I think I am a terrible example of getting fit before walking the Camino de Santiago. I walked only once for about 3 hours, with a rucksack, to see how I would be walking before going to Spain. I did have some hillwalking experience, though all the multi-day hikes were many years before. I did walk in the Wicklow hills, just south of Dublin, about twice per month in the two years previous to my first Camino, that was it in total.
The year before my first Camino I was very ill. I had been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and was taking medication that I later found out I was allergic to. I went on the Camino two months after stopping the medication and I really had no idea how I would be; would I be able to walk every day or would I have to abandon the Camino at some point? But, amazingly – I was wonderful – I had never been so fit or healthy for a long time. Even though my feet suffered a great deal initially, and I end up buying new hiking shoes.
First Week Hell
The first week on the Camino Frances passed in a haze of agony. I was overweight when I started and had no walking fitness, I paid the price for both of these. My first day from St Jean Pied de Port was tough, it is all uphill – and I stopped at the Orison on the top of the Pyrenees; thereby splitting the one day from St Jean to Roncesvalles into two.
The days from Roncesvalles to Pamplona disappeared with little memory of the small villages – only the pain remains in my mind, I concentrated every moment on putting one foot in front of the other. My body was not used to this exercise, my boots were not great, (cheap – I was a student at the time), and I was paying the price.
My boots went into the bin just before Pamplona and I walked in my sandals for the rest of that day. The boots were killing my feet – they were fine for a one-day hike in the hills of Wicklow, but not for all-day everyday use on the Camino. I walked in my sandals into Pamplona and went and bought the best walking shoes I could find, – a great decision.
However, I suffered the rest of the Camino with my feet – the blisters that had developed during the first week had to be cut off with scissors and bandaged every morning – but the pain was bearable while walking and I learned how to look after my feet very well. I developed a mantra that helped – Pain reminds me I am alive – whatever works I guess.
Fitness After One Week
After the first week I was good, I found a good walking pace. I walked every day and felt great at the end of each day. I lost about 7 – 8kg in weight and I learned that I did not need all the stuff I brought in my rucksack, I left books in albergues for other people to read and gave away everything I did not want.
After I got home from the Camino I went jogging. I was amazed at how easy it was and how fit, (it’s all relative), I had become. I walked the Camino again the next year and I had no problems with my feet – I had the same good walking shoes from the year before, (they are now in walking shoe heaven).
Perhaps this is a short description of how not to do it. I would have better if I had invested in good hiking boots or shoes the first year, and – or have been a bit fitter before I went; it wasn’t what happened, the above is.
If you are prepared to get a little fit before you go you will enjoy the Camino de Santiago more. This page is a good guide and training plan to slowly get fit before you set off.
I love hiking. From the Camino de Santiago to the West Highland Way in Scotland or simply a great day hike on the weekend. Hiking refreshes me, my mind, and keeps my body reasonably fit. So far I have walked three Camino routes and many other long distance hikes in the UK, Canada, and around the rest of Europe. One of the best was my hike up Ben Nevis.