Thursday, April 23, 2015

It's all getting a bit real!

Today, I received my Pilgrim's Record from the Confraternity of St James, which is a UK-based charity established to promote the pilgrimage to the shrine of St James in Santiago de Compostela.  

The credencial or Pilgrim Record is carried to evidence the bona fide pilgrim status of the bearer.  It has two important purposes; it gives access to the pilgrim albergues and it has to presented at the Pilgrim Office of Santiago Cathedral on completion of the pilgrimage in order to obtain a compostela certificate
The credencial or Pilgrim Record is stamped at the beginning of the pilgrimage, and daily at albergues, churches, town halls, tourist offices etc along the way. 
On arrival at the Cathedral in Santiago, pilgrims take their credencial or Pilgrim Record, duly stamped along the way, to the nearby Pilgrim Office and a Compostela certificate (still written in Latin, and confirming the completion of the pilgrimage) is generally issued to those who declare a spiritual motive for their journey. Non-spiritual pilgrims may ask for a certificado instead.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Getting ready for the Camino

As for any endurance or multiday event, I think that preparation & planning comes under 3 headings: physical, mental and logistical.

Physical preparation
This is relatively easy. I’m experienced enough in long events and challenges to know how to prepare. 

The last few weeks have upped my mileage and the last 3 weeks I have covered 80, 85 and 100 miles respectively. I’m mixing up hilly and flattish runs to mimic the terrain I’ll be running over. 

The first few days will be hilly over the Pyrenees, but in the middle of the Camino is the Meseta – 100 miles of virtually flat plains on the central plateau of Spain. Sounds like Lincolnshire really! There will be plenty of tarmac through the bigger towns.

Nevertheless, I'll have to average 30 miles/day for 16 days so it's a tough ask. 

Mental, or spiritual, preparation
I feel this is more important than for any other challenge I’ve ever undertaken.  Yes, this will be a significant physical challenge but I feel truly drawn to do the Camino. The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage and I am treating it as such. 

I am currently reading a very interesting book, The Art of Pilgrimage by Phil Cousineau, which looks at pilgrimage from a secular and non-secular point of view. 

I have asked to receive a blessing at our church before we leave. 

I plan to truly experience the Camino, stopping to visit the old churches and monasteries that are plentiful along the route. There will also be the possibility at staying at monasteries overnight which I am really looking forward too. 

Leon cathedral
12th century church at Eunate
I will not be running to tight constraints and will stop where it feels right to stop. I will not be putting myself under pressure by trying to keep to a tight schedule and will try my best to just go with the flow.

Logistical planning
This entails kit choices and researching the route.

The kit bit is relatively simple. It’s not as though I haven’t got enough of the stuff! However, there are a few key decisions:
  1. Rucksack - I'll be going with my new Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20. I wanted something which didn’t inhibit the running and the Fastpak is designed around a race vest structure. Water bottles on the front. Phenomenally comfortable.
  2. Shoes – well, I was planning to wear my trusty Speedcross but my plantar fasciitis is playing up a bit so Hoka’s it is. Not so good on the rocky stuff but much better on the flat terrain and tarmac. 
  3. Sleeping bag vs silk liner – lots of discussion on this topic on the various forums, and many just take a liner and use blankets that may be supplied at the albergues. I feel the cold and am probably going to take my lightweight Marmot bag that went on the MdS with me.
Otherwise, I’ll be taking a spare set of kit, a warmer base layer, a light weight insulation layer and waterproofs plus the usual kind of stuff. Also, the popular John Brierley guidebook and a small notebook as I plan to keep a journal.

As I’ve already stated I’m not planning on staying at particular locations. I have booked flights to St Jean Pied de Port and home from Santiago de Compostela, and an albergue at the start and hotel at the end…..and that’s it. The guidebook lists all accommodations, and I have marked places of particular interest and those accommodations which sound interesting or are recommended, but I won’t be constrained by these.

The aubergues are dormitory-style and range from 4 bed to 100 bed rooms! They cost around 10€/night and will often provide a communal supper and breakfast in the morning. A figure of 30€/day is generally quoted as a daily budget. That doesn’t include ice cream!!

So it's all on track.

I leave 3 weeks tomorrow and I am getting really excited. Just got to keep the old body in one piece!

Friday, April 03, 2015

The Way Ahead – Running the Camino de Santiago

I will be 50 years old at the end of May (the 28th to be exact). I’m not really sure how I can possibly be 50. I am fit & healthy (touch wood) and feel minimal differences to how I felt in my 30’s. However, the birth certificate and my passport confirm the fact, and the mirror reflects a somewhat sagging face, and loosening skin on my tummy.

For a while I have been searching for an appropriate challenge to celebrate my half-century. I though about doing the Pennine Way/The Spine backwards, or a Bob Graham Round but somehow none of the ideas and suggestions felt right.

Several years ago, Jenny and I watched a film called “The Way”, which tells the story of a father who goes to France following the death of his adult son, killed in the Pyrenees during a storm while walking the Camino de Santiago. In a combination of grief and homage to his son, he decides to walk the ancient spiritual trail where his son died, taking his son's ashes with him.

It’s a very moving film. Immediately after watching it, Jenny and I looked at each other and said, “We have to do that one day”.

The Camino de Santiago is the name of the mediaeval pilgrimage route to the shrine of the apostle St James in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain, where tradition has it that the remains of the saint are buried. There are many different routes, but the most well known route is the Frances which runs 500 miles from St Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostela.

Whilst on holiday recently I started thinking about running the Camino for my birthday. The subsequent conversation went something like this:

Jenny: Have you made up your mind what you're doing for your birthday yet?
Richard : I’d like to do the Camino but…..
Jenny: Well, why don’t you do it then?
Richard: OK. Are you sure?
Jenny: Yes
Richard: Are you sure?
Jenny: Yes
Richard: Are you sure?
Jenny: Yes
etc etc

So I’m doing the Camino de Santiago

As already mentioned, it’s just about 500 miles from St Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela. The terrain is varied, beginning with the ascent and descent of the Pyrenees then passing through the undulating meseta (tableland) of the central part of the route between Burgos and León, before entering Galicia. Underfoot, it's paths, trails, ancient tracks and tarmac. Accommodation is generally in the form of albergues and refugios (pilgrim's hostels), and these are usually dormitory-style. You have carry a pilgrim record or credencial in order to gain access to the pilgrim hostels, and get it stamped daily as evidence of your journey to Santiago de Compostela, and therefore receive a compostela/certificate of completion.

On average it take 4-6 weeks to walk. I’m planning on taking 16 days, which work out as 31 miles per day. It’s going to be tough! I will have to carry kit for 2+ weeks including sleeping bag

So why the Camino?

Well, it’s clearly a massive physical and mental challenge just to cover the miles, so as an ultrarunner that definitely ticks the box. In fact it’s rather scary! However, I think my main reason for wanting to do it is spiritual. I will have all day to cover the ground and I fully intend to visit the many cathedrals, churches, and monasteries that line the route, and absorb the pilgrim spirit. It will be time to think and time to reflect.

Flights all booked.

I can’t wait.

If you’re interested, a good site for further information is: