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Life Chez Dee Episode #87: Walking With Poles

Walking … we all know the benefits of getting out there in the great outdoors, blowing off the cobwebs and getting a healthy dose of fresh air in the lungs. The most convenient, cheapest, and safest exercise to do, good for our physical, and mental wellbeing, and anyone can do it.

I’ve always enjoyed walking … just a stroll by myself or with friends; a long walk with the family; or something more purposeful on a day out somewhere. Flat walks, circular walks or steep walks … up hill or down dale … doesn’t matter, I love them all. Even ditching the car, and going to do the shopping on shanks’ pony, avoiding the hassle of finding a parking space or having to clock watch for fear of the traffic wardens paying more attention to the time!

In the months after Edward died I found that I’d neglected myself somewhat. I’d been so busy with so many things; the kids, the charity, just life in general, and it was so easy to fall out of the habit of exercise, and, certainly in my case, pile the pounds on too. I knew I had to do something for a while; I knew I needed to get my backside into gear and do a bit of exercise.

I’ve done power walking before, well fast walking anyhow. I’d regularly try fast walking rather than running, as running hurt my knees … and I hated running so much. I loathed running and would look for any excuse under the sun not to do it. Even Edward used to ridicule me when I ran … “Is that how fast you can go? Dad’s miles faster! Are you going to give up? Are you going to have to lie down when you get back? he’d say. I’d listen to this “encouragement” every time I went out …. I knew I was bad … my legs just didn’t want to move, they were like lead weights. I soon realised that walking was better, in fact when I did start power walking, I was actually faster than when I ran!! Work that one out! Edward would often keep me company and cycle alongside … and he’d inevitably fall off as we were going so slowly. Either I’m really that rubbish at running, or I’m a super duper power walker … the former being the more likely.

It was some time ago now when I met the very lovely Ewa and Bartek, over cake as it happens, in the lovely Farina & Co restaurant in Lytham. I met them to talk cake actually, as Ewa was planning to raise some money for the charity … she was going to make the cheesecake, which Farina’s were going to offer as a dessert in their restaurant. Anyway, I digress … Ewa and Bart are our local Nordic Walking experts, and run Stepping Out – the wellness club. We got chatting about how I needed to do something. Too long had I been unfit and overweight.

It wasn’t always the case. Up to a month before having my firstborn, William, I was very fit indeed – running *(until the bump was too big); step classes; aerobic classes; gym; spin; bodypump …. 6 days a week, more sometimes. My fitness waned after having William, and even more after having Edward, and became almost non existent after Oliver, until I decided that I’d push myself into a couch to 5K, but it was a real push. I did it, but my loathing of running came back into play. Winter came and that was it … it finished me off good and proper. I needed to look for something else.

I arranged with Bartek to have a 1:1 induction to Nordic walking and using poles. The induction included knowing about which muscles I was targeting; walking technique; pole technique; lots of information. Well, I was interested in finding out loads, so I asked loads of questions. We started walking, focussing and concentrating on our natural swing of the arms … and he’s telling me loads … I’m asking loads …. but I’ve got to just go with the natural flow of the rhythm of walking, swinging my arms, being aware of my posture, my stride, my arm movement, but not overthink (ha! a first for me!). So he asked me irrelevant questions about holiday destinations, wine choice, coffee choice … anything to keep me from overthinking things, and keep me going with the natural flow.

Bungy poles (poles with suspension) were my favourite; the suspension offered resistance, and therefore an arm and upper body workout too. My walking pace was much faster with poles, my stride longer, my heartrate higher, and I’m a little breathless. I’m getting some pretty good exercise and burning loads of calories with all those steps. I was coached; corrected and pushed; I exercised muscles I didn’t know I had, and as such experienced plenty of pain … good pain … the sort that’s doing me good. I push through the ache and we learn to focus on posture, on our stride, our pace, we slow the walk down to focus on getting the technique right. Slowing the pace, and focussing on the technique is tiring. When the technique is right it feels good … and it’s pretty pacy too. Getting the technique right makes you work really hard, and much harder than regular walking. Using the bungy poles (the ones with suspension) make you work even harder. Bartek corrects my technique, corrects my posture, notices straight away when I’m thinking too much and I have to be distracted in conversation. He watches me constantly … guiding, advising, distracting. We practice just getting our feet right; we practice getting our arms right; and when I get them both right … he stops me, and I have to focus on the next challenge. ProX with 1kilo of resistance. The ProX walker tool is fixed round the waist, and it is just walking with resistance bands really. It feels light; easy; so much easier on the arms than the poles, but not that easy after using it for an hour.

The walking technique is only one aspect though. There are warm up exercises, and cool down exercises, with a bit of relaxation technique thrown in for good measure. We focus on our breathing; we focus on engaging all our senses; focussing our mind; using our senses to ground us, rather than us concentrating on all sorts of niggles and problems we don’t need to focus on. We imagine the smell and the taste of the wild garlic; the sound of the wind in the leaves on the trees; the warmth of the sun on our faces.

And there are so many different poles to try out too. For those who don’t know about Nordic Walking poles, they are not the general walking poles which you see so often being used by walkers, hikers or ramblers. The Nordic Walking poles are the real deal … rigid poles, or bungy poles, with varying degrees of suspension, which come in a plethora of colours and patterns to choose from … pink, blue, or all colours of the rainbow, or if you like your animal prints you could have zebra … or cheetah if you’re feeling ready for a fast walk.

There’s a different walk every day; we live in a beautiful place, and this is a chance to look at and really see the many beautiful gems our town has to offer. Bart’s walks take in Lytham Green; The Windmill; Lytham Quays; town centre; Park View; Lytham Hall; Witch Wood; Lowther Gardens; Ashton Gardens; Fairhaven Lake; St Annes Beach; the Dunes …. to name just a few …and there are walks where I can give a nod to Edward as we walk by the tree in Lowther Gardens; or the Garden near the fire station. It’s an hour out of my day, and it only feels like minutes, and if I have time, there’s always company if I fancy a brew and a chat afterwards.

There are those who will dismiss the idea of Nordic Walking; claiming that they need a harder workout; higher impact; physically demanding … needing to feel drained, exhausted and sore, to feel that they have reached their exercise goals. But this isn’t the case. Nordic Walking is deceiving … you work harder without realising; and it’s easier to work hard. You don’t feel like you’ve worked that hard at the time, and yet as the day progresses, my goodness you can feel it, and find out you’ve muscles you never knew existed. It’s suitable for any age, and any fitness level; it is suitable for those with bad backs, knees or ankles, and has numerous benefits for those with health issues; and for those fitness fanatics looking for another challenge, I challenge you to Nordic Walking. Even the fittest can benefit and improve their fitness levels with this type of exercise; without risking injury, either immediate or in the future.

Listen to me, I’m sounding like I’m talking like I know it all ... but I’m really interested. I’m really thinking about what I’m doing, and consciously thinking about my movement and posture. All the different resistance bands, bungy poles, rigid poles … all have their use … all have their pros, and their cons. I’m learning so much each lesson, about myself, about my abilities, my perception, my learning. I’m really, really pleased that I met Bartek and Ewa, and am so pleased I decided to try Nordic Walking.

I can’t wait for next sessions; I wonder what I will learn next, and what more I’ll discover about myself… and this is when it happened; this is when it all began; this is when I became “addicted” to Nordic Walking …an addiction which I’m pleased to say I’ve had for more than 12 months now … you might even be able to officially call me a Nordic walker.

One day, Oliver, my youngest, asked if he could come with me. I cleared it with Ewa, but I knew deep down she’d be okay with it, he was with me, and he’d already proved himself capable of coping and keeping up when he’d walked with the group before.

He’d had his first taste of effective walking, when he came along with Bart, Ewa and lots of the regular Nordic walkers to “walk the lights” in Blackpool. It was organised primarily as a social evening out for the walking groups, but also in support of The Edward Dee Fund. Normally it would cost about £6 for a walk, but Bart organised this evening walk as a free event, but asked that donations be given to the charity. The walk was not only fabulous, but I was incredibly touched by the amount of support shown, and the incredible generosity of those who came along. We caught a tram from The Solaris Centre to Bispham, and walked, at varying paces, back down the seafront, through the lights. Oliver loved it. He worked really hard. The 3 mile (ish) walk we did really was a fast pace and Oliver not only kept up with us all beautifully, but also used the ProX tool too, with 1kg of resistance, and I have to say I was pretty impressed at how well he managed keeping up with us all. Oliver was so taken with the walking and the ProX that he asked if he could have one of his own. I didn’t give it too much thought, as I wasn’t quite sure if it was a fad, but thought maybe if he did mention this more it might be something he’d like for Christmas. Well he didn’t stop mentioning it, and so desperate was he to get his hands on one, he emptied out his jar of pocket money, and insisted we got this to Ewa the same week.

He observed so much going on around him, and he observed others, and how they were walking. He joined in with the pre and post walk exercises, noticing which part of the body he’s focussing on. I helped him through some of these exercises, tweaking his position sometimes, and pointing out whereabouts he should be feeling the stretches. I made him pay particular attention to stretching out his calf muscles … as he seems currently to have a tendency to walk on his tiptoes … just another little experimental fad it seems. We point out to him so often how he shouldn’t do this, how he’ll shorten the muscle, how painful it will be for him eventually to put his feet down, and all manner of other lectures.

I’m impressed with Oliver, at the way he naturally fits in with people, and how he’s comfortable chatting to people, both adults and children alike. I think an ability to chat to people is a marvellous quality to have. On the walk he chatted to a host of people, but particularly with Ewa, all about walking, and his technique; and with Phil about all manner of things from music and drumming through to watching Strictly.

Rewarded with a post walk hot chocolate when we were back at Lowther Café … the drink I chose for him as a post walk treat … because he was so busy chatting; he didn’t even come into the café with me, he was far too engrossed. This just goes to show that this effective walking, and the groups run by Bart and Ewa are suitable for so many … all genders … all ages …. all abilities. And how lovely is it that all this mix of people can be enjoying the same activity, and all benefitting from the enjoyment, and from the mental and physical wellbeing it brings. To observe Oliver appreciating being outdoors, walking, noticing, enjoying walking effectively, learning about his body, learning so much as we walk and talk, interacting with so many … hopefully this love of walking and the outdoors will stay with him throughout his life.

All the walks I have been on so far have been really enjoyable, energising, uplifting and sociable; they’ve been calming too, have given me headspace and an all round sense of wellbeing. I’m looking at more things and noticing more things. Walking, however fast, slows you down; it makes you appreciate the here and now, keeps you in the moment. Being outside, up close and personal with nature, grounds you and keeps things real … and simple … and noticing and appreciating the simple things in life … the grass, the plants and flowers, the trees and the woods, the sea air and shoreline, gives so much pleasure. I know I could go for a walk by myself, but I don’t think I would; and I certainly wouldn’t push myself to fit in an hour’s down time if I didn’t have a group to walk with; and I certainly wouldn’t push myself to go for a walk on a cold, wet, windy day, if I didn’t have this group to go with. Making the commitment to walk with this group, forces me to walk on those days when I’m tired, under the weather, a bit low, anxious, head all over the place, or just not in the mood; and forcing myself to go for a walk, invariably leaves me feeling uplifted and energised.

I have met some lovely people, who otherwise I wouldn’t have likely met. Their company has been comfortable and pleasurable, and no doubt the conversations will continue with ease as our paths cross again, and as we discover new pathways to walk. I’m so glad I discovered this walking group, and really can’t recommend it enough.

I know that not only has Nordic walking improved my fitness, it has also improved my posture. I’ve noticed, but so has the lady who sorts out my back. She’s noticed I’ve lost weight, but she’s also noticed my shape change, and my improved state of my back, neck and shoulders. That has to be the walking which is improving my posture.

The mental health benefits are huge. I have found space, headspace, breathing space, thinking space. Out and about with nothing disturbing me, feet on the ground, finding my pace, my natural pace, thinking of everything and nothing all at once; looking at the views, the grass, the trees, the plants, mindful of the time, the seasons, the weather. Having the wind in my hair, and the sun or the rain on my face is lovely, refreshing, and totally free and unburdened. And when that freedom comes it’s liberating. Being outdoors, walking, breathing, out in the fresh air, thinking, not thinking, having switch off time … me time … time to recharge and reenergise … is lovely. Having the physical and mental space, is good for me … its good for all.

So I’m glad I met and became friends with Ewa and Bart, and all the lovely people in the Nordic walking groups. There for a chat should you wish; there for company if you wish; and there to walk with you and give you your own space if you wish too. The company, the friendship, the support, the camaraderie, the connecting with nature, the whole physical, mental emotional wellbeing which comes with Nordic Walking is immeasurable.

Thank you Bartek for your time, patience and company – you’ve convinced me, you’ve converted me and I’m coming back for more.

Bart often talks to me about my writing; enjoying what I’ve written; wanting me to do some writing for him. Of course, I jump at the chance, I love writing… it’s my new found love, something I not only enjoy, but actually think I’m rather good at. Bart thinks so too, so much so that he’d like me to write a couple of articles for him … we discuss … and you’ll have to wait a while before you can read these … watch this space. I’m sure he’ll appreciate this piece though.

Interestingly, whilst out and about on a walk, I was asked “Are you the lady who writes the blogs? I recognise you; they’re very interesting.” I smiled … usually I’m recognised from my charity role, being out and about raising awareness; from going into groups or schools; people asking me if I’m Edward’s mum. That was the first time someone recognised me as a writer … made my day.

by Elizabeth Dee

[This piece was originally written for and published by Lytham St Annes News; republished by Elizabeth Dee on Life Chez Dee 19th January 2021]

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