Keizer race walker pursues Olympic dreams

Lydia McGranahan lifts her arms in triumph after crossing the finish line at the 20K National Championships in March (Submitted).

Lydia McGranahan has always had a passion for being active.

The 42-year old Keizer resident loves backpacking, hiking and biking. She teaches water aerobics and spin classes at The Kroc Center in Salem and has also competed in triathlons in the past. 

And in less than three years, McGranahan has turned that passion into becoming one of the best race walkers in the country.

On Sept. 30, 2018, McGranahan qualified for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials in the 50 Kilometer race walk by finishing her race in 5:08.16 at the Open & Masters Race Walk Championships in Owego, NY.

Just six months later, McGranahan also met the Olympic Trials time requirement for the 20K event at the Race Walk Championships in Tustin, Calif.

“It’s blown me away how fast all of this happened,” McGranahan said. “I honestly just keep surprising myself. I’m really driven and really determined.”

“We all have different passions or things that we’re interested in, and it’s never too late to go after them.”

McGranahan was first introduced to race walking in 2014 when her daughter, Mariah, who was 10 years old at the time, started competing in the sport at Salem Track Club.

In the summer of 2016, both McGranahan and her daughter were volunteers during the U.S Olympic Trials race walking event, which took place in Salem. 

Just months later, while taking Mariah to a race walking coach in Portland, McGranahan was encouraged to just try it out for a few laps and soon discovered that she was matching Olympic qualifying time in her 200 meter intervals. 

This piqued her curiosity, so McGranahan decided to enter into a 5K event in Portland.

“At this point, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into,” McGranahan said. 

However, her first race did not goes as planned. 

Early on in the race, one of the other runners took a spill. While trying to assist the woman to her feet, McGranahan suffered some nerve damage in her legs.

McGranahan continued to compete and even picked up her pace a little, but wound up falling and breaking her arm. 

But she wasn’t about to let this little hiccup prevent her from pursuing this sport further.

“I just kept playing around with it and having fun with it,” McGranahan said. 

After participating in a Portland to Coast race walking relay in the summer of 2017, teammates saw McGranahan’s potential and encouraged her to attempt a 20K. 

After weeks of consideration, McGranahan decided that she would give it a try. 

“I was 40 years old. Who takes on a sport to that level at 40 years old?” McGranahan said. “But I’m wasn’t getting any younger, so if I was going to attempt to do a 20K, I need to do it now.”

In January of 2018, McGranahan flew down to Santee, Calif. to compete in her first 20K and finished just a few minutes below Olympic Trials qualifying time. 

Six months later, she was competing at a 20K in Des Moines IA, where she wound racing against some of the athletes she was assisting during the 2016 Olympic Trials. 

“It blew me away. Here I was at the start line with some of the same athletes that I was handing sponges and water cups to two years ago. It never would have even crossed my mind two years ago,” McGranahan said. “It was amazing.”

With her success in the 20K, McGranahan decided to push herself even further by trying her first 50K in New York last September.

Despite not working with a trainer and having no experience with the 50K, McGranahan still finished well ahead of Olympic Trials qualifying time.

“At that point, I realized that I had some potential here and that I needed to take this a little more seriously,” McGranahan said. 

McGranahan decided to hire Erin Taylor-Talcott out of New York as her coach. Taylor-Talcott is quite famous in the race walking community for pushing for women to race walk with men in the 50K.

Taylor-Talcott writes up workout plans for McGranahan, as well as coaches her through video chats, emails and phone calls. 

While there are challenges in maintaining a coach-athlete relationship across different time zones. The two are able to make it work.

“Coaching from afar would never work for non-motivated athletes, only the athletes who are self motivated still thrive with a long distance coach,” Taylor-Talcott said.

“I’m very fortunate with all the athletes I coach, they only come to me because they really want to improve, so it’s always a joy. I can’t wait to see where Lydia will continue to go.”

While qualifying for the 50K seemed like a lofty goal, McGranahan thought that meeting the 20K time would be even more difficult. 

“In the back of my mind, I knew that I really wanted to make the Olympic Trials time in the 20K, but I knew that it would be pushing it,” McGranahan said. 

But throughout McGranahan’s short race walking career, she has surpassed her own expectations, and this race was no different as she finished her 20K in personal-best time (1:45.51) on March 17 to qualify for her second Olympic Trials race.

However, what was sweeter for McGranahan was what happened after the race.

Due to her high finishes in recent competition, McGranahan was asked by USA Track & Field to join the four-person race walking team at the 50K Pan-Am Cup in Mexico on April 21. 

“I was so excited to do my first international race,” McGranahan said. “I had all my USA gear in my suitcase. It was quite the honor and I wanted to represent and do my best.”

McGranahan ended up placing 10th in the race and helped the U.S. earn the overall team title. 

Race walking is an incredibly grueling sport, but with her enthusiasm and positive attitude, McGranahan was a fan favorite during the competition.

“I’m usually smiling when I race walk because I’m having fun and I just love it,” McGranahan said.

“It was the most exciting and fun race I’ve done. And the fans were absolutely amazing.”

The responsibility of juggling everyday life around being an elite race walker can be daunting. McGranahan trains five days a week, teaches fitness classes three days a week and home schools her daughter. But she is more than willing to do the juggling act for the sport that she has grown to love. 

“It is a balancing act. I have to be creative and I have to pick and chose the things that I say yes to,” McGranahan said. “It’s challenging, but I love race walking and I am so thankful that I am 42 years old and I get to do this.”

“My story is one that inspires others to not let their past, their age, their struggles, stop them from chasing their dreams and accomplishing big things.”