Protein for a Plant-Based Athlete

Any movement requires energy, whether it’s a comet hurtling through the night sky or a human climbing the side of a mountain.

We, humans, get our energy from the food that we consume. Our food provides us not only with the energy we need to perform great physical feats, but also provides us with the nutrients our bodies need to stay healthy and prosper.

Let food be thy medicine.

Hippocrates

I have long espoused a healthy living lifestyle that includes stress-reduction through minimalism and mindfulness; a level of activity compatible with our evolutionary origins; and high quality, natural yet affordable food.

The nutrition plan that I follow could best be described as a Whole-Food-Plant-Based diet. This is mainly a vegan diet with minimal refined or processed foods. My reasons for drifting towards this way of eating are for a variety of reasons which include ethical (I like animals and there is already enough suffering in the world); health (all the reliable research indicates that this is the healthiest way to eat); environmental (such a diet uses a fraction of the resources of eating meat, meaning less deforestation, less polluted rivers and less climate change); and minimalism (while being one of the healthiest ways to eat, it’s also one of the simplest and cheapest).

Such a diet of mainly vegetables, fruits, legumes and wholegrains is a complete source of nutrients. Contrary to popular belief, it is also a plentiful source of protein.

It’s amazing how many people still believe that you can only get protein from animal products or that plants have no protein. In fact, a head of cabbage derives nearly 20% of its calories from protein. One peanut butter sandwich has the same amount of protein as a 3 oz (100 g) steak. As I will show later, the average 77 kg (170 pounds) person needs no more than 60 g of protein per day, whereas a 77 kg endurance athlete needs no more than 110 grams of protein per day. This amount of protein is easily obtained from a simple and varied wholefood plant-based diet.

A diet containing wholewheat, grains, beans, nuts and seeds will provide sufficient good quality protein. It saves you money too, by being about a third cheaper than a diet containing meat-based products.

I am a very active person, into all sorts of endurance activities, needing carbohydrates for energy and protein for building and repairing muscles. My diet has always provided me with enough energy, but I was curious as to what the scientific literature had to say on the matter. 

The US Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is:
0.8 grams per kg of body weight per day.


Weighing in at 77 kg (170 lbs), I could be considered to be at an ideal healthy weight for my height of 183 cm (6 foot), so my baseline protein needs comes in at about:
60 grams of protein per day.

However, as an ultrarunner and long-distance thru-hiker, my protein requirements would put me in the realm of an endurance athlete.

For an endurance athlete, the RDA would increased to:1.2-1.4 g per kilogram of body weight

An endurance athlete, weighing 77 kg (170 lbs) would therefore require:
92-108 grams of protein per day.

Searching through the literature, I found the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the Dietitians of Canada and the American College of Sports Medicine, have similar recommendations for endurance athletes, but push the upper limit of the confidence interval a bit higher 1.2 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, depending on training, which for a 77 kg athlete would be 92-144 grams of protein per day.

Having passionate interest in endurance and endurance athletes, I find it very interesting to study the protein consumption of the best endurance athletes in the world.

According to studies1, the Kenyan elite runners, who have been setting new marathon records for decades, consume 1.3 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, or about 10.1% protein of their total caloric intake, predominantly from plant sources.

What do I do…

My takeaway from all this is if elite professional marathon runners at the top of their game, can set new world records, on a low-protein diet, then my protein needs are really quite modest.

As a recreational endurance athlete, weighing 77 kg, my protein requirements are:

  • 1.3 grams of protein / kg of body weight
  • 11% protein of total caloric consumption
  • 100 grams for a 77 kg endurance athlete

Plenty of Protein in Plants

The protein derived from plant sources is completely sufficient without the need for further supplementation or the consumption of animal-based products. The research is pretty clear on this.  Indeed, a recent article in Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, found that the maximum amount of protein that can be used for muscle building in one sitting, over a four-hour window, is around 20-25 grams. Any extra protein above that amount is oxidized for energy as an expensive glucose or flushed down the toilet. Think of that the next time you’re sitting down to a large steak…

To drive home the point further, this study concluded that a protein intake of more than 1.6 g / kg of body weight provided no further gains to muscle growth.

So in our example of the 77 kg (170 lbs) athlete, a protein intake of more than 123 grams of protein per day provided no further gains to muscle growth.

When more may be better…

The only research that I could find justifying higher protein intake is amongst lean athletes who are severely restricting their caloric intake.

This article concludes that protein needs for energy-restricted resistance-trained athletes are likely 2.3-3.1g/kg of fat free mass scaled upwards with severity of the caloric restriction and the leanness. It should be noted that the protein requirement is based on fat free mass and not total body weight. 

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

Popular articles by proponents of high-protein diets often misrepresent this high-protein recommendation in two ways: firstly, by misclaiming the recommendation as being based on total body mass; and secondly, as a recommendation for the normal population instead of the cohort of already lean athletes who are in severe caloric restriction.

Fat free mass is your weight when you subtract your body fat which reduces the recommendation accordingly.

For example, a 77 kg athlete with 20% body fat would actually have only about 62 kg of fat free mass. The recommendation is based on the 62 kg fat free weight, not the 77 kg total weight.

As an example, a 77 kg athlete, with 20% body fat, who is in severe caloric restriction would likely benefit from a protein intake of 143-192 g / day.

Note again that we are discussing an athlete who is already lean and severely restricting their caloric intake.

As mentioned earlier, this particular athlete, when not restricting their caloric intake, would normally only need 92-108 g of protein per day.

I’m getting the quantity, but what about Quality

Protein is the macronutrient in your body that, amongst other things, builds and repairs muscle tissue. Protein consists of 22 amino acids. Our bodies naturally produce 13 amino acids, but the other nine need to be sourced elsewhere. 

A protein is considered ‘complete’ when it has nine essential amino acids in somewhat equal amounts. Essential amino acids are those that cannot be made by the body and therefore must be consumed from our diet.

Animal sourced proteins are considered complete as they contain all nine amino acids. A plant protein is considered incomplete because any one particular food may not contain all essential amino acids in sufficient quantities. However, by eating a variety of plant foods, the different foods complement each other to give sufficient essential amino acids. It is also very easy to combine two incomplete protein sources to get the nutrients you need.

For example, brown rice has several of the essential amino acids, but not all nine in sufficient quantities. Beans, lentils and chickpeas have the essential amino acids that the brown rice lacks. Simply pairing rice and beans will give you a vegan-friendly meal with complete proteins.

Here are some examples of combining plant-based food to get complete proteins;

  • Whole grain bread and hummus
  • Whole grain toast and Peanut butter
  • Spinach salad with nut and seed toppings
  • Oatmeal with pumpkin seeds or peanut butter
  • Lentil soup with whole grain slice of bread

The complementary proteins do not have to be eaten at the same time. Provided that you combine complementary proteins within about 24 hours, the body will pool the amino acids and combine them when available. For example eating whole grain toast for breakfast and peanut butter for dinner will combine the two incomplete proteins into a complete protein.

By eating a naturally varied diet you don’t really need to give much thought to this process.

Not only is it healthier, It’s cheaper

A study published in the Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition found that eating a plant-based diet is cheaper. The study looked at consuming 2000 calories from the US MyPlate nutrition guidelines and from a plant-based diet. The savings was about $750 a year. For a seven-day meal plan, the US MyPlate diet co.st $53.11 — a cost that would be much higher if you were to choose meat from animals that were free range or antibiotic-free.

Not only is this diet cheaper than eating animal-based products, but it provides more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that are considered essential to any healthy diet. In other words, we end up spending less to eat healthier.

What do Elite Athletes Eat

When discussing nutrition needs and in particular protein needs, it is educational to study the diets of those athletes performing at the top of their respective sports. Athletes follow many different diets, but here I’m going to mention two groups that follow a WFPB diet. If elite athletes can perform at the top of their game on such a diet, then there is no need for anyone consuming animal-based products.

As an ultra-runner, I find the nutrition of two groups of athletes particularly interesting; The Kenyan marathon runners, who are currently setting world records, and the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico, who are considered the best ultrarunners in the world.

Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge sets a new record by running sub- two hour marathon in Vienna. Photograph: Alex Halada/AFP/Getty

Kenyan marathon runners eat a High-Carb, Low-Fat, Low-Protein diet, primarily plant-based, which is approximately 85% carbohydrates, 10% protein, and 5% fat, consisting mainly of: cornmeal porridge; collared greens; beans; and bread.

Another very healthy group, known for their ultra-running athletic prowess are the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico.

In 1992 and 1994, Tarahumara runners won the Leadville 100, an ultramarathon so challenging that less than half of its participants completed the race. The first place winner in 1992 was 52 year old Victoriano Churro. In this group of people, heart disease is almost unheard-of, high blood pressure is non-existent, and their blood levels of total cholesterol and ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL), are extremely low. The Tarahumara Indians of Mexico consume a high carbohydrate, low-fat, low-protein diet consisting of 78% Carbs, 10% protein, 12% Fat, with a daily protein intake of 87 g. The main diet of Tarahumara is corn, beans, vegetables, and fruits.

Both groups consume only about 10% protein, with carbohydrates being the bulk of the diet.

And Finally…

In conclusion, all the reliable research indicates that a Whole-Food Plant-based diet is a healthy diet and even sufficient for elite athletes performing at the top of their game. It is a responsible diet that reduces global warming, animal cruelty, unnecessary pollution and depletion of natural resources.

As top-level athletes can perform so well on a plant-based diet, then such a diet is more than sufficient for the ordinary person in the street.

The choice to consume animal products is not based on health or performance. It is a taste and lifestyle choice that has serious repercussions on one’s own health; the suffering caused to other animals; the destruction of forests for animal feedstock; the pollution of rivers from animal effluent runoff; and an unnecessary contribution to global warming.


References

  1. Food and Macronutrient Intake of Elite Kenyan Distance Runners , By: Onywera, V. O., Kiplamai, F. K., Tuitoek, P. J., Boit, M. K., Pitsiladis, Y. P., International Journal of Sport Nutrition & Exercise Metabolism, 1526484X, Dec2004, Vol. 14, Issue 6

Maamturks Ultra Challenge

The Maamturks Ultra Challenge is an idea that originated during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown, as a way to extend the traditional Maamturks Challenge into a loop circuit that avoids carpooling.

Although originally conceived as a logistical convenience, the route showcases the best trails in Connemara and creates probably the toughest hiking challenge in the country.

It is about 55 km with 3000 metres of ascent that follows the scenic Western Way before tackling the traditional Maamturks route which itself already has reputation of being one of the toughest hiking challenges in the country. This extended version adds an extra 30 km of waymarked trail to the traditional challenge. The extra hardship is compensated for by vistas of a beautiful scenic trail along the Western Way.

The Maamturks Ultra Challenge starts and finishes at Leenane Hotel in the village of Leenaun. The route follows the Western Way for 30 km to the start of the traditional Maamturks Challenge and then follows the route of the Maamturks Challenge back to Leeanne Hotel.

A route of the challenge can be viewed from the following Viewranger website. A GPX of the route can also be exported and imported into the GPS device of your choice.

Redemption on the Lug

The pharmacist told me that I have a subconjunctival hemorrhage and insists on taking my blood pressure. Two days earlier, I had completed Ireland’s toughest hiking challenge, the lug challenge.

The Lug challenge is a self-navigated biennial event that spans 18 mountain tops, covers 53 km and climbs over 2300 metres. The event takes place across open mountain terrain which includes marsh and bog. A tough event made much tougher from a night of relentless rain that made the underfoot conditions the worst in at least fourteen years.

But the story begins three days before this event, on Wednesday, when I prepare my strategy to aim for a podium finish. I have chased after a top-place finish in the Lug for four years. In the last one, I finished seventh. But this year, I felt a a podium finish was achievable, to finish in the top three, a symbolic outcome, an overcoming, and it was either now or never. This time I had the appetite and the mental fortitude to push my mind and body to its limits.

I started my preparation scientifically, by switching to a very high carbohydrate diet.

This is called carbo-loading where you load your muscles and liver with a fuel called glycogen. So for three days, I ate pasta and Spaghetti for breakfast, lunch and dinner. By Friday night I had gained two kilograms in body weight. This weight isn’t all fuel, as each gram of glycogen binds to about 3 grams of water. Although this extra weight gain could be viewed as an unnecessary burden, it provided an efficient source of energy and the weight penalty could be mitigated by carrying less food and water.

On Saturday morning, a Three O’Clock alarm has me awake and on a bus by Four AM, along with another hundred participants.

Waiting for the bus that will drop us at the start

The bus drops us off on the side of a desolate road in the Dublin Mountains, in rain and heavy mist. At 5:15 AM, I commence my third lug challenge.

I have already completed two lug challenges and after each one, have said I would never do it again. But here I am, again.

It is two hours to the next control station and already my feet are soaked through. This time I am wearing non-waterproof trail shoes. The problem with waterproof shoes is that when water gets in, and it will get in, it stays in. Half an hour into the challenge, both of my feet are soaking wet.

My strategy for a good time is to reduce the weight that I carry including the clothes that I wear. But for such a strategy to work requires a sufficient exothermic reaction to produce enough heat to avoid hypothermia. In other words, I must maintain a fast pace to avoid getting too cold. Especially with wet feet accelerating the heat loss.

Some people have already made their own way to the start line and have a fifteen minute head start on me.

I start out easy, passing participants along the way, making my way through two hours of bog, white-out and rain, until I make it to the first control station at the Sally Gap. I catch up with the group of five that had started earlier. After inquiring at the control station, I learn that there are two fast runners in front of this group which puts me in eight position. Motivated now, I feel confident that I can improve on this position, so I push on though taking myself into third position. I’m concerned that I may be pushing my pace too early and burn out like I did in the 2017 challenge or make a hasty navigational decision that will cause me to lose ground.

As I traverse from the Sally Gap towards Gravala, I lose the faint track taking me onto uneven ground which severely hampers my pace. I am now moving very slowly but burning a lot of energy and fatiguing for no benefit.

Unlike a road event, such as a Marathon, where the surface is constant irrespective of weather conditions, an off-road event is determined mainly by the terrain and underfoot conditions. The difference in effort between wet boggy conditions and a dry bog can be as much as double the energy requirement and hence double the potential time to completion. Achievement in such events is normally considered in terms of finishing positions rather than comparing absolute times to previous events.

I stop to check my map and realised that I have veered too far right into very uneven and steep ground, which slows me down considerably.

I try to maintain my pace but now my heart is going into its anaerobic zone, the place where you run into oxygen debt. This would be unsustainable and quickly result in burn out. But my dilemma is that if I slow down too much and lose my position after having fought so hard for it then I will mentally throw in the towel.

Events like this are at least 80% mental and 20% physical. Any mental doubt now will feed on itself and only increase over the next eight hours. But I know that over the next hill, the gradient flattens and there is some downhill.

I gamble by pushing my body into oxygen debt to get out of this slough of despondency, with the hope that I can recover on the next downward section.

The gamble pays off. I’ve only lost about fifteen minutes, and I can now bring my heart rate back out of the red zone to a sustainable level. I think I’m still ahead. I can hear voices in the distance but can’t tell whether there are in front of me or behind. I haven’t drank any water for three hours now but I don’t want to stop and so I push on again. I reckon there must have been about a litre and a half of water in my body from carbo-loading. When I arrive at the third control station, I learn that I’m still in third position.

Encouraged, I push on quickly, but, as it turns out, a little too hastily. I quickly pick up the correct track from Mullaghcleevaun, but in my haste, I veer too far right and then over-correct by veering too far left. After stopping multiple times to check my map, I realise this navigational error has cost me another fifteen minutes.

I now hear voices parallel to me and see the group I had overtaken two hours earlier ahead of me. I’m about to enter the pain cave.

The pain Cave is the mental fatigue you feel when your already tired and realise the distance still in front of you.

I have needlessly lost half an hour in navigational errors due to too much haste. My heart sinks, I have gone from third position to eight position. I start following the group but it takes me some time to catch them. My heart rate has now gone into the anaerobic zone again, which is not sustainable.

This is my low point. I abandon the idea of finishing in third place. Another dream gone as my hopes have flown before. I am now deep in the pain Cave.

As I catch the group, I tag along at their pace and my heart rate begins to settle back down into the upper limits of my aerobic range – a range that I could sustain for the distance. Buoyed by the comfort that I can at least keep their pace and still finish in the top ten, I start assessing the group. I can see that the three people towards the end of the group are outside their comfort limits and won’t maintain this pace for the full course. I overtake them which puts me in fifth position of a very close group. I’m still not sure if my assessment is correct so I decided to test it by pushing the pace for a while. I proceed to the front of the group, where I regain third position, and then start pushing the pace.

To get someone to chase you, you need to increase the pace very subtly, almost imperceptibly. Then continue gradually increasing it very, very slowly.

My tactic works, the two leaders give chase, the last three people in the group now realise they can’t keep up and slow down considerably splitting the group. I can’t maintain this pace so I gradually drop back from third position to fifth position where I just draft behind the two leaders and get my heart rate back down to a sustainable level. From the top of Toneaglee, I realise this is my last opportunity to consolidate my position.

I need to act now and make it clear that I’m taking a decisive lead. So I push ahead again, into third place and start opening a gap, leaving no misunderstanding that I’m determined to take third position.

Events like the Lug Challenge are not just about speed, but also navigation, tactics and an overall strategy.

With equally matched participants, it can be like a chess game

I keep the pace and hit the next control station, the Wicklow Gap, in third position. This is the second control station for me to hit in third position.

I made another navigational error after Lough Ferrib, but I’m confident that I have a good chance of holding onto third position.

Even though my feet are soaked, I’m traipsing through water and bog, I feel very little pain and I’m feeling great. Actually feeling on a real high.

Runners would call this the Runner’s High.

The Runner’s High used to be credited to a brain chemical called Endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers, similar to morphine. But more recent research from the University of Heidelberg suggests that another chemical, endocannabinoids, having a similar effect to cannabis, is the main contributor to this high. The research is showing that continuous rhythmically exercise for at least two hours at moderate intensity, such as the lug challenge, produces this state.

I’m feeling good now and totally in the flow.

The last major climb is to Lugnaquilla and I now push on at a steady pace. At Lugnaquilla, I’m still in third position, but there is still another 6 km to the finish line, so I keep the pressure on. My leg muscles are pulling all the oxygen out of my blood system, leaving me lightheaded. I imagine that there are others behind me, hot on my trail. I can feel my heart pumping like it’s expanding to fill my ribcage, the blood pounding through the back of my head. As I descend from Lugnaquilla, the vision in my left eye starts to blur.

Eventually I reach the finish line.

I have now reached the finish line in 10 hours and 30 minutes, an excellent time considering the underfoot conditions, placing me clearly in third position.

This is a podium finish, finishing in the top three. The event has left me elated.

My mind has triumphed over the body and I feel a great sense of elation, like I’ve conquered something, something deep within my being.

Two days later, being concerned about by bloodshot left eye, a subconjunctival hemorrhage, I visit the local pharmacist. He takes my blood pressure which is normal and concludes that the most likely cause for this type of condition was the elevated heart rate for an extended period of time.

The event has taught me several lessons and has reaffirmed my Stoic philosophy. Not the least of which is finding strength and support from deep within one’s innate self. Working hard at what’s within your control, refusing to worry about what’s outside your control and the wisdom to know the difference.


The Irish Munros

A Munro is defined as a mountain peak over 914 metres (3,000 feet). Ireland has 13 such mountain peeks.

These peaks get their name from Hugh Munro, who in 1891 published a list of all the Scottish peaks above this height.

Strictly speaking a Munro outside Scotland is called a Furth. Other names include three-thousanders.  Whatever name is used, they all refer to the same thing, a mountain peak with an elevation of at least 3,000 feet (914 metres). An Irish Munro also requires a topographcal prominence of at least 15 metres.

In Ireland there are 13 such Munros, ranging from the highest, Carrauntoohil, at 1039 metres to our lowest Munro, Galtymore, at 919 metres.


The full list of Irish Munros are shown below.

No.NameRangeIG RefHeight (Metres)Prominence (Metres)
1Carrauntoohil MacGillycuddy's ReeksV8038441039 1039
2Beenkeragh MacGillycuddy's ReeksV801853
101091
3Caher (East Top)MacGillycuddy's ReeksV792839
1001100
4Cnoc na Péiste MacGillycuddy's ReeksV836842
988254
5Caher (West Top) MacGillycuddy's ReeksV78984097524
6Maolán Bui MacGillycuddy's ReeksV83283897341
7The Bones / Carrauntoohil Tooth MacGillycuddy's ReeksV80084795937
8Cnoc an Chuillin MacGillycuddy's ReeksV82383395854
9Brandon Mtn Brandon GroupQ460115952927
10The Big Gun MacGillycuddy's ReeksV84084593970
11Cruach MhórMacGillycuddy's ReeksV841848
93232
12Lugnaquillia Dublin.WicklowT032917925849
13Galtymore Galty MountainsR878237919899
Note: Some sources include Cnoc an Chuillin East Top, at 926 metres, IG V828834, as a Munro, giving a total of 14 Irish Munros.
However, it's prominence is not sufficient to be listed by The Scottish Mountaineering Club.

Logistics of climbing all the Irish Munros in a Weekend


The following itinerary, courtesy of Dublin Free Hiking, is an efficient way to complete the Irish Munros, by starting in the east of the country at Lugnaquilla and finishing on the west coast at Mount Brandon. Climbing all the Irish Munros will require about 370 km of driving between the various trailheads.

Day 1

Starting from Fenton’s Pub (Irish Grid Reference: S 973 935 or GPS: N52.984,W6.552), the most easterly Irish Munro can be bag, followed by 170 km drive to the Galtymore trailhead (IGR: R 893 203 or GPS: N52.335,W8.1575), near the village of Skeheenaranky, to climb the Galtymore peak.

No.NameRangeIG RefHeight (Metres)Prominence (Metres)
1Lugnaquillia Dublin.WicklowT032917925849
2Galtymore Galty MountainsR878237919899

Day 2

The next trailhead is at Cronin’s yard, which is a 130 km drive from the Galtymore trailhead. Starting from Cronin’s Yard Car Park (IGR: Q 476 118 or GPS: N52.02584,W9.69658). From here ten of the Irish Munros can be bagged by following the Hags Glen Circuit with one diversion to include Caher East and West Top.

No.NameRangeIG RefHeight (Metres)Prominence (Metres)
1Cruach MhórMacGillycuddy's ReeksV841848
93232
2The Big Gun MacGillycuddy's ReeksV84084593970
3Cnoc na Péiste MacGillycuddy's ReeksV836842
988254
4Maolán Bui MacGillycuddy's ReeksV83283897341
5Cnoc an Chuillin MacGillycuddy's ReeksV82383395854
6Caher (East Top)MacGillycuddy's ReeksV792839
1001100
7Caher (West Top) MacGillycuddy's ReeksV78984097524
8Carrauntoohil MacGillycuddy's ReeksV8038441039 1039
9The Bones / Carrauntoohil Tooth MacGillycuddy's ReeksV80084795937
10Beenkeragh MacGillycuddy's ReeksV801853
101091

Day 3

Finally, a 70 km drive gets you to the last trailhead, Faha Carpark (IGR: Q 493 1201 or GPS: N52.2395,W10.206).

No.NameRangeIG RefHeight (Metres)Prominence (Metres)
1Brandon Mtn Brandon GroupQ460115952927

When climbing the Irish Munros as part of a timed event, the clock starts at the first trailhead and stops at the trailhead after the final peak. 

For example, if you were following the above itinerary, timing would start at the Fenton’s pub trailhead, before climbing Lugnaquilla, and finish at the Faha Carpark, after descending mount Brandon.

In Conclusion

Whether you want to call it the Irish Munros, the Irish Furths or the Three-Thousand Series, if you climb the peaks listed above you will have completed the highest Irish peaks above 914 metres with a prominence of at least 15 metres.

The Lug Walk 2019

The Lug Walk is a long distance linear traverse of the Dublin and Wicklow mountains, taking in more than 18 summits, while covering 51 km with 2400 meters of ascent. It is the toughest challenge in the Irish Hiking Calendar.

.

The walk, over open mountain terrain, starts at Stone Cross, near Bohernabreena in the Dublin mountains, and finishes, between 10 and 16 hours later, at Seskin in the Glen of Imaal.

The toughest challenge in the Irish Hiking Calendar

Walk Johnny Walk

This is undoubtedly the toughest challenge in the Irish Hiking Calendar. It’s not just the early 5:00 AM start, or the 51 km distance that you walk on the day. It’s not the fact that you climb 2400 metres taking in the highest highest eighteen peaks in the Dublin and Wicklow mountains. It’s all of these, but then add in bog, and then more bog. Instead of getting the normal foot bounce from solid ground which each footfall, you’ll be engaging extra muscles to pull that foot back out. If it’s a typical lug start, then you can expect to be blessed with the famous kippure micro-climate of horizontal rain. Don’t expect to have any dry garb by the time you arrive at the Wicklow Gap. So why do it? That’s a good question.

The walk is organised every two years by the Irish Ramblers Club. Two years seems to be the amount of time necessary to forget how hard it is. I have done this challenge twice and each time I’ve said never again, but here I am preparing for it a third time.

The walk itself dates back to 1964 when it was first organised by the Irish Mountaineering Club and was known as the Arnott-Russell Mountain Endurance Test.

Now, if by any chance 51 km is not enough of a challenge for you, then you could always consider the tougher 85 km Lug Endurance Challenge.

Camino Primitivo – Completo

Midway upon the journey of my life I found myself within a forest dark, For the straightforward pathway had been lost

DANTE, THE DIVINE COMEDY.

After a hard push through the last few days, I’ve just finished the Primitivo.
The Camino has a special significance over long-distance walks in that it has a long tradition of Pilgrimage. People often walk pilgrimages expecting a road to Damascus conversion but that seldom happens and when it does it’s usually short-lived or superficial. Finding real meaning is a process that can take a lifetime. Walking is a good way to reconnect with nature and by extension with oneself.

Walking is the perfect pursuit because it’s so accessible to so many; it has low impact (both to the body and the planet); it’s cheap; and it’s great for your mental health. It doesn’t even require trips to exotic locations. Some of the best walking can be done from your own front door.

People often travel to far flung places to escape from themselves, but the fact is that wherever you go, there you are.

They change the sky, not their soul, who run across the sea.

Horace, Roman Poet

Yourself always turns up no matter how far you travel. Walking in nature surrounded by mountains and forest is the best type of walking, as it allows you to connect outside yourself with nature and reconnect with your unique innate self.
If the mountains and forest are not accessible to you, then becoming an “urban hiker” around your own city is beneficial too.

Our minds travel when our bodies are forced to stay at home.

Ralph Waldo Emerson 

So where to next is the question. As a minimalist and non-materialist, I have come to value experiences over possessions. But now I have to ask myself, am I trading one of societies old addictions for one of societies new addictions and at what cost. Are experiences becoming the new possessions at the cost of making real connections.

Instead of an addiction to status and possessions, we are addicted to experience and novelty. And the end result is the same. Our relationships, our connections to what’s real, sometimes suffer.

Mark Manson

For the moment, I want to explore my own country more.

My next overseas trip will probably be to the Kom-Emine, a 720 km high altitude route, in Bulgaria. This is much wilder and more isolated trek than doing a Camino route.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog! Happy Travels!

Primitivo – Day 06 – Grandes de Salime

After yesterday’s breath-taking walk, today’s walk was a bit more mediocre with mainly road-walking around the Salime hyrdo Station.



Since I have started this walk, I have stayed in the municipal Albergues for €5 / night. Tonight the Albergue is €6 / night.

These Albergues are great value containing all the facilities that you might need, such as warm showers, full kitchen facilities. There is also a choice if private Albergues which cost between €10 and €12 which offer more such as free WiFi and so forth.

As an extreme outdoor person, I have hiked in the wildernesses for weeks without a shower, so having a shower every day is beginning to feel decant, but still nice.

My pilgrims credencia is filling up with a history of where I’ve been with many blank spaces for where I will be going. Life is a blank book with each new chapter waiting to be written.

Primitivo – Day 05, via Hospitales

The route from Borres to Berducedo, via Pico Hospital, is a stunning route. Starting sr 7:30 there was no let up in the awesome beauty of the landscape.

The route quickly climbs to an elevation of 1200 metres giving exceptional vistas of the local mountains and the Pico de Europa in the distant.

Farm animals relaxing the sun along tge way.

A few cows blocking the path.

Mainly open mountains but also beautiful forests.

This is spectacular landscape. Definitely the best Camino for landscape.

Primitivo – Day 04 – Borres

Today has become a rest day with only 15 km walked. There is very little in Borres except one very basic Albergue and a small bar.

A folk singer and songwriter from Forth Worth, Texas kept us entertained with very good music.

One beer, became two, which became cider which became wine.

Well it is Sunday so it’s probably proper to treat it as a day of relaxation and feasting.

Despite being around lots of people, I’m beginning to feel somewhat lonely now. I just have this feeling of melancholy and sadness about goals that have fallen by the wayside and people who are no longer part of my life.

Long-distance walking can be brutal in forcing you to think about things you would rather forget. It’s a time you come face to face with your own vulnerability and mortality. It’s a time to consider what it’s like to be truly alone in the world.

Long-distance walking can be like this, where without the daily diet of distraction, you have the time to experience these waves of emotions from euphoria to sadness.

Well tomorrow is another day. By all accounts, the harder variant though hospitales tomorrow is the best section of the whole Camino Primitivo. We shall see…

Camino Primitivo – Day 03 – Tineo

This is undoubtedly the best Camino that I have walked.

Picos de Europa

I make this comparison with the two Caminos which I have already done — the Camino Frances in 2013 and the Camino Norte in 2017. It is certainly more strenuous, but well worth the effort.

The whole lush green alpine vista is breathing-taking. If it’s possible to fall in love with a place, then this has to be the place.

Most of today has been spent walking in the shadow of the majestic Picos de Europa – the main mountain range in the north western part of Spain. I am very tempted to return here alone with a tent and spend a few weeks traversing and camping in these fine mountains with only the sound of nature.

On walks like this, there is a real letting go of what is wrong with the world today and just doing something so simple that dates back to our distant ancestors.

Tonight, I’m staying in another Municipal Albergue for €5 / night.

On this caminio, I have met ten Spanish, four French, three Americans, two Canadian, one Swede, one German and one Israeli. The Camino has a very cosmopolitan feel to it.

My pilgrim’s credencia is expanding with good memories.

Live is too short for one not to appreciate the wonder in it all. We spend too many hours running around taking ourselves much too seriously, when we should just be letting go and living the one life that we’ve got.

“Buen Camino” means “Good Journey” which can also be taken metaphorically.

Buen Camino!