Category Archives: Participation

UK’s iWalk Enourages On-Going Participation

We’re visiting friends, whose computer I am using right now. Internet Explorer comes up automatically, so I naturally typed ‘Nordic Walking’ into the search engine to see whether this blog came up. I got to the 40s without seeing it. I found numerous other Nordic Walking sites, including all sorts of links to Nordic Walking resources in other countries. One that intrigued me is iWalk, part of am enterprise that seems to design and organize walking programs (or, since it’s the UK, programmes) for individuals and companies seeking to improve health and wellbeing. It is based in Richmond/London but seems potentially or actually countrywide in scope. So while I’m disappointed that this blog didn’t come up anywhere near the top, as it does on Google, I am happy to find other information on Nordic Walking to post here.

I was intrigued by their idea of HealthHubs to encourage ongoing participation through an organized framework of groups and “coaches” to lead them. This is iWalk’s explanation of “How it Works”:

“Your HealthHub is run by a dedicated HealthHub Coach, who plans and organises
the group’s regular HealthHub session. They are your personal point of contact
and can be reached via email or telephone, 7 days a week.

“Each HealthHub has 6 – 20 members who want to iWalk Nordic walk regularly at the same time and location (this can be changed during the year with the members
agreement). With us to facilitate the group and our continuing help and support,
you join together to create a small network of like-minded people.

“The Hub members combine their buying power to reserve a regular private iWalk
session at a time they want and for their group’s exclusive use. All at a
fantastic monthly rate.

“The more people who initially join each HealthHub and the more HealthHub sessions your group wants per month the lower the individual monthly membership fee is. The fee is also dependent on whether your group wants 1 or 1.5 hour HealthHub sessions? For those who prefer to join an existing Hub (as long as there is spaces available) you’ll qualify for the same monthly fee as its current members.

“We are also offering HealthHub Quarterly Cashback – literally a cash payment from us to you that we put straight back on the payment card you use to pay your monthly HealthHub subscription. To qualify you just need to have been a member of the same Hub for the 3 months prior to the date that the Cashback is being awarded.
“This reflects that our HealthHub is not just another ‘one size fits all’ approach to
membership. They are a bespoke solution designed for groups of people who want
to be directly involved in how they achieve long-term health and wellbeing.

“The network of private members guarantees that your HealthHub’s regular
iWalk Nordic walking session is always running. So even if others may be away on
holiday or business you know that your show will go on!”

The standard Monthly Membership costs £39 per person. When iWalk starts a new HealthHub group, the monthly cost drops to £34 for groups of 10 to 14 and to £29 for groups of 15 to 20.
they put on “Taster Sessions,” a delightful English phrase for sample or demo sessions and promote their LifePass, a loyalty program promising various discounts and benefits for £29.99 per year.

Logos at the bottom of the website include Exel poles, the Registry of Fitness Professionals, the Central YMCA, the International Nordic Walking Association, Nordic Walking UK and others that imply legitimacy and and commitment. I have no idea of exactly who started this program, when it was started, who the HealthHub coaches are, whether coaches give ongoing instruction or simply organize and lead walks, or how successful iWalk’s HealthHubs are. But I am certainly impressed with the organization. It addresses the desires of many new Nordic Walkers to participate in group walks with others, it could be a model for the US — should anyone wish to plunge in and set up it and get it going.

Poll Results

I added an informal, completely unscientific poll to this blog (above left, until I remove it) because software makes it easy. I am not quite sure what to make of the results. O the respondents, a good number seem ready to begin Nordic Walking (25 percent). The greatest percentage (29 percent) have been doing so for more than a year.

What the poll does not reflect is people who have bought poles and/or been to one class, vowed to continue but haven’t. At the first local event I attended at a running store, a neighbor who often walks past my house for exercise bought poles. When I am out with my poles and see her, I raise my poles over my head, click them together and ask, “Where are your poles?” She says something vague about, “soon.” I attended another clinic at a local footwear store where a writer friend also bought poles. She has yet to use them.

I know that the drop-out rate from many activities (health clubs, diet programs, etc.) is significant, but I’m puzzled by people who make an investment but quit before they start. Thoughts?

Finland Celebrates Nordic Walking’s 10th Anniversary

Although the roots of what would become Nordic Walking can be traced back to cross-country ski racers’ inventiveness in the 1930s, and although it is still in its infancy in North America, Finland has set 1997 as the birth of the fitness activity as we know it. According to a report in Helsingin Sanomat, a Finnish newspaper, there was even a birthday celebration yesterday.

“The tenth anniversary of the outdoor activity pioneered in Finland and known as ‘Nordic walking’ was celebrated at the Paloheinä recreational area in the north of Helsinki on Sunday…A group braved the rain to mark ten years of organised Nordic walking at Paloheinä. The Finnish outdoor recreation association Suomen Latu estimates that 720,000 Finns regularly practice Nordic walking. Last year 1.5 million Finns tried it at least once. The group has organised collective Nordic walking events Tuesdays and Sundays for ten years. At first there were about 300 people taking part in the [twice-weekly] events [at Paloheinä]. It has since tapered off to about 50….The first public event was organised by Suomen Latu in 1988. However, it did not take wind at that time.”

I have no idea why it took so long from the first organized event until the first one was actually held, but it would thrill most Nordic Walking leaders in the US if 50 people showed up for a group walk. The concept of “tapering off” is still in the realm of fantasy here.

Seeking a Nordic Walking Pal?

Today’s Denver Post featured an article on Internet sites that help people find exercise partners or teams and leagues in a variety of fitness activities and sports all over the country. Most of the ones featured in the article provide connections to recreational sports teams, but Fitlink and Exercise Friends are among those geared to people seeking workout matches. Some sites have a romance component, implied or otherwise. Some offer free registration or free trial membership.

Because some new Nordic Walkers are still self-conscious about going out alone with poles, these websites seem ideal. There are some 100 activities on their pull-down menus, and while Nordic Walking does not yet have its own category, it is wrapped into general Walking listings.

On these sites, you can search by such criteria as activity, location (within a certain radius of a specific city), gender and age range of exercise friends you’d be comfortable with, as well as nearby fitness facilities. Reporter Sheba R. Wheeler wrote, “Trend experts say they’ve noticed a contingent of regular business travelers who use the site to line up workouts with partners wherever their jobs send them.”

Other sites to try are Find an Exercise Partner, Friends Workout, and My Activity. Workout Partners currently has Running and Triathlon, but not Walking, so this one is probably more gonzo than most Nordic Walkers want. There’s one called Ready to Sweat, and as I sit in my un-air conditioned office during a relentless heatwave, I’m thinking that I don’t need to go on-line, or move a muscle other than my typing fingers, in order to sweat.

Leki Website Links to Nordic Walking Resources

German pole-maker Leki maintains a good Nordic Walking resources list on its website, listing Nordic Walking events organized by date and instructors listed by state. Click on the “information” column on the events list to send E-mails to organizers for more info. The instructors list includes location and E-addresses so that you can contact them directly for workshop, lesson or group-walk details. I believe that the list comprises American Nordic Walking Association-certified instructors. Of the 22 states currently represented, California, not surprisingly, leads the nation with 32 instructors on the Leki list. Suzanne Nottingham, a well-known, California-based fitness instructor and author, has joined the Leki team to promote Nordic Walking’s health and fitness benefits.

Hundreds Nordic Walk the Berlin Half-Marathon

There was no fooling on April 1, 2007, for the 27th annual Vattenfall Berlin Half-Marathon.
I don’t have the stats for the 2007 field, but in 2006, out of 20,419 participants, 18,531 were runners (including 2,016 from abroad), 1,711 were inline skaters, 22 were handbikers and nine were wheelchair competitors. Additionally, 747 runners participated in the 3.5K Vattenfall FUN-RUN, 536 children aged 10 and under did the Bambini Run and 91 youngsters competed in the Kids Cup. What is most interesting in the context of this blog is that 401 Nordic Walkers covered 6.8 kilometers, close to half of the 13.1-kilometer half-marathon distance. The numbers for 2007 haven’t been released yet, but I’ll be interested in whether the Nordic Walking numbers increased from last year — either in terms of total participation or as a percentage of the field.

Regardless of the precise numbers, the thousands who did take part ran, walked and wheeled past and along some of the most famous landmarks of Germany’s vibrant capital: the Brandenburg Gate, Siegessäule, Charlottenburg Palace, Ku-Damm und Potsdamer Place. The flat course and the modest distance make it a logical first race for new Nordic Walking competitors. A health and fitness expo called Berlin Vital coincided with the race.

P.S. A new posting on on April 3 indicated that the race had 22,048 participants from 70 countries. The website did not yet break down 2007 participants by category, but recapped the 2006 numbers.

Vancouver Marathon Adds Nordic Walking Division

There have been 35 previous runnings of the Vancouver Marathon, but May 6, 2007, will be the first one with a specific Nordic Walking category. The out-and-back course in one of North America’s most beautiful and congenial cities (aerial view, right) is practical for an event that includes both full and half-marathon distances. The spectator-friendly course includes some of the city’s most beguiling downtown neighborhoods, the Inner Harbor, the Burrard Bridge and beautiful Stanley Park. Nordic Walkers are expected to exceed six hours for the full marathon distance.

Nordic Walkers are required to adhere to the following rules for the safety of others along the route at the most congested parts of the route. Nordic Walkers are asked to “please collapse and/or pull in and refrain from using the poles” at the start, at all aid stations and at finish and turnaround areas. Nordic Walkers are also asked to move to single file with poles collapsed or pulled in close whenever congestion builds up. The polite Canadians refer to them as “guidelines,” but competitive Nordic Walkers would be wise to adhere to them as if they were unbreakable rules if they want Nordic Walking categories to be added elsewhere, because race organizers are sure to keep an eye on how it works in Vancouver.
Full marathon registration costs CDN$80 (US$76) if postmarked before Mar. 24, 2007 and CDN$90 (US$85) by the close of registration on Apr. 21. Half-marathon entry is CDN$65 (US$62) and CDN765 (US$70), with those same deadlines. A T-shirt is included. Detailed information and the registration form are available on-line.

Seventy-two runners did five laps around Stanley Park in first Vancouver Marathon, which now attracts 20,000 runners, walkers, wheelchair athlete, team relay (also new this year) and children in a special kids’ marathon. The current title sponsor is the Bank of Montreal. Previous title sponsors have included Scotiabank and Adidas.

Nordic Walking: An Alternate History

I had previously read that what is now Nordic Walking began as a dryland training regimen for Finnish cross-country ski racers. Now, the international edition of a Finnish newspaper called Helsingen Sanomat presents another story of the sport’s origins. The paper’s English edition ran an article called “When Finland ‘Nordic Walked’ Its Way Onto the World Map”. It traces Nordic Walking to January 1988 as an ad hoc part of a tribute to Finnish sports legend, one Professor Lauri “TahkoPihkala. The good professor’s accomplishments included competing in the discus at the 1908 Olympics, inventing several sports including Finnish-rules summer baseball (called pesäpallo) and founding the nation’s sports institute. He also was an ardent proponent of cross-country skiing — as befits a Finn.

Because Pihkala was born in January, the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of his birth was to feature cross-country skiing. The plan was for a ski procession from the Manula ski lodge in a park in the middle of Helsinki to the Olympic stadium, built for the 1952 Winter Olympics. Problem was that in 1988, as in 2007, there just was not a lot of snow on the ground.

Tuomo Jantunen, executive director of the national federation for sports and recreation, decided to haul a load of cross-country poles to Manula anyway. The skiers grabbed the poles and strode down the procession’s route., where a statue commissioned by the Tahko Pihkala Assocation statue (right) was unveiled. It stands atop a pedestal with Pihkala’s name, date of birth and death, and the quote: “Urheilun avulla kansamme parhaaksi.” (“With sport for the best of our people.”).

The paper noted, “The Nordic Walking pioneers recognised pretty soon that they had invented an exercise discipline that was eminently well suited to the autumn and to the snow-starved winters of Southern Finland.

“Nordic Walking found a potent lobby-group in the country’s sports institutes, who advocated heavily on its behalf. However, the real breakthrough only came when technology and business caught up, and when Exel — a leading player in the manufacturing and development of carbon composite poles for alpine skiers and the cross-country crowd — came up with specialised poles just for this fitness sport. “

The article concluded with a startling statistic about participation in Nordic Walking, citing participation in what it calls “the Nordic Walking superpowers”: Germany (2.7 million), Finland (1.5 million), Austria (900,000), Switzerland (500,000), Norway (400,000), and Holland, Sweden, and Denmark (300,000 each).

Nordic Walking in Japan

United Press International recently released a widely published little news article reporting that, “Japan’s newest fitness craze, Nordic walking, has onlookers puzzled as to why people are walking with ski poles when there is no snow. Nordic walking just might be the exercise to solve the countries newest fear of metabolic syndrome, which is excess fat around the mid-section that may cause diseases, the Japan Times reported. ” A craze in Japan is said to be crazy indeed, with millions of focused, dedicated people taking up whatever it might be. Will there now be a world-wide shortage of Nordic Walking poles? Stay tuned.

Nordic Walking in London

Seven million Europeans reportedly have taken up Nordic Walking, and the sport is now being promoted across the English Channel and the North Sea as well. The authoritative BBC just reported that some 200 prospective partiticants showed up at London’s Hyde Park this past Sunday to give it a try — or, as the Brits would probably say, to give it a go. It was noted on a blog called The Londonist, which titled its posting, “No, I Haven’t Lost My Skis,” observing “So, if you do see sporty types looking like they got lost on the way to the dry ski slope, but are gamely skiing without their skis over zebra crossings and through foot tunnels regardless, it’s Nordic walking, it’s a real sport and it’s in London.” The BBC noted that organizers, who arranged free coaching by Nordic Walking pros, are hoping to recruit 30,000 Nordic Walkers within a year. There are already several Nordic Walking clubs, blogs and websites in the UK. Perhaps the BBC and The Londonist just noticed.