In an effort to bring you some new voices on Ottsworld, here is a guest post from an Ottsworld reader and traveler Emily Ward. She is getting ready to embark on some epic career break travels and she’s starting with the Camino de Santiago. I asked her to share her training plan with me to assist others who are considering this rewarding walk! All opinions and experiences expressed here are hers. –Sherry
I stared into the flames of my family’s fireplace over Thanksgiving contemplating how training for this incredible journey is so much more than a one dimensional physical “training plan” I have created in the past.
Being an outdoor enthusiast and athlete, I often take joy (and sweat) in training plans for the next trail ultra 50k, running in the Grand Canyon, the triathlon in the fall, or to conquer the next biggest rapid in my kayak. All of these efforts are physical building blocks of daily exercise. The mental toughness to stick to it and push through discomfort is needed, but the goal is more of an athletic feat.
In a few short months, I will leave to become a pilgrim walking the Camino Frances, a dream I thought I can only realize when I am retired. Seizing an opportunity to leave my house and my job without too much risk, I decided to go for it now, solo and in my mid thirties.
I will start from St Jean Pied De Port and walk the full distance, at just under 500 miles, along with my pack and my thoughts.
See my Essential Camino de Santiago Packing List
Boots vs. Tennis shoes, rain gear needs (don’t forget your camera protection!), laundry supplies, the best ear plugs, and more. Before you go, make sure you have all of these items on my Camino de Santiago packing list!
The process of completing the Camino is a physical, spiritual, communal, lonely, and cultural journey all wrapped up into a wonderful experience I have wanted to know for since I discovered it in college. As the new year has come to fruition, here are the facets of my Camino training plan. This is much more exciting and whole-self integrative than adding gym time on the calendar….
5 Tips When Training for the Camino de Santiago
1)Train the body for long days of walking in colder weather.
It is easy to think being in top notch physical condition comes with running marathons. No way. Since transitioning to breaking in my new trail runner / hiking shoes on the stairclimber and steep inclines on the treadmill, my quads are much more sore and there are some nice new shoe blisters starting to callous.
The next step is to strap on my pack and throw in a few bricks or soda bottles to equate to twenty pounds. Hopefully, I can get out to the Blue Ridge Mountains for a couple of long trail days to get my shoes dirty. The time on my feet and carrying a large pack will harden me physically and mentally.
Here is what my weekly build up plan looks like:
● 1 day (40-60 minutes total) stair climber / incline treadmill wearing hikers/Camino sneakers and 20 lbs in backpack; Boot camp at gym if I have time, too (60 minutes additional)
● 1 day long trail hike (starting at 3 hours – up to 6). There are technical steep trails nearby that I love to hike, but I think you will be fine with long walks near you, as most of the Camino is not technical hiking at all. Try to pick safe routes with some hills and on packed dirt – easier on the joints!
● 4 days per week of running 8-15 miles per day including one long run and one hard effort (I am used to this already, as it is my passion. If you are not, add 2-3 more days of 30-60 minutes cardio or just time on feet walking with or without the pack)
My house is old and drafty, and so I have taken extra effort to keep my heat to a minimum (meaning I hat is often required indoors). This makes me feel tough to handle albergues with no heat on cold nights in March.
I am not trying to overthink the training too much, but I do think it is important to create the environment to know how your body will feel when the Way begins to wear you out.
2) Write Down Your Why
Why do I think I am doing this and why is it important to do it now?
It has been incredibly helpful and meditative to start the journal I plan to use on the trip before the trip. I am curious to see how the ways in which I hope or expect or grow from this journey will be similar or different. Capturing my fears, anxiety, or dreams from which I awake on paper, has been quite cathartic. I am enjoying this routine more naturally than expected.
3) Practice Being Alone
Creating the communal environment of the walk has exercised my independence and feeling of singularity in my small world. I have been making an effort to spend a lot time just doing things solo in public and seeing how I can make a better effort to interact with people. I will go to my favorite pub and get a pint at the bar, take a walk around the neighborhood, see the symphony, or wander through a wing of the art museum on a Sunday afternoon. I have really enjoyed these things in the past, but I have neglected alone time because I have all of the busyness of life creep over my time.
When I am solo in my city or on trips, it is pretty amazing how I remember the smells, the sights, and how I am feeling so much more vividly. I always end up meeting friendly, intriguing people that I would have not thought to talk with otherwise(also good practice to figure out how to escape acquaintances that are driving you nuts). Being solo puts my sensory and observation abilities in overdrive to those around me – I cannot resist my curiosity to talk with people.
Spending some time solo helps to practice the somewhat paradoxical environment of the Camino. There will be so much time in my own head, but I look forward to all of the people with whom I will share bread and conversation along the way.
4) Understand the History of the Journey
Knowing the context and history of the environment provides much food for thought. My richest travel experiences have always been those in which I have had time to read about what occurred there in the past, how the culture came to be, and why does it look and feel the way it does today. Immersing myself in the way of St. James and pilgrim culture has been so much fun. It has also been interesting to talk to other people that have completed the walk, all with different advice to offer..
5) Tap into Your Spiritual Side
Lastly, returning to Mass has helped to end and begin each start to the week as I inch closer to departure. Since I am guessing a significant percentage of pilgrims are lapsed Catholics, I am not ashamed to admit I fall into this population. I have been attending Mass at my city’s cathedral each Sunday evening to position my head in a better spot each week . Reflecting on the process of training and “walking” into each next week with optimism and open mindedness is the goal. This will be a spiritual journey for all, yet individually defined. I imagine that all who have walked before me returned with a changed spirit for the better.
At the end of the Camino, I will be walking into THE cathedral at Santiago de Compestela.
Feeling at peace with my journey to finally get there will be fulfilling in a way I don’t yet know.
Camino de Santiago Guides that Can Help You Plan or Inspire Your Trip
Meet the Author
Emily Ward is poofy haired urban porch dweller, who loves to sport a headlamp and run before dawn. When not evaluating healthcare policy during the day, she trains area eateries on how to sell Virginia cider. Fascination with utilitarian architecture, backgammon strategy and peanut butter infused recipes keep her busy. She never fails to collect friends while sitting on a barstool. Emily is about to embark on a year long travel gap to check out every Eastern Europe and Balkan country she missed last time. But first – the Camino.
You can follow Emily’s Camino journey as well as all of her career break travel on her Tumblr Account here.