Preparing for the Camino: Physical Training

Kelownagurl in the Cotswolds July 2014

2016 will be a HUGE year of change for me.  I plan to retire on March 31, and then on April 9, my husband Erik and I will embark on a three month trip to Europe that will include approximately 40 days walking 800 km on the Camino Frances from St Jean Pied de Port, France to Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

Taking on the challenge of walking 20-30km per day for over a month requires some planning and preparation. I have run 5 half marathons, one full marathon, and completed three half ironman races, and Erik and I backpacked for 4 days on the Cotswold Way in July 2014, so I know I have the endurance capability to do the Camino, but maintaining a daily 20-25km for 40 days is a different kind of challenge and I will require good general fitness and core strength if I hope to enjoy the walk.

I was a bit lazy exercising in 2015, but I don’t think I will have any trouble getting myself fit and healthy again if I train consistently for the next 3 months. What I really need to do is build up my general cardio fitness so I’m not huffing and puffing along the way, work on my strength and core training so I do not fatigue so easily when carrying a load, and get used to walking longer distances with a 12-15 lb backpack.

I’ve read many books and blogs about people’s varied experiences on the Camino and the preparations they made before setting off. I’ve considered  their advice about what worked and what didn’t, paying particular attention to the stories from people who are similar to me in age and fitness level. I think I know my body well enough to have a pretty good understanding of what I need to do now to prepare.

A cute cat along the Cotswold Way in July 2014.

So here is my training plan for January 1 – April 9, 2016.

  • Walk home from school (3-5 km) at least 4 days a week.
  • Do core work 3 times a week (15-30 min).
  • Do 30 min strength training at the gym twice a week.
  • Walk 5-10 km on weekends, slowly building up to 15-20 km as the weather warms up. Include some back-to-back days.
  • Do other forms of cardio once or twice a week such as snow shoeing, running, cycling, rowing, or elliptical.
  • Eat healthfully and lose at least 5 lbs.
  • Do yoga or Qi Gong as often as I can.
  • Sleep well.

Over the next three months, I will post regular updates on how my training is going, as well as posts about our other preparations for the trip.

Erik’s training plan is to continue what he has been doing for the last two months – hit the gym every second day and do 30 minutes of cardio (usually running) plus a complete strength training circuit. He also plans to do increasingly longer walks, usually with me on the weekends.

When we arrive in Paris on April 10,  we will spend 2 weeks in Southern France, and will do as much walking as possible in order to maintain our fitness. Our plan is to begin the Camino on Monday, April 25, 2016 and arrive in Santiago no later than June 3rd.

If you want to follow along with my training more closely, you can find me on Daily Mile or Facebook.

If you have questions or you’ve done the Camino and have info to share, please leave a comment below!

PS Here’s a link to my podcast where Erik and I walk about our preparations for the Camino.

KG’s Adventures: Fitness and Travel into Retirement. Episode 6

or you can subscribe to the podcast by clicking the link below.

KG’s Adventures on iTunes


What is the Camino?

12389897575_43b6a69bd1_zIt was about three years ago when Erik and I first heard about the Camino de Santiago and we were both intrigued with the idea. Later, when we watched Martin Sheen’s movie The Way for the first time, we told ourselves that someday we would do the walk.  Well that time is finally in sight – May 2016.

A Little Background
The Camino has long been touted as a Catholic pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain.  Christians have been travelling the route since the 8th or 9th century when the remains of the apostle, St. James, were first “discovered” in Santiago de Compostela.  Legend has it that his body, or at least parts of it, was brought to Santiago from Jerusalem, where he had been beheaded in 44AD, and since that time, Christians have been making the trek to visit his remains where they rest in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela.

The route was very popular throughout the middle ages, but gradually declined in the 16th century. By the 1980’s, only a few pilgrims were completing the walk each year, but interest was soon renewed when the Council of Europe named it a European Cultural Route in 1987, and it was eventually declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993. Since then, the number of pilgrims completing the walk has increased dramatically each year, with almost 240,000 people walking it in 2014.  In holy years, when St. James Day (July 25) lands on a Sunday, the numbers are even greater.

Despite being best known as a Catholic pilgrimage, the route actually has older Pagan roots.  It is said that over 1000 years before Christ, the Celts were walking the route across Northern Spain to Finisterre (literally “Land’s End” or “End of the World”) which is just a few days’ walk past Santiago on the Atlantic coast. There they would perform rituals such as burning their clothes by the water’s edge as an offering to the gods.  Many modern day Pilgrims continue their walk to Finisterre after reaching the cathedral in Santiago.

Map of the Camino de SantiagoBecause pilgrimages generally start from home, there are many routes to Santiago, some of which can be seen on this map. In addition, there are routes from other points in Spain, as well as from Portugal. The most popular route is the Camino Frances which, for most pilgrims, begins in St Jean Pied de Port, just over the border in France.

From that starting point, pilgrims obtain their Credencial or camino “passport” which they will have stamped at each stopping point along the way. This passport allows the Pilgrims, or Peregrinos as they are called in Spanish, to access inexpensive hostel-type accommodation in the many albergues along the route, as well as special Pilgrim meals in the hostels or local restaurants. When Pilgrims arrive in Santiago with the Credencial, they receive their Compostela, a certificate showing that they have completed the walk.  Technically, Pilgrims only need to walk the last 100km to receive a Compostela, but many people walk the entire 800 km, and some walk even further.

220px-JakobsmuschelsymbolThe route is well marked with signposts, yellow arrows, and scallop shells – the symbol of the Camino, and the route includes trails, dirt or gravel roads, and pavement.

Many memoirs and informational books have been written about the Camino, as well as a number of movies and documentaries.  I recommend watching The Way if you want a general Hollywood version of the walk, and there is an excellent documentary that came out in 2014 called Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago. My favourite short video that gives an overall picture of the Camino was posted on Vimeo by George Torrey.

Erik and I have begun planning and preparing for our trip and with only nine months to go, our excitement is palpable.  Over the next few months, I will write about our personal reasons for doing the Camino, our physical and mental preparations, and the equipment we plan to take with us. Join us as we prepare for the trip of a lifetime!

Click here to listen to Episode #2 of my podcast “Kelownagurl’s Adventures: Travel and Fitness into Retirement” to hear Erik and I talk about the Camino.

Additional Sources