It was along the course of the 2012 Portland half-marathon that Karen Asp set three world records and solidified her No. 1 ranking.
Bu the Fort Wayne woman wasn’t running – she was walking. With a specialized set of poles and competitive spirit, Asp completed the Oregon race’s 13.1 miles in 2 hours, 21 minutes and 11 seconds. She clarifies that she can run faster than Nordic walk but the 10:47 pace still puts her ahead of many of the race’s participants.
The magazine writer first discovered Nordic walking in 2005 when a pole manufacturer invited her to try the sport during a Vermont retreat.
I’m always looking for the next challenge, be it mental or physical, and after playing with the poles on my own after that weekend in Vermont in 2005, I was hooked, Asp says. I’d heard about the Portland Marathon in Portland, Ore., sanctioning a division for Nordic walking and was intrigued.
She first participated in the 2007 race, completing the marathon distance of 26.2 miles, and went back in 2008 to best her time. Both times, she set world records for Nordic walking.
In 2012, Portland sanctioned a half-marathon distance in Nordic walking, and for years, I’d been wanting to go after that world record, Asp says. So I went to Portland again in 2012 and captured the half-marathon world record for women. Because the race logged my times at the 5K and 10K marks, I also set those two world records.
The workout: Nordic walking
What is it: Walking with specialized, lightweight poles. The poles have short tips on the end, which help in dirt or grassy conditions, or a rubber paw can be used on pavement.
Gear: Nordic walkers need a set of poles, which start at $70 and can cost up to $150. Asp uses Exel poles (www.exelnordicwalking.com). Other than that, you’ll need a pair of walking or running shoes, depending on which you prefer – I use ultra-light running shoes – and of course, workout apparel, she says.
Why Nordic walking: Asp was initially drawn to the sport because it is a spin-off of cross-country skiing, her favorite sport. Now, though, I love Nordic walking because it’s simply an incredible workout, she says. The results you get from using poles are amazing. It’s a full-body workout so you’re using over 90 percent of the muscles in your body – versus running where you’re using only the lower half of your body – which means I’m getting a lot of bang for my buck, so to speak, with the poles.
Fitness enthusiast: Asp exercises seven days a week but will incorporate various workouts during the week to fight boredom. When she’s not training for a competition, she does a cardio session every day – cycling, running, cross-country skiing, Nordic walking or exercising on indoor equipment. She also does at least two full-body strength training sessions each week.
I round this out with at least three sessions – 10 minutes minimum, although I try to hit the mat for 20 to 30 minutes at a time – of yoga, Asp says. I love taking classes at Urban Body Sanctuary but, more often than not, I do a yoga DVD at home.
Tips for beginners: Asp says it’s best to learn the intricacies of Nordic walking from an instructor, especially if you’ve never done an activity with poles, but one might be hard to find in the area. DVDs and videos online can offer help.