 1996. It died two years ago so I bought another one
First Job There weren’t many restaurants like McDonalds and Jack-In-The-Box when I was a teenager. If you were an ‘A’ student, you got the job. Everybody teenager applied at the on McDonalds in the town. When I was eighteen or nineteen, I got my first full-time job at Chappell Homebuilders. They built homes in the San Francisco Bay area and some in the Los Angeles area. That was my first job as a receptionist. I remember it because it was fun, there were perks and a lot of great benefits that most companies don’t have now
Family I’m one of eleven children. Two of my sisters have passed away within the last four years. We were like the Three Musketeers. Lasondra would have been sixty-three, I’m sixty-four, and Cookie would have been sixty-five. We grew up very poor, yet we didn’t know we were poor. We had a loving family. I got married almost forty years ago. My husband is now a retired engineer. We have two children. Tiffany is thirty-six and she works in maintenance, and she loves Jesus and volunteers a lot. My son, R.J., is thirty-eight years old, is a schoolteacher and has double master’s degrees. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. He got married two years ago and moved to Atlanta. R.J. and his wife are doing very well. She is a corporate attorney. I’m the kind of mom that wasn’t hovering over them. Now, I want more closeness, and they are so independent that they don’t need me like that. Before my mom passed away, I called her every day. My son was kind of complaining as a newlywed, ‘Mom, she talks to her mom every day.’ I said, ‘Well, you can call me every day’
Pets We had no pets at all. My family was not a pet family. I kind of passed that along to my kids, though they always wanted a dog. My husband, from his first marriage, has a daughter. When she went off to college and her mom was moving out of state, they gave us their dog. His name was ‘Fuzzball,’ and he was a Schnauzer. Everyone was amazed at how he became attached to me because he had been very attached to her mom and even slept in the corner of her bed. At my house, he also slept in the corner of my bed and followed my everywhere. We were moving from northern California to southern California, and someone was coming over to get some of our furniture. I opened the garage door and ‘Fuzzball’ ran out and got hit by a car. I cried. People were saying, ‘He wasn’t even your dog.’ But, after that, I couldn’t get another dog
Favorite breakfast I don’t have a favorite breakfast. I don’t eat breakfast. I’ll have a mocha coffee with whipped cream
Favorite meal I like shrimp dishes and salmon
Favorite beverages I like a glass of red wine occasionally, and sometimes with my dinner. I stopped drinking soda except every so often in a six-day race. I don’t drink electrolyte drinks like Gatorade. I have so many plans that don’t work out with electrolyte drinks. I can’t figure them out. I drink lemonade sometimes
First athletic memories I remember being tested on our physical fitness and, for some reason, I liked doing sit ups. I would have my hands behind my head and have my knees almost up to my chest. They would count how many we could do, and I would always do close to a hundred. It was exciting to me to hear, ‘One, two, three!’ And I just kept going
Athletic heroes I didn’t have a hero, but I remember one thing that is so amazing. Every Monday, once a year, I would watch the Boston Marathon live on television. The funny part is that I would watch them and say, ‘Why would somebody want to do that? That is a long way and that is hard.’ But every year, I don’t know why my parents put it on TV or why I ended up sitting and watching that Boston Marathon for three hours on a Monday. I did it every year when I was growing up
Greatest race-walking moments The Centurion is number one. The 3,100-mile race is number two. The second year I did the Boston Marathon is number three when I got the spectators to accept me when I was walking. That was nice
Worst race-walking moments I have had three DNFs in hundred milers. The Javelina Jundred is one where I had a DNF, and I couldn’t even drop down to and finish 100k. I got very sick around mile forty during the second loop. I was throwing up and got very sick. It was disappointing because we like their finisher belt buckles. They are unique with a skeleton head. Catra Corbett has been at every hundred-mile race I have done
Childhood dreams Besides wanting to be a teacher, I also wanted to be an entertainer. I knew I couldn’t sing well, so I thought that if I could dance, I would be on Broadway dancing backup. I was too shy to act, and I couldn’t sing, so I thought about being a dancer. To make money, I would be a teacher
Pretty memories ‘The Three Musketeers,’ my two sisters and me, would go to house parties. When one of us didn’t like it there, we would say, ‘Ready when you are, and even when you’re not. Pillsbury dough.’ Do you remember that commercial?
Embarrassing moment One embarrassing moment in a race was when it was cold, and I had a runny nose. I had cleaned my nose but had a sneeze. When I sneezed, the snot was hanging from a tree. That’s how long it was. There was a person who was running with me, and I said, ‘Ewww, what is that?’ And he said, ‘That came out of you!’ It was gross, but an embarrassing moment
Favorite places to travel My husband is from Panama, so I’ve been to Panama many times. That’s a wonderful place to visit. I’ve been to many Mexican resorts like Cancun and Mazatlan. I’m not a big traveler outside of the country. I was going to go to France this year and chose not to with everything that is going on in the world. I’m not sure if I want to go. I’ve been following the Britney Greiner story, not that I’m anything like her, but I wouldn’t want to have trouble internationally and have President Biden say, ‘I don’t know her. We can’t swap her. Who is she again?’ (laughing) I am trying to find someone to go to France with me who speaks the language. In the United States, I have been to Hawaii many times and that is a fun place to visit. I am finding myself increasingly in New York City and that east coast lifestyle is kind of cool. I like Central Park for running or walking. I like places in the suburbs where people live upstairs and downstairs there is a corner flower store, restaurant, or shop