Walking or hiking* 20 kilometres without a plan on a random day should be doable. Covering that distance six days in a row – and keeping in mind the Way won’t always be as flat as my country – some groundwork might be required. Oh, and did I mention the 8-10kg you are carrying on your back?
Pretty soon after I decided to walk to Santiago and read up on long distance hiking, it had become evident to me that my body was one of the first things that had to be trained before I could embark on this journey. Don’t get me wrong, I love being active, but I felt that the daily 15-minute bike ride to and from work plus my bi-weekly running efforts and yoga routine weren’t going to cut it. So here is some advice that previous pilgrims and professional hikers give to prepare your body, as well as some things that I would suggest getting involved in before venturing off:
make movement a habit
When you are about to walk large distances, you have to be in good shape. “Yeah. No shit” would be my reaction too. But being in good shape does not mean taking three flights of stairs without dying, it means moving on a regular basis. Make sure you undertake activities that get your blood pumping. Besides walking, which would be great to practice often since you are going to do lots of it anyway, running and cycling are great alternatives. Mix it up, make it fun and, most importantly, make it into a habit!
think about that backpack
You will be carrying weight on your back. All the time. Every. Single. Day. Anticipating on this is like giving yourself a little prezzy on the road. You could start practicing by doing your training walks with a backpack. If you like, you could also add some strength exercises to your work-out schedule. As the Internet offers a plethora of exercise programs, you can pick a different one each time!
it won’t be flat all the time
The Netherlands is flat, really flat. Some parts of France and Spain aren’t. Good to know. Good to prepare yourself for. If your environment lacks hills like mine, include some training on stairs or steps. Don’t forget that backpack ; )
stretch and listen
Make sure you incorporate some stretching before and after your exercise routine to prevent injury. In my opinion, anyone would benefit from taking regular yoga classes. Yoga does not only build strength and increase flexibility, it will teach you to listen and communicate with your body. Not a luxury, when walking on your own for a few months.
In order to get good as something, you have to repeat it, over and over again. So take that backpack, walk and do it often. Especially in the final twelve weeks leading up to your journey, make sure you walk as much and as far as you can, backpack included.
Now you might be wondering what my weekly workout schedule looks like? When writing this I realise I am extremely guilty of something I would denote as planning-the-action-though-not-really-being-in-action. With barely four months to go, this post will serve as my wake up call, which means I should amp up the frequency a little. Since running and yoga (mainly ashtanga and vinyasa) are part of my already existing routine, I will incorporate the other bits to make sure it won’t end up being impossible to manage. This is what my week then looks like:
- Every day I cycle two times 15 minutes to and from work, the supermarket or any other place.
- One or two times a week I go for a run. The strength training and uphill training are pretty tough to fit in, although I try to combine these with my runs.
- One or two times a week I take a yoga class. On top of that, I try to practice two or three times a week at home.
- Once every week I attempt a long distance walk.
This routine will hopefully guide me through the initial preparations until December. Since that month marks the beginning of the final three months before my departure, I will then increase my training and give you an update. Remember, start small and increase the amount and intensity of your training gradually (you don’t want to get injured). Also keep in mind that it is easier to be active when it suits your daily routine and it is making you smile! I would love to hear what you do to get your body ready for the Camino, another pilgrimage or a long distance hike, so do leave a message in the comment section below!
* I use the terms walking and hiking interchangeably.