It’s so easy to be lazy when you are back in normal everyday life! Whereas somehow on the Camino you are not only willing but perfectly able to fall out of bed, dress in the dark, pack, brush teeth and head out into the Spanish dawn to hunt for coffee and first breakfast; at home just falling out of bed and getting dressed can be a challenge. Somehow dawn at home is just dark and damp and … early. And cool. Possibly rainy. Brrr. So how do you get from that to doing regular Camino preparation and exercise?
I will not lie, it is sometimes incredibly hard. I have tried all sorts of tricks, some that worked and some that didn’t. Some that work sometimes and some that probably could. I thought I would share them with you, and in return feel free to share yours with me!
Join a gym: I know, I know. The positives are that it is indoors, sheltered and with reasonably stable temperatures. They also have a shower with hot water (hurrah!) which you can use if you do some exercise before work or at lunch, or on your way home. Going to a gym can be a pretty cushy way to get the kms in, and they have ways of training for uphill, downhill, running, walking, stairs and even cycling, so you can vary and pinpoint what kind of exercise you want or need. Plus often a café where you can get your fix … The drawback is it costs money, but for some it will be a great solution.
Go for a walk: Easier, cheaper … and harder. You can go for a walk from your own front door, but you have to get out the door, which is often where the problem lies. Thresholditis can hit suddenly and is often made worse by bad weather or a long day. If you already have a dog I suppose it will be more achievable but without one … It is easier if you have a goal, somewhere to go, something you like doing. Is there a place you could go for an early morning coffee? Or for a meal in the evening? Can you walk to the cinema? To visit a friend? Try to find a walking trail near you.
Walk to and from work(ish): If you work too far away from home, can you park further away and then walk the last bit? That means you would have to walk back there again after work, doubling the daily distance. Or if you get a train or bus to work, can you walk to a different stop or station? Again you double your distance after work. Maybe you could even walk over to a coworker’s house and car pool from there?
Measuring progress: I started with a rubbish pedometer which rattled when I walked. I then moved swiftly on to a Fitbit Flex, which was affordable, durable and easy to use, but had a clip-on strap which kept coming off when I took my pack off. I got a Fitbit Charge instead, because it has a secure strap and also more functions to inspire me (on a good day). There are other makes and models too in different price ranges. Most of them have an app for your mobile and also communicate with your computer, so you can see your progress and personalise your settings and goals. Use it to encourage and reward yourself; don’t set the bar too high so you get disappointed and discouraged, but not too low either! The recommended daily goal is 10,000 steps or about 7km. Go for a few walks in different places – a park you like, walking to the library, visiting a friend – and see how many steps or kms it is. Challenge yourself by upping your target distance regularly.
Walk with someone: Join a local walking group, or if you have friends who are also into walking (or want to be), set yourself and them a challenge. It doesn’t have to be too dramatic, start with a managable goal and encourage and support each other, making sure you get out there even if life or the weather gets in the way. Walk with them if you can, or keep in touch by other means if you can’t. Push them and let them push you. If you have a Fitbit or similar you can also set weekend or working week challenges there and see how many steps each of the others have so you can try to outdo them (and they you!).
Events: The Camino might be the event you are training for, but consider planning some smaller events in the meantime, such as a longer walk with friends on a weekend. You can bring a packed lunch or stop at a pub or restaurant for food and then carry on, just like you would on the Way, or even splash out and stay over at a B&B or hotel and carry on walking the next day – good packing and repacking practice. Set a date to tackle that long hill or that long coastal path, take part in a fun run or sponsored walk – the possibilities are endless!
Treats: Your shoes are nice and cushioned now, but after hundreds of training kms they might get a bit worn … so set yourself a target number and save up (from not getting the train/bus/car to work?) for a shiny new pair. Or that lightweight windbreaker you have been lusting after. Or the tapas meal, posh pedometer, compact camera … something Camino related that will not only reward you there and then but also improve your experience on the road. After all, you’ve earned it!
Virtual Camino: This is hard core Camino training; get your guide book out and take it for a walk. Start where you intend to start – say St Jean – and start walking your virtual Camino. If you take a break after 8 kms, check your guidebook to find out where you “are”- Orisson! what luck! – and see where you “have been” and decide where you will “stop for the night”. Next time you start again from “there” and move on. This way you also get to know the landscape and places you will be walking through but you can do it in your own stages. You can even make sure you go hillwalking on the day you will be walking up a hill in the guidebook, on the flat if you are walking the “meseta” that day. Or keep walking around the block until you get to “that albergue with a pool in the next town”. If you are planning a shorter camino, you can start from the beginning of the guidebook and “walk” towards where you will actually start. And while you are being all virtual, why not cook yourself something yummy from that region for dinner?
Get to know your stuff. Wear the clothes and carry the pack on your practice walks! This way – and only this way – will you get to know your gear, what works and what doesn’t, if your shoes and pack are right for you etc. Since you are still at home you can take rest days or get the train home, so there is no reason to injure yourself or walk on blistered feet. Practice foot care and temperature management while you are at it, and if something rubs, chafes or causes discomfort or pain, seek advice or try other packs, shoes, boots, bras or whatever it is that isn’t working. Be prepared to seek out replacements if necessary, keep an eye out for sales. Sleep in your sleeping bag at least one night to see if it is warm/cold/big enough. Download music to walk to (doesn’t mean you have to listen to it when you get there). Try out earplugs! Get on a forum and read about other people’s experiences, ask questions, seek out answers. Proudly look like a dork wearing your pack and practising your poling skills – yes, you need to practice using your poles too. And losing your vanity.
The important thing is that you don’t overdo it but slowly build up to distances and pack weights you are aiming for and comfortable with. And remember, training for a Camino isn’t just about distances, it is about shoes, socks, legwear, raingear, tops and temperatures and packs and packing and boredom and introspection and opening up to new people and circumstances and food and drink and weightloss and poles or no poles and rain suits or ponchos and good days and bad days and so much more, so take your time and enjoy the process!