Training for multi-days hiking
What is your level of fitness? Poor...average... good....above average?
If you answered 'Poor' or 'average' you will need to do some serious training to hike the Camino for 15 or 22 days.
Even if you are used to running or walking half and full marathons, it is a completely different thing to hike a half marathon day after day in all weathers. The Camino's in Spain, France and Italy are mostly on hiking trails through countryside with many up and down hills. It's often the down hills that people find the most stressful!
We’ve heard people say, ‘I work standing all day so walking should be a breeze’. Don’t be fooled! Without putting in some regular training you might be one of the statistics that doesn’t make it to Santiago because of blisters, shin splints or tendonitis.
TESTING YOUR HIKING GEAR
Boots, shoes or sandals
If you intend hiking a few hundred km/miles, one of your most important purchases will be your footwear. You need to train in these so start early. There are as many opinions on boots and shoes as there are pilgrims but one thing is certain, heavy, army-type boots are not necessary on the Caminos. Many pilgrims hike in All Terrain walkers or trainers and some even walk in sandals [or barefoot]. Even if you prefer to hike in boots, lightweight, ankle or mid-height boots are all that you will need. Stick with well-known brands and do some research to get to know the different types of boots available and how they have been rated by consumer research groups.
Walking sticks, hiking poles or trekking sticks – some swear by them, others denounce them, most of us can’t bear the click-click-clicking the metal tips make on hard surfaces when hiking or walking. Always use rubber tips on the end of your poles. One - or - two poles? It is down to personal choice.
Purchase your clothing a few weeks in advance and wear them in. You don’t want to have too tight trousers, shorts that creep, shirts that are too tight around the neck and labels that scratch your skin.
These days you are spoiled for choice. When trekking in summer months, dress in lightweight, wicking fabrics. Most sporting chain stores stock ultra-light underwear, shirts and shorts made of fabrics that wick the sweat away from the body and protect against the harmful rays of the sun. Shorts and hiking trousers come in many different lightweight fabrics. Those that zip off at the knee are popular.
Socks - come with double layer (1 000 mile socks) polypropylene, wicking properties, arch support, Achilles protection and other special features. And don't forget the hat. If you are out hiking for hours and in all weathers, a suitable hat will help to reduce exposure to harmful UVA and UVB rays.
Rain gear: Always check waterproof jackets, trousers or raincoats for sealed seams. If the seams are not sealed, they are not waterproof.
IF YOU ARE NOT A REGULAR WALKER, START TRAINING A YEAR BEFORE THE WALK
Don't expect walking the Camino to be anything like it was in the movie THE WAY!! There are hills on the Camino- lots of hills. Some people get blisters and tendonitis on the flat sections and shin splints going down hills (which they didn't get in the movie). You have to wash your clothes (so don't wear denim jeans like they do in the movie!) This is not a gentle village-to-village meander on country roads. You will walk on some tarred roads but also on gravel, dirt, stones (lots of stones!) rocks (lots of rocks) slate and mud. You'll walk through Beech woods, rolling farmland, vineyards and cereal fields; stunning landscapes in the Irago Mountains and green corridors of trees in Galicia. TRAIN for this walk. Train especially on hills; and do a few day-after-day long distance walks of up to 12 miles (20km) a day. This is the only way to test your footwear, clothing, backpack, and your stamina!
CROSS TRAINING vs HIKING
If you play squash, tennis, badminton or go to the gym, cycle or swim for an hour or two, this will help with your general fitness. Nothing will prepare you for the trek better than actually walking and hiking. Even if you’re only doing an hour around the park or on the streets put your rucksack and boots/shoes on, you may look silly but it’s worth it.
It is important at weekends to get into some hilly areas to experience walking on different surfaces, get used to the hills and of course the weather. You should wear the boots/shoes and carry the rucksack you will take on the trek.
Try using the stairways in your local shopping mall, public buildings, underground. Some shopping centers have multiple floors - use the stairs instead of escalators or elevators. Park on the rooftop parking and walk down one flight, then walk the length of that floor to the other end of the center and walk down to the second level. Repeat this until you have reached the bottom floor and can start walking up to the rooftop parking, crisscrossing the floors and stairs.
If you live near a gym even better. Joining a gym is a good idea as the fitness instructors may be able to design a program specifically for you. Most good gyms have a treadmill that includes elevation, or stair climbers where you can clock up mileage more safely and comfortably, but do try to walk as much as possible in ‘real’ conditions and wearing your rucksack and boots/shoes.
It is important to stretch after every walk or exercise. During the walk you can use your walking pole, a tree, a road barrier or a rock to help you stretch.
Here is a link to a program designed specifically for training to walk the Camino de Santiago.