According to the Met Office, the rain over the Christmas period made 2015 one of the top ten wettest years since records began in 1910. With rain, of course, comes mud and we’ve certainly had our fair share of it. So today I thought I’d write about the issues mucky conditions present and how to cope.
The pros and cons of mud
In many ways mud gives you a great workout – your legs, core and arms are all having to work seriously hard to keep you from slipping and sliding around (see my blog How to enjoy a muddy walk, written about this time last year!). This means you’ll be burning plenty of calories and toning your body at the same time.
However, it’s easy to feel unstable and it can be frustrating if you’re slipping backwards and sideways when you’re trying to push forwards.
The key for me when walking in muddy conditions is what I’ve got on my feet; my walking technique and my stretches at the end.
I’ve written previously about how important good walking boots are in mucky conditions. Funnily enough, it’s not so much for ankle support as for the tread (you’re in more danger of doing the splits than turning your ankle). Your tread should be chunky and not clog up with mud. The Vibram soles are superb in this respect and most of us will have this type of base on our boots – I’ve certainly got them on my Scarpa boots.
Please don’t wear wellies when Nordic walking. Why?
- Terrible grip.
- Very thin soles which give no protection from the sharp stones lurking unseen under the muck.
- Not fitted to your feet which therefore slop about inside your boots, and that’s before you even take one step in the sticky stuff.
- Easy to puncture with the sharp points of your Nordic walking poles, especially as you’re destabilised due to points 1-3 above.
- Dare I say it – the general look of poles plus wellies…
The perfect combination in my view is a good pair of boots plus a good pair of gaiters, the ones that come up to your knee thereby protecting your trousers. I’ve been giving quite a bit of advice recently on how to wear gaiters and have recorded a short video showing how to put them on – click here to watch it. Here are some key points to remember:
- Most gaiters will have a small ‘hook’ at the base. This is meant to be at the front, hooked over/under your bottom shoe lace.
- Most will also have an elastic toggle at the top, so that you can tighten the gaiter around your leg. The toggles should be on the outer side of your leg, tucked in – that way they won’t annoy you by rubbing against your legs as you walk or accidentally getting caught by the spike of your pole (that’s actually happened to me!).
- The adjustment straps at the base can sometimes be annoying, either because you’ve cut them too short so that they come out of the buckle or else you’ve left them too long and the inside strap knocks against the other one as you walk. To avoid this, I keep my inside strap shortish and my outside strap a bit longer. Doing this also helps me quickly see which gaiter goes on which leg.
Nordic walking poles are superb in muddy conditions and enable you to continue to walk with a powerful heel/toe roll no matter what’s beneath your feet. The key is to take your awareness to the support that your pole is giving your back foot as you push off. It is literally planted right beside that back foot, so push down firmly on the pole and you’ll have a strong stabiliser, which will reduce the amount of sideways and backwards slippage. Also remember to engage your core and don’t let your shoulders rise up – keep that big gap between your ear lobe and the top of your shoulder.
It’s really important to ensure you stretch properly at the end of a muddy walk as stabilising your body puts a lot of strain on your hips and legs. Next week all our instructors will be focusing on these stretches. Briefly, you have to stretch the inside and outside of your leg, as these have been working overtime to stop your feet sliding laterally. Your hip flexors (where your leg meets your torso) will also have been working hard as will your hamstrings and glutes (backs of your legs and bottom). Finally don’t forget to stretch out your neck and shoulders as, despite your best efforts, it is more than likely that you’ll have tensed this whole area in an effort to help you balance.
Next Saturday I’m running a Technique Masterclass at 10.15am. If you’re interested in getting some specific advice on your own Nordic walking technique, either in muddy conditions or generally please book onto it. I’ll also be reporting back on our Crook Peak ‘blow the cobwebs away’ ridge walk next Sunday. Fingers crossed for fine weather!