Putting my best feet forward for Nordic walking with Dawn

Dawn McLean: "Nordic walking gives me joy"
Dawn McLean: "Nordic walking gives me joy"

Fiona Finch goes for a walk in the park ... and gets a lesson in Nordic walking from instructor and Nordic enthusiast Dawn McLean.

It was initially a walk in the park.

Dawn (left) with a beginners group in Avenham Park, Preston

Dawn (left) with a beginners group in Avenham Park, Preston

But it was certainly not instinctive.

For a start how often do you walk round holding two poles, Nordic ones, which are planted purposefully ?

How often do you measure your stride so opposite arms and legs always go forward at the same time?

In the past I have tried out skiing, (like stepping on a banana skin and signing a blank cheque to let anything happen) and explored the Alexander Principle for this paper. What might Nordic walking do for my wellbeing?

Fiona Finch takes a break from Nordic walking

Fiona Finch takes a break from Nordic walking

I approached it with only slight concerns - might I feel slightly silly taking those poles for a walk and would they be heavy and take me for a walk? Fortunately not so on all counts.
Thanks to the encouraging guidance of my tutor Dawn McLean I was soon gaining confidence.

She runs regular classes in Preston’s Avenham Park and in Fulwood and organises monthly Adventure Walks for her walkers.

Pupils who join ‘Nordic Walking with Dawn’ classes are aged from eighteen to 80 plus, all keen to discover the joy of a way of walking which builds fitness and originated as a sport/activity in off-season ski training. Classes and meet-ups range from beginners’ sessions and wellbeing walks to a fast paced session for speedier walkers.

Dawn’s passion for her Nordic walking is evident - her contact card promises: "Poles and smiles provided” and her enthusiasm is infectious.

Dawn's walkers pause for a photo

Dawn's walkers pause for a photo

She first learnt Nordic walking in 2012, took her instructors’ course in 2013 and started teaching instructors for Nordic Walking UK in 2014.

When Dawn retired from her job in 2016 - she had been travelling across the UK and Europe giving falls prevention training to physiotherapists, she decided to share her enthusiasm for Nordic walking: “I only want to do something if it gives me joy and Nordic walking gives me so much joy.”

She stresses it is an all year round activity, unless icy paths prevail and lists some of its plus points: it burns 20 to 40 per cent more calories than an average walk; works the whole body; lessens the impacts on joints; can be done anywhere and is sociable and fun.

Having been fitted with the right size of poles we set off from Dawn’s Fulwood home to a local park for preliminary instruction, before heading further afield.

Holding the poles in the correct way

Holding the poles in the correct way

The next hour was peppered with helpful tips and rewind the clock moments as I sought to recapture the correct rhythm of walking and learn how to place the poles correctly. She advised:“Curl your fingers lightly round the pole like holding an ice cream not a pen.” (See photo left.)

Alas, a random thought, a dog walker to sidestep, and even a change in terrain can all throw the beginner out of the zone. “Lengthen the arm moving from the shoulder” says Dawn, reminding me to think of having my arm at handshake level. While I am thinking about that my fingers uncurl. We even walk to a nursery rhyme. Annoyingly the pole on my left side keeps dragging a little. More tips and the technique improves, before a bit of regression to bad habits towards the end of the class.

It takes a few sessions says Dawn reassuringly before novice walkers get the hang of it.

We didn’t quite advance to the next “heel strike, rolling through feet and pushing up through toes” level, but I was guided to “push out the strap from the bottom edge of your hand”.

I was left smiling as Dawn reminded me to go “walking with pride and purpose”. It wasn’t your usual walk in the park and I realised there was more to learn.

* Keen runner and former scuba diver Dawn has also organised two Nordic walking holidays in the Lake District and Spain and is planning one in Austria next year.

Nordic poles

Nordic poles

* See Nordic Walking with Dawn on Facebook or email her at nordicwalkingwithdawn@gmail.com. Beginners’ courses cost £25 and regular walks are £5, £6 with pole hire.