“It’s just a walk. You’re overthinking this,” said the man who was tackling the Camino Frances, or as it is often called, The Camino Way in stages. However, I intended to walk the entire route, starting in St. Jean Pied-de-Port, France and finishing in the northwest corner of Spain in Santiago de Compostela.
We were at the local pub, Northcote Tavern. Both of us had arrived with the Brierley, “A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago” book. The covers were open and unfolded, showing 900kms of pathways and road. Feeling a bit deflated, I turned and looked down at his long narrow feet clad in black leather, red laced converse shoes and said, “Are you a runner?”
“Mmmm, well, I’m not running tomorrow; it’s Sunday. But yes, I run every other day of the week.”
I may be ageing well, but seriously having lived a sedentary life thanks to university studies and a desk-bound job with my only exercise walking to and fro the bus stop, I was not overthinking The Camino Frances. And I wasn’t fearful. But I was being realistic, as, given my current fitness level, this task was equal to asking my body to tackle climbing Mount Everest.
Training for the Camino Way…
The Camino Way (also known as Camino de Santiago) forums and blog sites offer advice on training for the walk. Unfortunately, the threads were full of well-meaning yet contradicting words of wisdom. So I decided I needed to understand the terrain and build a fitness regime that challenged me but wouldn’t result in physical injuries.
The first three stages of The Camino Way are considered to be very challenging. As on the first day, the route traverses the Pyrenees on the Route de Napoleon, some 25.1km. We will climb to a height of 1,450m at Co de Lepoeder, then descend down into the hamlet of Roncesvalles. Then over the next few days, we will continue to descend and ascend through woodland valleys, small villages and crisscross the Rio Arga before finally walking into Pamplona.
My training regime, walking Northcote Point then across to Birkenhead Point, down towards the ferry terminal, up through the bush and into Birkenhead. A snack break at the Birkenhead library before heading towards Glenfield, a right turn go walk along the ridge towards Northcote and back home, didn’t emulate the Camino Frances track. However, it was the best I could do. I hoped that I would survive those first few stages.
The forum voices all agreed on one matter; break in your gear before you go. Week after week, I tried to break in my lightweight raspberry-red Oboz hiking boots, but they were breaking my feet. Twenty minutes into the walk, I would be sitting on a ledge or the bus stop bench fishing out compeed from my trouser pockets, hoping for instant relief from the pain in my heels. Within fifteen minutes, I would be searching for another bench, exchanging my boots for running shoes. More weight for the laden-filled backpack. By the end of my three-hour walk, my muscles radiated heat and pain. Thankfully I remembered Epsom salts magically relaxed muscle tension because, during those early training days, my muscles groaned like an old gear-stick clutch.
Breaking in the boots and the boot, some shout-outs…
My first shout out has to go to Mike and Dave at Dr Shoe. In desperation, I took my Oboz’s into Mike and asked for help. He spent a day on and off bashing the hell out of the back of the boot. Mike felt he had done little to flatten out the ridge in the boot’s heel, but rubbing my hand along the inside of the boot, there seemed to be a difference. And there was; week one – only one blister, but the boots stayed on; week two – no blisters.
The second shout out goes to the body fixers – Julianne Harvey, NeuroMuscular Masseuse and Greg Wade, Osteopath – who have helped keep an ageing body agile.
The boots and the backpack now feel like old friends, and the need to soak in a hot tub to ease stiffening muscles has passed. I am now ready to catch a plane in the morning. I’ll spend a week in the Pyrenees before starting The Camino Way on the 15th of September.
Not too sure about carrying my MacBook Air in my backpack yet; however, there are plenty of internet cafes along the way to allow you to follow my progress.
Revised – November 2021. It has been interesting to revisit this blog post; suffice to say, fitness is a high priority in my life now. And shoes and perseverance is, for me, a recipe for disaster.