All our Bristol Nordic Walking instructors are members of the International Nordic Walking Federation (INWA). This year, on behalf of our club, I attended their international conference in Helsinki. Whilst our 'hotel' was a rather functional training centre, it was in a beautiful setting beside one of the largest fresh water spring lakes in Europe.
There were instructors and national coaches from twelve nations – Russia, Italy, Latvia, Finland, China, France, Japan, Spain, UK, South Korea, the Netherlands, and Australia. It was a tremendous opportunity to talk with instructors from so many different countries (the common language was English), finding out how they run their Nordic walking programmes, creating closer links, and exploring opportunities for visiting and receiving their Nordic walkers.
I listened to some insightful lectures; participated in practical workshops on improving technique; and had a lot of fun joining in with the social programme Nordic Walking Finland had laid on for us. It included traditional games, Unihockey, a salsa dancing lesson, and a traditional Finnish meal outdoors beside the beautiful lake. Plus of course a very Finnish sauna beside the lake, which we were then required to jump into to cool down. At 10 degrees we barely had the breath to scream at the shock of the cold. The convention ended with a Nordic walk through the sites of Helsinki and lunch on board the warship houseboat of the INWA president Aki Karihtala.
I’ve uploaded lots of photos for you. Click here to view them. You won't be surprised to see that they centre mostly around the practical sessions and socials. Taking photos of a lecture theatre isn’t very interesting! Over the coming weeks I will be writing about two of the lectures – The Healing Power of Forest and Nature by professor Liisa Tyrvainen, and Functional Nutrition by Maili Lepola. I will also be discussing with our instructors some of the technique development ideas we explored and extra drills for improving. So there is lots of fun ahead of us all! In the meantime, I decided to interview a few of the National instructors. This is what they had to say.
Ineta Mezule (Latvia)
1. How long have you been Nordic walking? 11years. When my children were small they did slalom and the coach asked the whole family to try Nordic walking during the summer. From that moment I was hooked.
2. What attracted you to it? Because of the positive energy given and received. I like to be in nature and show people how the weather and seasons change, the smells, our feelings.
3. Do you have any top tips for our Bristol Nordic walkers? Connection with their own feelings. This happens because we are outside. It’s possible to get the same with an ordinary walk but NW is harder and therefore gives extra benefits .
4.What do you do now? I’ve been a national instructor since 2017. I run groups on behalf of the Latvian All Sports Association. It is a European health project so my funding comes from Europe. They are mixed groups but mostly seniors. Five groups a week which are 1.5 hours long. How many depends on the weather!
Aki Karihtala (Finland)
1. How long have you been Nordic walking? Since 1997.
2. What attracted you to it? The physical activity plus the social side 50:50. Through Nordic walking you can make new friends. Like the Nokia slogan – it is connecting people. Plus it is one of the few physical activities where you can talk whilst exercising to a high level.
3. Do you have any top tips for our Nordic walkers? Concerning technique - fully extending the arms and rotation. Rotation is very important for the spine and good for trimming and toning the waist. Extension of the arms is important for power and rotation.
4. What do you do now? Other than being president of INWA, I Nordic walk recreationally. I also run with my NW poles uphill – interval training. It’s great HITT. I now have my warship which I’ve turned into a business for tours and parties and I invite the Bristol Nordic Walking club to come and visit. We could take you to beautiful islands on our warship and arrange stunning Nordic walks. The warship is a day cruiser so you would stay in a hotel overnight but there is a hot tub on deck, a sauna inside and karaoke!
Naohiro Takahashi (Japan)
1. How long have you been Nordic walking? Over 30 years. I was a competitive cross country skier, part of the national team, and I used Nordic walking for my summer training. It was already in Japan at that time. In 1999 I came to Finland to improve my skiing performance which worked because in 2004 I won the Japanese championships.
2. What attracted you to Nordic walking? In Finland I saw that Nordic walking is for everyone not just athletes. Then at the end of my skiing career I met Aki. I was unique Japanese man and he was interested to know how he could spread Nordic walking in Japan. It was a health sport but not very big. In 2005/6 we persuaded the central municipality to establish a Finland Wellbeing Centre and we introduced it to different cities all over Japan. There are now 10 national instructors. It’s a very big sport for fitness and health.
4. Do you have any top tips for our Nordic walkers? Rotation. It is so important. It softens the upper body, gives flexibility, changes your posture behaviour, and is good for back problems. If you have good technique it also increases your speed.
5. What do you do now? I don’t run any regular groups. I train Nordic walking instructors and export cross-country ski equipment to Japan. I live in Finland now with my Finnish wife.
One aspect which I found particularly surprising was that many of the national instructors don’t run any Nordic walking groups themselves. I think this is a shame as they are no longer staying in touch with this health-sport at grass route level. Also, whilst Nordic walking is clearly big in Japan (they enjoy their racing too) no one had a club as active as ours. Needless to say people were impressed by how much walking everyone does and the diversity of classes and events that we offer. So we should all be really proud of ourselves!
In summary, I have increased my Nordic walking knowledge, learned some new things on nutrition and walking in nature, and discovered that the Finns like their social activites. It was fascinating meeting Nordic walking instructors from across the globe and particularly excellent to have made a connection with a club closer to home, Nordic Walking East Anglia. Whilst smaller than us, it is a dynamic club full of ideas and enthusiasm and I very much look forward to seeing more of them in the future.