Preparation for My Camino – Physical & Mental
How does an out of shape woman in her mid 50’s prepare to walk 500 miles? My way of preparing for walking the Camino de Santiago has layers to it. First there is the physical fitness piece, then the mental preparation, then deciding what to take on this journey and last, but not least, taking time to reflect on my spiritual goals in doing this journey. In this blog, I will explore the physical and mental preparation.
I began my planning out of shape, overweight and having walked only one half marathon in my entire life. In 2012 I set out to walk three half marathons to keep me walking the whole year. What I noticed was each one got easier and less of a big deal. I did the Portland Rock N Roll Half Marathon in May 2012, the Lacamas Lake Half up in Camas, Washington in July and the Big Sur Half in November. I made it a point to always have a “next race” on my calendar.
I trained with Portland Fit which is part of USA Fit. They take you from wherever you are and start walking 3 miles, then add a mile a week, each week and before you know it, you are walking 10-11 miles. You can walk or run and all ages and levels of fitness join in the training. They do education in the first several weeks and have you knowing what to expect next. In 2012 I walked about 250 miles that I measured. In 2013 I have done another 2 Half Marathons and I have walked about 300 miles total in the initial 5 months. For the Camino I will be walking 500+ miles in 7 weeks.
Once I was comfortable with my ability to walk 15 miles in a day, I realized I better start hiking. I began my hiking training kind of late, because I hate snow and cold. I hiked about 60 miles with my backpack loaded to 20 pounds+ during the past 2 months. During these hikes I was using some of the new hiking clothes and gear I plan to take on the Camino. Hiking added in elevation gain and walking on uneven surfaces. I admit that I could have done far more, but I am pleased with my gradual and persistent increases in physical challenge. I also am not saying that this is what others should do. I am merely sharing my own journey and training. It is estimated that only 10% of people train for the Camino. I would say I have done some training versus I am fully 100% prepared. An added benefit is that I have fallen in love with the beautiful nature in and around Portland. I can’t wait to do more hikes when I return.
Because I haven’t done more hiking, I plan to use the Camino itself to get me in more shape as I go. Day one of the Camino is the “day from hell” per most Pilgrims (if you do it as outlined in Brierley’s book). Day one is 16 miles with a 5,000 foot elevation gain. I plan to break this into 2 days, so as not to overdo. I will stay in Orrison, France, at the beautiful Albergue (hostel) they have there. In that first week I do not plan to rush, but to be a bit gentle and rest frequently as I walk. The good news is there are villages about every 3 – 8 miles and one can tailor the Camino to what works best for them.
I’d like to give a big shout out to my friend Jane Wolfe for the fun hikes in the Gorge that we have done in rain and in sunshine. I’d also like to thank Kathy Davis for training with me in Forrest Park (kind of in-between walking and hiking, but had my backpack on). We got up to 10-11 miles once a week during many weeks in the past 2 months.
During this time, my focus has been on my health and just very gradually increasing the miles per week and the intensity of the walk/hike. I have lost about 25 pounds over the past year and a half merely by adding in more activity and by making better eating choices. I did some raw cleanses and I eat a plant based diet, but I have not counted calories, nor done meal planning as those are not something I personally could sustain. It feels good to see my body responding to being more active and wanting even more fitness. I look forward to seeing what I am capable of and the Camino will be an interesting test for sure!
For me the trick I use with any big task is what I call “chunking.” Chunking is merely taking a project or task and breaking it into lots of little steps versus getting overwhelmed by the whole thing at once. For this “To Do” lists come in handy and coming up with what needs to be done this week or today helps me focus. Starting early is also a good idea, as I hate stressing.
Thinking back some bigger mental decisions in preparing for the Camino for me were:
- Am I doing to do this with others or solo? Lots of people like the idea of the Camino, but when the call to action comes, they are not ready or able, so I choose to move forward on my own. As time went on, it is clear that I am in so much of a “re-defining myself phase”, that solo seems right for me now. And for anyone with concerns about safety, please know that everyone who has done the Camino reassures me that is very safe for a woman traveling solo.
- What is my default when questions come up? With all the many decisions I have had to make, I am now clear, that when push comes to shove on a decision, my default is my own health. So good fitting solid boots that will possibly avert blisters matter more than what color they are or if they are vegan to me. Others will have their own default and I respect that. (And if anyone knows of a good vegan hiking boot that comes in a women’s 11-12 narrow, I welcome that information for the future). As it was, REI carried 1 hiking boot in my size and it had to be special ordered.
- How many weeks do I want to give myself to do this? It takes the average person 5 weeks, so I am giving myself 7 weeks which is 40% more time. Some folks buy a one way ticket, but somehow just giving myself a grace period felt right for me. Having the departure and return dates provided the boundaries in which to plan the rest.
- Who can help me prepare? Yes, I am going solo, but others have done this before me and I choose to tap their expertise by interviewing them. I loved hearing how Carol at age 63 walked the Camino and got “no blisters.” You can bet I took extensive notes when we got together. Many others generously shared their words of wisdom and lessons learned on their Camino. I also had to say goodbye to someone in early February when he said “You may not want to hear this, but perhaps this isn’t the year for you to do the Camino. You are not in shape and you don’t have the proper gear.” I did not need his lack of confidence in my space and it saddened me that he knew me so little to have said that versus offering to help me train, listening to my training plan or provide his input on good gear for the Camino. And you know what? Saying good-bye was strengthening in it’s own way…I think it was an important part of my Camino.
- How will I support myself with adjusting to a new time zone in a new country? I had the choice of flying to Madrid or Paris prior to getting to where the Camino starts in St. Jean Pied-de-Port, France. I checked out travel books from the library and decided on Paris on the front end where I know someone and my daughter and her husband also have a friend. This allows me to explore Paris for the first time and gives me about a week to adjust to the new time zone prior to starting my walk. I will return via Madrid, so I was able to get a little of each in there!
My next blog will explore the preparation of what to bring and my spiritual goals for the Camino. I am happy to say I have Heather coming over to do a “Backpack Shakedown” as I try to get as light as possible, while also having what I need for this important journey. Tune in to see what stays and what goes!