Physical Training for the Camino


I didn’t even know that people trained to walk the Camino.

It’s 500 miles, yes, but most  of the trail isn’t mountainous. So for a Southern Appalachian hiker, Le Chemin de St. Jacques wasn’t very strenuous. I understand that the Camino is even less so.

Still last night, I went to a talk on how to prepare yourself for the physical challenges of the trek. Two experienced pilgrims, Mark Cobb, a physician, and John Miko, a physical trainer, gave a wonderful talk on the subject. The program was sponsored by the Asheville Chapter of the American Pilgrims on the Camino.

John emphasized that training involved specificity and periodicity, concepts familiar to marathon runners.

Specificity means  that you train for the challenge by doing the same activity; hike since the Camino is about hiking.  The Camino challenge is not about walking, it’s about carrying. “If you’re not carrying, you’re not training. True enough! When I prepared for Le Chemin de St. Jacques, I filled my trekking pack with all the right stuff, including two quarts of water and walked around for a couple of hours at a time.

I pointed out that, though you’ll be walking about 15 miles a day in Spain, you don’t need to do that here on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Either you find a less mountainous trail or you walk less than 15 miles a day.

Periodicity means that you need to challenge your body and recover. He showed a marathon schedule, where runners pushed for four days a week and recovered the other three. Or they cross trained. But the Camino isn’t a marathon and most of us aren’t running. I would train less hard and do it for five to six days a week.

But there’s more to the physical side than aorobic training.

What are you going to eat? This is where John had me in stitches. “In Asheville,” he said “you have vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free…” To that, I can add decaf coffee and herbal teas. “These are not diets really known in Northwestern Spain. The food is meat, cheese and bread.” True enough. That’s what I ate on Le Chemin. Wonderful regional delicacies in this part of the world is very meat-intensive.

Dr. Mark Cobb looked at foot problems and suggested Dr. Scholl’s Blister Defense or an anti-friction stick for your feet. We should lace up your boots with “rabbit ears” to prevent blisters. The other potential problem is the sun. Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with UVA and UVB protection.  It should include zinc oxiode. Mark offered Solbar shield as an example.  He also made a good case for hiking poles.

I asked about protection against bedbugs. In France, the gite owners were very vigilant in making sure that people left their packs and boots outside, to prevent bedbugs. You can spray the outside of your pack and sleeping sheet with Peermethrin, a spray that you can get in most outdoor shops.

It’s only when your body works that you can enjoy the rhythm of the trail.

The group meets at REI in Asheville the first Monday of the month.


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