This week’s blog is a mix of practicality and inspiration. For those of you who have your own poles and are wondering how to keep them in good working order I’ve set out some pole maintenance tips below. First though for the inspiration…
As many of you know, a few weeks ago I flew to Girona, Catalonia to meet up with a vibrant Nordic walking group there and arrange a Bristol Nordic Walking trip for later this year. This has all happened thanks to Sarah Dunstan, who had contacted and started Nordic walking with Nordic Walking Girona whilst on holiday nearby. Sarah’s part of the Saturday morning crew on the Downs and originally started walking with us in 2012. She has had to battle with a debilitating whiplash injury and her story of how Nordic walking has helped her return to physical and mental health is both fascinating and compelling. Here it is:
Nordic Walking: Finding my pathway to a new lifestyle by Sarah Dunstan
"In early 2000 I suffered a whiplash seat belt injury leaving me with ongoing intermittent neck and shoulder problems. At times I found myself in great pain, with limited range of mobility in my neck and left shoulder.
My career, until I moved to the Bristol area 8 years ago, was as part of a law firm administrative team. This involved long periods of sitting and also typing which worsened the issues with my neck and shoulders and forced me to seek a less sedentary role. Even in my new role I was still in considerable pain. The relentlessness of my situation and my inability to resolve it impacted on both my physical and mental health as well as my self-confidence. I became overweight and depressed.
In January 2012, with a more positive mind-set, I decided the only way to improve was to “get off the sofa” and do something about it. I had tried, and failed, at gym memberships – I did not enjoy it. Believing my way forward was small steps, I thought I would walk, the only form of exercise I half enjoyed. In a serendipity moment, I picked up Women’s Walking magazine and read an article on Nordic walking, a form of exercise I had not previously heard of. It seemed to be just the thing I was looking for – a gentle whole body walking workout which was outdoors and sociable. Perfect for my neck and shoulders and my fitness and an opportunity to form friendships with likeminded people.
I decided there and then to give it a try and couldn’t believe there was a group almost on my doorstep - Bristol Nordic Walking. I booked a beginner course straight away and had a fabulous nine months or so Nordic walking with Vicky and Ros. During this time my neck and shoulder pain eased and my fitness greatly improved. The support from my partner Clive and from the whole BNW team, including other walkers, was immense. As my health and fitness improved so did my outlook. Then a house move further away from Bristol made it difficult to continue walking with the group, so I bought my own poles confident that I would continue Nordic walking by myself if I couldn’t find a Nordic walking group close to my new home.
Frustratingly though, with no local group to join and despite my good intentions, my Nordic walking started to lapse. Then in December 2014 I broke my ankle. It was an utter disaster for me. I couldn’t use crutches due to my neck and shoulder injury and I became wheelchair bound for almost 6 weeks. This triggered a downward spiral of weight gain, depression, gastrointestinal problems and almost daily headaches, with no medical reason as to why. By August 2015, my neck and shoulder pain was so severe that it radiated down my left arm leaving weakness and often pins and needles down my arm and into my hand, occasionally causing numbness in the left side of my face. My left leg also started to play up and I would struggle to get out of bed in the morning. Even putting my socks on was a challenge.
Eventually I was persuaded by friends to try a local osteopath and after many weeks of intensive sessions my condition improved and she suggested I try Nordic walking again. Feeling nervous and a little “rusty” I signed up with Ros for a further beginner session in January 2016. I haven’t looked back; the transformation for my health, fitness and general wellbeing has been extraordinary. Within weeks of restarting Nordic walking the muscle pain and stiffness in my left leg had disappeared completely (and has not returned) and my neck and shoulders are much improved. At the same time as re-starting Nordic walking I embarked on a healthier eating regime and have lost almost 3 stone in weight – 3lb to go! My gastrointestinal problems have all but resolved and my general health and fitness has gone from strength to strength. I felt so good that I was able to take part in last September’s BNW Dartmoor weekend trip – a personal milestone given the desperate state of my health just a year previously. My self confidence is returning too and I have forged a link with a Nordic walking group in Girona, close to where Clive and I holiday. This has been so successful that Vicky has come with me to meet the Girona team and is planning a BNW Nordic walking trip to Girona later this year.
Nordic walking is a must for me to maintain mobility and I notice immediately if I exercise less. I now drive in every Saturday for Vicky’s class on The Downs and get out as often as I can nearer to my home in East Harptree. It really has changed my life."
Kit maintenance – how to look after your poles
It’s been a couple of years since my last blog on how to look after your Nordic walking poles, so I thought it was about time that I revisited it! Whilst nothing much goes wrong with the pole shaft itself, the straps will eventually need repairing or replacing as will the tips, especially if you’ve got the Exel All Terrain tip (the one with the paw which hinges back on itself). Here’s what to do to ensure your poles are in good working order:
- Wash your straps in the washing machine occasionally (I do mine at 40 degrees).
- Keep the Velcro is good working order by picking out any wool/grass/other debris that may have got caught up in it.
- Eventually the Velcro will start to lose its sticky-ness and come undone during a walk as you push down into the strap. When this happens you either need to mend them or replace them (you can buy new straps direct from Exel for £20). I’ve repaired my straps by buying a length of black Velcro and machine-sewing it over the existing material. It’s worked really well.
- With the Exel straps, sooner or later the strapping on the toggle which clips into the pole handle stretches. This creates a sloppy connection between the strap and the pole and can compromise your Nordic walking technique. Unfortunately you can’t repair this so your only option is to buy new straps. If you’ve had your poles for less than a year you may be able to get replacement straps for free. Contact your supplier.
- Wash your tips and paws (the stopper covering the tip) to keep them free from mud and grime. This is especially important if you have the Exel All Terrain (AT) tip as a build up of mud can clog the opening and closing of the paw and affect its performance.
- For those of you who have the Exel AT tip, eventually the paw on this will become slack from the frequency of being opened and closed and from general wear and tear. It then starts to knock against the pole shaft when you plant the tip into the ground, presenting as a sort of vibration up the shaft of the pole, even with 100% carbon poles. You have a number of options:
(a) try and squeeze the paw at the hinge so that it sits more tightly against the pole
(b) tape some insulation tape (or similar) around the pole shaft where the paw sits so the paw once again rests tightly against the pole
(c) remove your paws altogether (which rather defeats the object of having an AT tip)
(d) replace the tip entirely. It’s reasonably straight forward - here’s a useful video on what to do. You can buy replacement tips from your supplier.
Next week I am returning to Finland with a group of Bristol Nordic walkers to go cross-country skiing once again. I’ll write more about it when we’re there – and post lots of photos on our Facebook page of course.