Whatever the weather, Donna Tarr will be out and about in the Norfolk countryside leading Nordic Walking tours. Here she explains what set her on the path to qualifying as an instructor over the summer.
From fitness classes and gym sessions in her 20s, to running half marathons in her 30s – Donna Tarr has always been active. In fact, she’s hardly stopped!
But in the last year the 41-year-old mother of two teenagers from Norwich – and marketing executive by trade – has really struggled to keep motivated and keep up with the running.
‘There was nothing I liked more than going for a summer evening run with my girlfriends chatting along the way,’ says Donna.
‘But recently my body just keeps telling me to stop! I’d get stomach cramps and ache for days and never seemed to get back into the enjoyment of the run session.
‘I’d also fail on my calorie control diet as my body would crash and crave sugars especially after a long run. But if I didn’t run what would I do? Go back to a village hall for a fitness class lifting kettle-bells or doing burpees?
‘This did not appeal. Nor did joining a gym where in between pushing weights you simply stare and study everyone around you.
Donna felt stuck. ‘I was feeling guilty for not exercising as well as slowly putting on a bit of weight as my calorie consumption was slightly higher than what I was burning off. I was feeling trapped in a circle of guilt and irritation knowing I need to do something but what?
In the meantime, the only thing keeping her sane and feeling better was to walk her two-year-pug called Honey. ‘Twice a day I get out and walk this little fur baby,’ says Donna.
‘Even through wind and rain, as long as I am clothed accordingly, a walk in the fresh air whilst listening to the birds, always lifts my spirit and calms my mind. It is my little escape from the world that undoubtedly makes me feel uplifted and free.’
Recently her mum Isobel (68 years of age) joined a Nordic Walking group. ‘My dad died a few years ago and since our family loss my mum is much better coping when kept busy and active.
‘She joined a Nordic Walking group and I could see her spirit lift immediately – calmer and simply happier. The more she walked the more I was intrigued on how good it is for your body and mind.’
Donna was soon giving it a go, herself. ‘It was so much fun! I am a skier and did think this is the next best thing to skiing in Norfolk!
‘I strapped on the poles and felt like I was instantly gliding around the Norfolk countryside and it felt fantastic. I’ve found a sport that doesn’t burn your muscles to exhaustion and doesn’t make you feel sick with heart rate racing. It just feels nice and so enjoyable and definitely continues to burn the calories!’
She then looked into the history of the sport. It originally started from cross country skiers summer training back in the 1930s, developed into PE lessons in Finland then developed into many European countries before hitting the UK in 2000. And now it is booming all over the world.
Donna says: ‘There was something special about this sport that intrigued me. The movement and feeling of the walk gives you a good and surprisingly all over full body workout, and being outside in the fresh air for mental health and wellbeing is exactly what we all need.
‘I’d found my new enjoyable sport! But not many people do it so I had a crazy thought that I wanted to train to do it properly and if anyone would like to learn and walk with me then they can!’
So the idea for Norfolk’s Nordics was born. ‘I was about to train as an instructor prior to Covid but then it got delayed until last month, when I finally got certified.’
British Nordic Walking instructors are accredited by the International Nordic Walking Federation (INWA), and are followed by Nordic Walking Instructors around the world.
She adds: ‘Throughout lockdown I kept focused on practising my technique and started walking with family and friends to get me started.’
And during that time Donna developed and launched her website for Norfolk’s Nordics. And she then started posting on Facebook and Instagram and the feedback from friends and family was curious and very positive. And from simple word of mouth she’d already got a dozen walkers enjoying Europe’s fastest growing sport.
She has this message: ‘If you think Nordic Walking is for ‘old’ people, please don’t! Of course it is a fantastic sport for the older generation as they can go at a more leisurely pace and distance that suits them but for those who want to get outside and have an all over body work out this is the sport for you.
‘In fact, the ladies who have already joined my walking group are 40-plus who work full time and have been forgetting to make time for themselves, until now.
‘They now walk once or twice a week with me and feel great. Most have joined my group to lose a few pounds but then the wellbeing side of being outside in the fresh air really does lift their spirits too. And a good natter walking round putting the world to rights makes the time fly by!
‘I challenge you all to come and join me on a taster session. Once you’ve learnt the simple technique and pushed on with your first walk I think you’ll understand why I’ve become a leader/promoter. It’s sociable, uplifting, easy-to-do and burns as many calories as a run without the high impact.’
Looking back on the year, she says: ‘I’m not really sure how I got here, I simply loved it when I gave it a go back in January (walking with my mum) and here I am – with my own business with an online booking function – as an official instructor! I just followed my heart with excitement that this is a gem of a sport that not enough people know about.
‘With my marketing experience I thought ‘I can shout about it’ and so I have. Who knows where the next few months will take me.’
The top 10 health benefits of Nordic Walking:
- All over good for you: Nordic walking exercises 90 per cent of the muscles of the body, not just the 40 per cent used in ordinary walking.
- Exercises the heart: Nordic walking offers a good cardiovascular training effect.
- Weight loss: Nordic walking uses up to 46 per cent more calories compared to ordinary walking.
- Strengthens bones without joint trauma: Nordic walking is as good a form of exercise as cycling or swimming but with the added benefit of being a weight-bearing, low-impact activity.
- Good for posture: This form of walking releases neck and back tension and improves posture and gait. Nordic walking encourages a more upright posture.
- Spine fitness: Nordic walking rotates the trunk and enhances the mobility of the spine.
- Great for the core: Nordic walking strengthens the muscles of the back and abdomen.
- Good mental health: All kinds of cardiovascular exercise outdoors, including Nordic walking, are beneficial for those suffering from stress disorders and many mental illnesses.
- Easy to access: Once you have learned how to Nordic walk and you have the poles and a pair of walking shoes or trainers, you can do it almost anywhere and at any time.
- Long-term health: Scientific research has shown that regular moderate exercise such as Nordic walking can help reduce the risk of cancer, particularly bowel, womb and breast cancer, and has great benefit for those recovering from cancer, heart attack or stroke.