Thursday, August 09, 2007

Walks with sticks

Maybe I'm a bit odd but I've always felt pretty confident on the walking front. After all, I've been doing it for *koff*-ty-odd years. And it's not like I fall over or run into things a lot. People don't usually stare and point as I make my way around locations of interest. Nose in the direction of travel. Left foot, right foot, repeat. That about covers it. At least, that's what I thought until my perambulatory orbit collided (awkwardly) on holiday with The Walking Specialist. Woe for my ignorance.

Apparently I walk ALL WRONG. I'm a walking disaster. My hips lean at the wrong angle. My pelvis wobbles precariously over two thigh bones that twvIST. My big toes are not sufficiently grounded, while my knees drag. My ankles are like mush. My right arm swings erratically while my left arm swings not at all. My shoulders are poised as if to take flight while my head… oh dear… my head lies smashed in the chipped egg cup that is my neck.

Such was the verdict of the Nordic walking coach who examined my stride minutely and in slow motion (curse you modern, easy-to-use digital videography). In a clear example of my shallow wrong-headedness, I was more concerned about the unattractive wobbling of parts, particularly viewed from behind while walking up some stairs, but apparently this was the least of my worries.

After he had revealed my numerous ambulatory flaws, dwelling with enthusiasm upon my flailing calves as they cycled through a bizarre up-and-down motion that would likely leave me in traction after six months, the coach revealed that he had the solution to all my problems: Nordic walking. The walking of champions! (Well, off-season cross-country skiing champions.)

Nordic walking would re-educate my posture, lengthen my stride, burn fuel like a clapped-out, uninsulated boiler on "high" and give me good healthy lungs and moral fibre. I examined the coach closely and attempted to discern the level of health that might potentially lurk beneath his gently rounded belly. Was it possible his exemplary moral fibre was giving him bloat that morning?

Since the alternative was clearly to wheel away slowly in an invalid chair, covered in shame, I betook myself and my shambolic gait to a back field, clutching desperately at a pair of funny-looking sticks with pointy ends and sweaty leather wrist-straps. And there began the lesson.

"So the first thing you need to know about Nordic walking, right, is that it's not like ordinary walking, right?"
The class fiddled with their straps in expectant silence.

"The poles come here. At the sides, right? To start with just hold them loosely. Nothing to be afraid of, that's right. Just by your sides. Now walk."
We walked obediently, dragging our poles behind us.

"Now that noise, right? That noise is your friend. That noise tells you what your poles are doing, right?"
Scrape. Scrape.

"So what you have to do is grasp the pole and let your natural arm swing bring it forward. Then release. The noise, right? for the experts, it's a whisper."
Scrape. Scrape.
"Now go. Grasp. Release. Grasp. Swing. Release. Grasp. Like that."

I grasped, swung and released.

"No. Right, you need to keep the natural motion of walking. Opposite arm and leg."
I swung, grasped and released.
"Not quite. Right, try not to think about it."

I released, grasped and swung my pole between his specially-constructed lightweight Nordic walking shoes with greater forefoot flexibility.
"Oh. Shit. Sorry - I didn't mean for my stick to do that."
"It's not a stick."
"It's a pole, right? A co-wound carbon composite antishock Nordic walking pole that I have carefully matched to your height."
"Ah. Sorry."
"It's not a stick. It's an important fitness piece of fitness technology. It will change your walking, right? Your life will change."
"Pole. Got it."
"If you don't respect your pole, how can you respect your posture?"
"Absolutely. I absolutely respect my posture."

"It's just that the spike bit has caught on my jumper*."
"The pointy bit on the end of the stick, sorry, pole. It's caught in my jumper and you're standing on the sleeve."
"That shouldn't happen with the correct technique."
"Yes. Probably. But my physical coordination thing, you know... and it did."
"Nordic walking will improve your physical coordination. But you have to give your equipment the respect it deserves. Right?"
"Yes. Right. But right now, I mean, at the moment, my jumper?"
"And it's not pointy, right? It's an angled spike tip."
"Oh yes, I see. It's quite spiky."
"Right. A spike."

The off-season cross-country skiing champions do it on inline skates, apparently.

*also known as a sweater in other Englishes.

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