Siobhán is a Chartered Physiotherapist and former Irish International Athlete. She was Head Physiotherapist to BLE/Athletics Ireland for more than 20 years and worked with athletes and teams at Olympic Games, European and World Track and Field and Cross-Country Championships and many other events.
Siobhán has been on the Camino with UWalk, and she shares her advice on how to prepare for a walking holiday. Here’s what Siobhán suggests:
“Tús maith leath na h-oibre!” (a good start is half the work!)
Siobhán Treacy, MISCP & FSOM, Walkwell Clinic, Kells, Co Meath
Walking is a pleasure for so many and there can be few greater pleasures than walking a stretch of the Camino or indeed any of the great walking holidays available through www.uwalk.ie . The experience is suitable for all ages and fitness levels, but preparation is essential to enjoy the adventure fully.
Set achievable targets to begin
A reasonable level of fitness is required to enable you to enjoy the experience fully and increasing your fitness levels prior to the experience is very advisable. In the weeks and months prior to taking on the adventure it is recommended that you walk 3-4 times per week and gradually increasing the distance. With a comfortable pace most reasonably fit people can cover an average of 5k (3 miles) an hour, depending on terrain. Your exercise background will determine the distance or indeed even the pace at which you start.
By increasing the distance and pace covered you should work towards increasing to a level of 6-8 miles (10-14km) in a single outing. Again, your fitness level when you start the programme will determine your starting point and your rate of progress. The sooner you start the sooner you will reach your fitness goals. As you get closer to the deadline aim for a regular much longer walk, maybe at weekends, so you have some experience of tackling some of the distances you may wish to achieve when the big day comes.
It is also recommended that you try to do some walks on terrain like what you may experience during your trip. Hills, rough surfaces, level ground
Footwear required for walking the Camino is based on the terrain you are likely to encounter on your adventure. It may vary from good supportive trainers to walking/hiking boots where ankle support is important. The last thing you want is a twisted ankle soon after you start!
If you are planning on using walking boots it would be advisable to get them at least 3 months before you travel so you can break them in. Remember get them fitted professionally and not too snug in the toe area. When you walk down hills your toes will slide forward in the boots and can damage toenails leading to discomfort and could prevent you achieving your daily goals or worse still prevent you completing you target trip. It is recommended that you get ½ size bigger than your normal size.
Invest in several pairs of good socks’ and if possible, buy socks that give good support and avoid seams or stitching around the toe areas. When you take your breaks, it would be a good idea, subject of course to social acceptability to remove socks and boots to allow both your feet and footwear to breath. A change of socks at this time would be advisable.
Post daily walk
When you have completed your daily walk, it is advisable to wash your feet as soon as feasible and apply foot moisturiser and put your feet up for a while before dinner. This will enable the accumulated fluid in your lower legs and feet to drain down after your long walk. In the evening wear good quality supportive sandals with arch supports. The muscles of your feet will be fatigued and will need to be supported for the rest of the evening. Absolutely avoid flip flops, bare foot walking or any unsupportive footwear
Other key equipment
Acquire a good quality back-pack and one that does not put pressure on your neck or shoulders. The weight should be bourn by the pelvis/hip area. A day pack can weigh 5-6 kgs. A waist bag/pouch to carry passports and key items that is handy for easy access is also advisable.
A hat with a brim, sun block, thin sweater, light rain proof jacker and blister kit are all essential additions. Blisters and sun burn can make or break a wonderful holiday!
Other key preparation points
During your preparation period it is essential that you do a programme of stretching exercises for the following muscle groups:
- Quadriceps (front of thighs)
- Hamstrings (back of thighs)
- Calf muscles (most important)
The more you use a muscle the shorter and tighter it gets. Therefore, stretching post walking is essential to maintain muscle length (only static stretching, no bouncing!). Hold the stretch for 30 seconds & repeat several times. Your local Chartered Physiotherapist will be able to advise you on the correct way to do the exercises and a single visit might be a good investment to prevent muscle and tendon injuries both before (during you preparation period) and during your long walk. Daily ongoing management is very important!
Another good way to prevent injury is to develop a good strong core. That is your tummy and glutes. Join a Pilates class for the months prior to your trip and learn the exercises. It is important to start with a beginner’s class to learn the exercises and techniques properly and to get the full benefit from doing them. As we get older these muscles weaken and need regular strengthening. The core muscles support your back and hips and also help support the muscles around the knees
Prevention is much better than cure so daily stretching and strengthening exercises will help keep those niggly injuries away and allow you have a pleasant Camino experience.
Check list before you go
- Stretching exercise sheet
- Good supportive running shoes (flexible with solid heel cup supports
- Walking boots
- Socks (without seams!). Multiple pairs
- Foot moisturiser
- Supportive sandals/footwear
- Quality back-pack
- Wide brimmed hat
- Light sweater
- Rainproof jacket
- Blister kit
- Sun block