As someone who struggles to walk at the best of times, adding poles into the equation seemed too ambitious.
But upon arrival at Climping Beach, my trainers for the day, Alison Page and her mother Denise, put my mind at ease.
The pair recently moved to Littlehampton from Horsham and have set up a Nordic walking group, which currently has 50 people on its books.
As its name would suggest, Nordic walking originated in Finland and is characterised by the use of poles. But unlike trekking or hiking, they are not used as a climbing aid but to propel the walker forward, working out arm and leg muscles simultaneously.
Before starting, Alison adjusted the poles to suit my height – I needed to be able to hold them at a 45-degree angle from the floor to properly push off.
Two minutes in: so far, so good. But the first task I had to complete by myself did not go so well. The simple task of putting on my velcroed gloves (which the poles attach to) proved too much as I managed to get my left and right mixed up.
This did not bode well, as co-ordination is key when it comes to Nordic walking: when you step forward with one leg, you have to move the opposite arm.
After a few instances of ‘tick-tocking’, which means using the same arm and leg at the same time, I was off – and with Alison taking the lead, the group and I wandered our way through wooded glades and fields near Climping seafront.
What became apparent during the walk was that it was a social event as much as a form of exercise. Some people chose to take it easier and have a chat, while others picked up the pace to challenge themselves.
I found myself at the front of the group with Ian Buckland, who when he is not on a walk is the mayor of Littlehampton.
Ian, 50, passed his Nordic walking training on Sunday, November 27 and has been attending the group for five weeks.
After discovering he had high blood pressure and diabetes, Ian resolved to do more exercise – and he said the walking has helped.
“This group has been really beneficial and has helped me all the way with my health. It is good for wellbeing and the social aspect, and the trainers are brilliant – I would really recommend it.”
Bringing up the rear is Sue Pratt from Ferring, who joined the group six weeks ago. The 61-year-old signed up to Alison and Denise’s wellbeing walks to help improve her balance and coordination after suffering a stroke at the beginning of August.
She said: “I wanted something that would help me to regain my confidence and get a bit fitter. I have seen a big improvement in my health, and just getting out for the social side of things is great, as you do get very anxious after having a stroke.
“Alison and Denise are very good because I am always the last. They don’t try to hurry me, they let me go at my own pace.”
Denise accompanied Sue on her walk. She said: “Sue was a bit slower than some others, but she wouldn’t have been able to do what she did today a few weeks ago. We only stopped once; she did brilliantly.”
The 54-year-old has worked in the fitness industry for 25 years, and used to train personal trainers. But now, she gets to ‘work with people in the fresh air and the real world’ which she said is ‘what it’s all about’.
“I get to the top of a hill, and I think this is my office. I used to have an office job but this is it for me now; it’s wonderful.”
Her daughter Alison, 28, took up Nordic walking after her football career was halted by knee injuries, which means she cannot run anymore.
But now she is training others in the discipline, and pushing herself in the process.
She said: “I felt a bit lost at first, because everything I had done was based around football.
“But although it is lower impact, I can still really push myself with Nordic walking. I really like walking, and the social side of taking groups out and seeing the difference it makes to people.”
Melissa and Rod Marshall moved to Littlehampton from London five years ago, and have enjoyed getting to know the area through the walks.
Melissa, 54, said: “We walk a lot anyway because we have two dogs, but with these walks we get a variety of hills and flats. Highdown is particularly lovely.”
As the the Climping Beach car park comes back in sight, everyone congregates in a circle, and Alison leads a cool-down. It combines stretches with the poles – including a cross-legged squat for the glutes which almost ends with me in a heap.
And as we walk back to our cars, the class finished, the Arctic temperatures which numbed our feet an hour ago are barely noticeable.
To join the group and for class prices, visit nordicwalkinguklittlehampton.co.uk.
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