Medals and trophies take pride of place in Trevor McCoid’s Orewa home, testament to a competitive spirit that thrives on challenge. Trevor has not let major knee surgery stand in the way of winning races and staying fit. In April the 59-year-old out-walked many younger competitors to win the Orewa Half Marathon, men’s walking section, for the second time. He is a familiar figure to Orewa residents thanks to his daily training walk along Orewa Beach, something he says causes hilarity because of the distinctive race walking gait. He tells Terry Moore about his obsession with walking and why it’s important never to give up.
I had played rugby and run to keep fit since my school days, so having to give up both, when I was only 45 years old, was a huge shock. For many years I had an ongoing knee problem – I could run for a while and play one game before it would swell up, then I’d have to rest it until the swelling went down. The problem stemmed from a rugby injury and was manageable, until I started using a treadmill at the gym. My wife and I bought a business, Albany Mowers, and I was so busy I had to give up sport and became quite unfit. I decided to make time for the gym and that proved to be a big mistake for my knee. The treadmill finished it off completely in a very short time and I found myself having major surgery. When surgeon Rodney Gordon did exploratory keyhole surgery in 2003 he discovered that there was almost nothing left of my medial ligament, which basically holds the knee joint together. All he could do was take out the little bits that remained. He told me I could never run again as the joint would come apart with that type of leg motion. I was pretty devastated at the news and, knowing how competitive I was, he suggested I take up race walking instead.
I had always thought the race walkers looked pretty crazy with that swinging hip action, and I never thought someone of my short, stocky build would be able to do it, however I gave it a go. Initially I learned by watching people and came up with a sort of goose-stepping gait, which used to crack people up when I did it along Orewa Beach. Some people also gave me helpful tips. I persevered, because I had to do something; I’m not the type of person to sit down and watch the world go by. The challenge for me was partly because I had spent years building my body to run, so I had to learn a whole new method for walking and develop strength in new muscle groups, such as at the side of the hips and core.
I started walking competitively in 2005 when I joined the Northern Pines Walking Group in Whangarei. We did several events, including the Round Lake Taupo Challenge, and I discovered that I wasn’t too far behind the others, although my technique still wasn’t right – I was still being laughed at! I looked on the internet and through about.com (walking) I came across walking trainer Wendy Bumgardner. By following her instructions I was able to stride out and increase my pace considerably. I was doing 60–80kms a week on Orewa Beach. You don’t have to have a race walker’s lean body to do this. You have to adjust your technique to suit your own body type. I found a way that suits me, because I have quite a few old rugby injuries to work around. The basic premise of race walking is that you push your foot down, heel first then roll through and push off with the ball of the foot and toes. It’s much faster than power walking and Nordic walking, although it is more difficult on hilly terrain. On hills you more or less have to adjust your gait to a power walk and that slows you down.
Since the knee surgery I have never had any pain and the walking has made me faster and fitter than ever before. Race walking is a low impact sport, but increases fitness because you have to use around double the number of muscles you use to run. It also takes twice as long to walk a distance as it does to run it; around 1hr 15mins to run a Half Marathon, and 2hrs 15 to walk it, but the cadence is the same. This makes it very strenuous and you have to build up stamina. As well as winning the men’s walk in the Orewa Half Marathon twice, I’ve won the Over 50s walking division of the Auckland Marathon, coming third overall and came second in the Hamilton Half Marathon. Training is very time-consuming. I start training three months before an event and do 12km each time I go out, which is four laps of Orewa Beach. It takes me 1hr 15 mins to do that. If I ran it, I’d only need 45 minutes to train. A marathon, 42km, is a bloody long way but you deal with it by walking one km, 42 times. I always compete to win, even in the Monday Nighta, which is a family-focused event that I do every week. In any race you have to think about when to use your energy up. Because I’m fit, I tend to take off at pace from the start and let the other walkers chase me. This puts the onus on them to catch up. Although race walking is competitive, it’s also about encouraging others to step up and catch me if they can. It’s a good challenge, especially for the younger ones that don’t like to see an older guy beat them.
A lot of my understanding of how to lose weight and get fit comes from my time in the NZ Navy. I was in the Navy for 20 years, sailing on frigates around South East Asia, North America and in the Pacific. My military training taught me a great deal about fitness including the fact that the more muscle groups you use, the faster you lose weight, as muscles burns fat. If you want to lose weight, you need to plan an exercise regime and get your heart fit first. This requires exertion for at least 30 minutes; there are no short cuts.
I am also a Big Buddy and mentor for a local boy and go around low decile schools reading with the Duffy Books in Schools programme started by Alan Duff. Reading and writing did not come easily to me, as I’m the sort of person who would rather be out playing rugby than sitting in a classroom. So I understand where a lot of these kids who struggle with reading are coming from.
My other passion is machinery. I completed a number of trade certificates, some while I was in the Navy, and have worked in the electrical and engineering trades. I was part of the NZ team that came fourth in the Full Metal Challenge in 2002. We made the Black Thunder vehicle, basically a large ride on lawn mower powered by a two-litre Toyota diesel motor. I also took part in a similar event, the Strange Vehicle Games in China in 2004. We won that in the Kiwi Dragon – a vehicle we built by hand, based on the Nissan Patrol and with a big Chevrolet motor. I am also moving forward with my patented invention, the hovermower – a lightweight mower that fits on a line trimmer handle – and have several thousand units of this going to the UK soon.
I fit in as much walking as I can around all of these other activities, as well as my day job with John Brooks Ltd. People still laugh when they see me race walking down on Orewa Beach, but I’d invite anyone who sees me down there to come alongside me and give it a go.