Running The Camino De Santiago

What is the Camino

The Camino Frances is a 790 km pilgrimage route from St. Jean Pied de Port (a small town in the French Basque Country) to Santiago de Compostela. It’s the most popular route of the Camino de Santiago network and is walked by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims every year. 

The Camino starts in France, crossing the Pyrenees mountain range into Spain. It crosses four autonomous Spanish communities and seven provinces: Navarra, La Rioja, Castilla y León (Burgos, Palencia, León), and Galicia (Lugo, La Coruña). There are 141 towns providing a serviced town (at least one bar or grocery store) every 6 km. 

Accommodation is facilitated by 270 hostels for pilgrims, of which 102 are publicly owned (by an administration, religious community or association) and 170 are privately owned. There are also plenty of pensions, rural houses, hostels and hotels. In warm weather there’s the possibility to sleep outside under the stars.

This infrastructure of shops and beds, make it ideal as a long distance running route, where the towns can serve as aid stations for food, water and sleep.

The longest distances without services are: 

  • from Carrión de los Condes to Calzadilla de la Cueza (17 km);
  • from the Orisson refuge to Roncesvalles (17 km), 
  • from Villamayor de Monjardín to Los Arcos (13 km); and 
  • from Villafranca Montes de Oca to San Juan de Ortega (12 km). 

Most pilgrims walk the Camino in 33 days, called stages, which averages about 24 km / day. This allows time to explore the local culture and build friendships along the way. It is always nice to see a familiar face for a communal meal at the end of the day, even if you spend the day on your own.

Why I Want to Run The Camino

I walked the Camino Frances eleven years ago and had a great experience culturally and spiritually. By travelling light in an unstructured manner, one gets a great sense of freedom. I had always wanted to go back and do it again, but this time I wanted to incorporate my enjoyment of running into it.

The last time I walked the Camino, I followed the John Brierley guidebook. A guidebook is not essential but useful for a greater appreciation of the culture and history and serving as a stage planner which brings together other pilgrims following the same guidebook. Following the recommended stages allows you to get to know other pilgrims finishing the same stages each day. 

My plan is to do the daily stages just as I had walked them, but running them instead. Not necessarily running each stage continuously, but punctuating it with stops for breakfast, lunch, photo opportunities and visits to local attractions. So it won’t be a case of running, say 24 km to the next destination, but more like: running five kilometres, then having breakfast; running another five, then visiting a cultural monument; and then maybe after another ten km having lunch. In other words, I’ll stop when I feel like it. The only real rule is that when I’m moving, I’m running. 

It’s not a race, but a way to embrace the spirit of the Camino while also incorporating my love of running.

Running The Camino

The Camino could be considered like a self-supported multi-stage ultra event, running about a half marathon every day. “Self-supported” means availing of any support that is equally available to everyone, such as an albergue or a shop for food, but while still carrying everything that you need.

This is similar to a self-supported FKT (Fastest Known Time) event, except it’s not about being the fastest, but rather about doing it as enjoyable, easy running that is slow enough to allow for reflection. 

What Is Fastpacking?

Fastpacking is a fusion of trail running and ultralight backpacking. It is moving at a pace that is normally faster than walking, which is usually at a gradient adjusted speed that’s faster than 7.9 km/hr (7:36 min/km).

A fastpacker normally moves at a gradient adjusted speed that is faster than 7.9 km/hr (7:36 min/km)

Normally, fastpackers hike the uphill sections while running the flats and downhill sections. In order to move quickly, fastpackers carry a light pack with essential supplies, including a sleeping bag and a lightweight shelter if accomodation such as a mountain refugio or albergue is not available. The lightweight shelter could be a tarp or bivvy. The weight carried will be no more than 7 kg, though some fastpackers achieve a weight of less than 4.5 kg.

A Fastpacker carries no more than 7 kg of base weight.

On a recent unsupported overnight camping trip, my base weight was less than 6 kg. Base weight is the weight without consumables, such as water, food and fuel.

An unsupported trip is one where you are self-sufficent, making no use of outside assistance.

Traveling light allows one to explore more places and stay overnight when you find a place that you like. For example, here is a fastpacking trip that I did recently, where I watched the sunset from a local summit, slept under the stars, awoken up to a sunrise, and then continued my run the next day.

Here is minimalist packing list.

When Walking Becomes Running

Is there a magic point where a brisk walk turns into a light jog. I think such information would be interesting when you’re trying to classify an activity as either a run or a walk.

In fact this question has been studied to determine the point at which it feels easier and uses less energy to run, rather than walk.

According to this study, runners find it easier to run, rather than walk, when they are moving faster than 7.42 km/hr. However, from an actual energy efficiency perspective, the transition point increases to 7.9 km/h before running becomes more efficient than walking

So there it is, 

If you’re moving slower than a pace of 7:36 min/km, then you are walking, not running.

If you’re moving slower than a pace of 7:36 min/km, then you are walking, not running.

That is all very fine when one is moving on a flat course.

However, running or walking in the mountains is another story. So to find an equivalent transition pace, I borrow the notion of km-effort from the International Trail Running Association (ITRA) to calculate an equivalent race.

They measure distance as a combination of distance and vertical gain to calculate an equivalent distance, as follows:

km-effort = distance (km) + ascent (m) / 100.

km-effort = distance (km) + ascent (m) / 100.

For example, a popular Irish mountain race, the Wicklow Way Ultra, is 127 km with 4400m of ascent with a cutoff time of 21 hours for the slowest runners.

Now 127 km with 4400m ascent would be the equivalent of 171 km-effort, giving a flat pace of 7:22/km, which is only 14s/km faster than what would be considered walking.

So there you have it, the transition point where walking becomes running is a pace of 7:36 min/km, and remember if you are in the mountains, use km-effort to calculate the pace instead.


Thru-hiking Cost

How much does it cost to walk long distances in Europe.

€26 – The daily cost of Thru-hiking in Europe

Well it depends a lot on where you walk. Doing a thru-hike through Scandinavia will cost a lot more than a similar one through Romania.
However, it is useful to have some kind of a yardstick when deciding where to hike and for how long.

Comparing Apples to Apples

To make a good comparison between different trails and to be able to adjust for the duration of the walk it is necessary to compare the on-trail costs while excluding once-off costs, such gear and the costs of travelling to the trail.

Once you have invested in hiking equipment it will serve its purpose on multiple trips so this cost can be excluded.

The next consideration is the cost of getting to and from the trailhead. This depends a lot on where you are coming from and what deals you can find.

Once-off trail costs such as these will cost the same whether you walk for two days or two months and so it doesn’t make sense to factor these costs into the daily on-trail costs for comparison purposes.

This leaves us with the magic figure which is the on-trail costs.

The On-Trail cost

I begin counting my On-Trail costs from the first morning of the walk, usually starting with breakfast, and continue counting up until I finish the hike on the last day. I include the meal of the last day but not accommodation.

The costs of getting to and from the trailhead with possible accommodation at the start and end are not included in the On-Trail costs, but are included in the transport costs.

The On-Trail costs includes all trail costs while walking the trail such as accommodation, food, drink, medical supplies, tours, etc.
A good ballpark figure for a fit and reasonably frugal individual thru-hiking in Southern or Eastern Europe would be around € 26 per day. Assuming an average distance of 30 km per day, this works out at €0.87 per km.

€26 / day or € 0.87 / km to Thru-hike Europe

I have extrapolated these figures from the Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA), which seem to fit in with my experiences of walking in Southern and Eastern Europe.

Pacific Crest Trail Costs

According to the PCTA, the average PCT thru-hiker will take between 4.5 and 5.5 months to walk the 2,659 mile PCT, while spending between $4000-$8000+. Applying these stats to the average fit and thrifty hiker, the PCT could be a be walked in 4.5 months for a cost of $4000. So on a daily basis, this thru-hiker would walk an average of 19 miles per day while spending $29 per day.

Spain and the Frugal Dutch Man

Based on my long-distance hikes in Spain, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, I think this cost could be much improved on. I have hiked a month-long section of the GR7 in Valencia, Spain, at a cost of  €19.67 / day.

While walking the Camino Norte, in 2015, I met a Dutch man who had been walking for three months, from his home in Utrecht, Holland to Santander, Spain for about €17 / day. The Dutch have a reputation for being very wise with their money. But this man’s frugality was quite impressive considering that he had spent two months walking through France, which is much more expensive than Spain.

What does Hypothermia feel like

It’s a warm day, not a cloud in the sky. It’s the month of March on a isolated mountain in Ireland and the weather has been uncharacteristically warm for this time of the year. There is so much heat from the sun that you leave you warm clothes behind and don’t bring any food with you. It’s a warm day you’ll be up and down in no time.
After a four hour trek up to one of the summits, you spot a rocky outcrop that you decide will be a fun scramble. The is a beautiful scramble, just one little crux that you need to get across. A quick jump on to protruding foothold and you extend your hand to grab a very obvious handhold. As you switch balance and reach, the foothold snaps. The next thing you realise is that you are falling. You manage to land on your feet when you hear a snap. You try to stand up but pain shoots through your right ankle.
You are now immobilised alone on the top of a mountain. You sit on a rock berating yourself for being so stupid.
Sitting there you notice that it’s actually quite cold when you’re not moving. Searching through your small backpack for anything, you find nothing but your phone and a small bottle of Rum.
Hypothermia occurs when the body is unable to maintain normal temperatures because of exposure to cold. The body’s normal core temperature is between 36.5°C and 37.5°C.
Hyperthermia affects Hikers and armies alike.
The classical piece by Tchaikovsky, the 1812 Overture, commemorates the successful Russian defence against Napoleon’s invading army.

Hypothermia aided the destruction of the invading army by causing confusion, lost of consciousness and death. Others just fell to their knees and eventually died where they knelt.
As hikers, we may not be braving the severe Russian winters, but we are equally at risk of hypothermia. We are particularly at risk when temperatures are around freezing. Even in warmer temperature we can still be at risk. Simply being immobile on a mountain ridge at 10 °C in a storm can kill you. Windchill makes it worse by moving the warm air next to your skin away. Wet makes it worse. Water evaporates and cools. It also reduces the effectiveness of insulation. The combination is deadly. Skinny people are more susceptible than overweight people.
Not sure what to do, feeling the pain of the broken ankle, hoping someone will pass by, you decide to warm up by taking a couple swigs of rum. You now feel much warmer and more relaxed.
However, alcohol consumption increases the risk of hypothermia by increasing blood flow to the skin, resulting in heat being lost to the environment. This produces the effect of you feeling warm, when you are actually losing heat. Alcohol can also decrease the body’s ability to shiver and use energy that would normally aid the body in generating heat. The overall effects of alcohol leads to a decrease in body temperature and a decreased ability to generate body heat in response to cold environments.
The earliest stages, called mild hypothermia, are characterized by such things as a loss of coordination and changes in personality.
As the sun drops behind a far away peak, the temperatures plummets to around 7°C. You are feeling very cold and you’re core body temperature now drops below 34 °C, you now start to shiver. At this point, you still have the presence of mind to do things like make a phone call. You can temporarily stop the shivering to retrieve the phone and dial a number. But there is no reception, there are no network antennas in close proximity to even allow an emergency call.
As your temperature continues to fall below 34 °C, the shivering becomes uncontrollable.
The evening progress and you feel the cold. As you core body temperature falls to 32 °C, you are now having irrational thoughts, sluggish thinking, amnesia, and difficulty speaking. You know you are in a perilous situation, but you are feeling surprisingly calm. You have no real dread or any real pain or distress. Without that fear of death, the drive to take care of oneself is lost. At this point you know you should be doing something to save yourself but you can’t really be bothered.
As your body temperature drops below 32 °C,  you stop shivering. Now you feel really confused and start behaving more irrationally.
Once  shivering ceases you are in a life threatening situation and will very likely die if you do not get help.
Parts of your body will start to shut down, sending messages to the brain telling it that these areas are fine. Your brain doesn’t care anymore or simply doesn’t know that it’s cold.
You start to experience a behaviour called paradoxical undressing. You become disoriented, confused, and combative. You feel like your skin is too hot and burning and so start discarding your clothing, which, in turn, increases your rate of heat loss.
In severe hypothermia you can be quite serene, not frightened, or not even really alarmed. You know you are in trouble, but you have resigned yourself to it and are pretty calm.
You have been sitting here immobilised for several hours now while staring at a clear dark sky and the ambient temperature has now fallen to freezing.
Suddenly you hear a voice. Yes, it’s your friend, he’s calling. At last, and unbelievably, his hut is just 50 metres away hidden behind a boulder. Your friend helps you up and you now see his house, which is fully lit up. Opening the door, you are welcomed by a blazing open fire, your friend lays you down on a thick soft rug in front of the open fire. You begin to warm up and feel a great sense of relief and gratitude that the ordeal is over. The hut is beautifully decorated inside. Your friend is preparing a pasta dish and there is an opened bottle of red wine on the table. This was some ordeal but you sure will have some story to tell tomorrow. In the meantime you will need to get your ankle seen to and will have to make you way from your friends hut to your home. But those things can be taken care of tomorrow. Tonight, you are getting heat back into your body and are about to feast on a meal with wine.
The flames from the fire dance around the wood and then start changing form, the flames darken and get smaller, the interior of the hut starts to vanish. You call to your friend to ask what’s happening, suddenly you are alone staring at an empty sky.
With restricted blood flow to the brain, you have started to hallucinate. Your friend, the hut, the meal, the wine were only a illusions. You now become consumed with a sense of despondency of dying alone on the side of a mountain. Tears roll down your cheeks.
The despondency lasts for a while and then is replaced with a calm acceptance of your fate.
With your core body temperature below 29 °C,  you become unconscious. As the brain cools down, you experience a gradual decrease in your level of consciousness until you slip into a coma. After that, all of your metabolic processes start to slow down. As your body temperature drops below 26 °C, your heartbeat will become irregular and eventually stop. The moment of death will likely be silent and relatively painless.
A person dying from hypothermia will get into sort of a dreamlike state, drifting in and out of consciousness, and they may have visions of random things, possibly in a state of bliss. Dying from hypothermia is often perceived as a slow and painful death. It may be slow but by all accounts it’s not as painful as people believe.
The next day a walker finds your dead body and your death becomes another lesson and another statistic on how to dress for the outdoors.

This hypothetical account of hypothermia is based on my own experiences of mild hypothermia together with the research that I have done into the matter.