I didn’t set out to do a 42 mile day. I had toyed with doing another big mileage day to complete my trek into Santiago, but had not planned to go all out like I did.
The day progressed in stages. My starting point for the day was Palas de Rei. Based on the guide my mileage for the day was 15.9, and stopping in Ribadiso. I knew I wanted to do slightly more but I was unsure what my stopping point would be. With the increased population on the trail and the Brierley guide being very popular, I knew accommodations in Ribadiso may be full.
I planned to hit the trail by 6:00, but I woke up early. So I set about getting ready to leave. I was on the trail by 5:30am. On the way out of town I took a wrong turn almost immediately. It was very dark and misting. On the side of a pension was a big yellow arrow to direct pilgrims to their establishement. Since it was dark, I subsequently missed the three smaller arrows pointing the real direction of the Camino.
I walked for about 15 minutes. The road wound through forest, so it didn’t seem wrong. It wasn’t until I came to a T intersection in a residential area, that I realized something was a miss. There wasn’t an arrow in sight and I was in what felt to be a suburb-esque area, I wandered around for a few minutes trying to determine which way the trail would go. Resigned to the fact their might have been a side arrow I simply didn’t see off the road, I started to back track.
The more I returned to town, the more I became irritated with myself. Normally you see arrows on the Camino every 2 or 3 minutes. How is it you trusted not seeing an arrow for 15 minutes. I reasoned with myself. It was dark and misting. It wouldn’t have been unusual to miss them in those circumstances. I arrived back in town nearly where I started when I discovered the error I had made. The sun was just starting to illuminate the sky and there was just enough light to clearly see the other arrows.
Back on the right track. No harm caused, just an extra mile and a half for the day. Hiking was easy. My body had become quite used to the routine. With my pack I’m quite comfortable covering 3 miles an hour. It’s a comfortable pace. About half way to Ribadiso, I stopped at a cafe for a coffee. They didn’t have any food I was interested in, so I snacked on a couple of bananas out of my pack.
Back on the road, I continued the remainder of the way to Ribadiso. I arrived just before noon. Deciding it was too early to stop, I pulled into a restaurant for a bite to eat. The server was one of the nicest I met on the trail. She was super friendly and helpful. Within 20 minutes, I had my three course lunch. A record for a spanish meal. Back on the trail, I set my sights on A Calzada. This would be half way point to the next major stopping point in the Brierley guide, and about 21 miles for the day.
I walked. I ate fruit I had in my pack and drank copious amounts of water. Everything felt good. I made A Calzada without a break. Another 6 miles in the books. This is when I thought to myself, “Well, it’s 2:30 and 21 miles to Santiago. I stopped at a cafe, and had another coffee. I did a mental run through of my physical condition. My feet were tired, but not terribly sore. My legs felt great. Many of the recurring sore spots I had been monitoring over the prior weeks were not making themselves apparent. I decided I would reserve my final judgement until Arca.
Arca was the last stop in the Brierley guide before pushing on to Santiago. Truly considering the option of pushing all the way to Santiago, I stopped at a small market and picked up additional fruit. Bananas, peaches, kiwi. Portable energy and delicious. If I stopped in Arca, I would have hiked just shy of 30 miles for the day. Not bad.
I set out, feeling the buzz from the coffee and the energy from the fruit, I moved effortlessly. It goes by different names, in the zone, in the groove. Whatever your name for it, I was in the space in which you just flow. Not a tremendous amount of thought goes into physical management, You just go.
I covered the remaining 7 miles to Arca feeling good. I arrived on the north side of Town just before 5pm. I had a decision to make. Go for it, and bypass Arca almost entirely, or call it and make my way into town. The Camino didn’t pass directly through the town, but on he northern outskirts by a half a km.
As I reached the road that would take me to Arca, I decided to go for it. Fatigue was setting in, but my musculature and joints were feeling fine. I was pretty sure I could do it. If I began to have problems, there were several small towns on the way I could stop in.
I had 12 miles to go. Tony and Molli were staying in Arca, as I passed their town, I sent them a text letting them know I was going for it. They urged me on. I texted a few people back home and let them know, I was going to be breaking my PR. I chatted with my husband, and asked a huge favor. I knew I would be arriving in Santiago around 9 if everything was to go as planned, so I asked him to reserve a room for me. He made short work of it and found a place about 300 yards off the main square.
The stage was set. I pulled into a small roadside cafe just after 5 and had another coffee. The wonderful thing about abstaining from caffeine normally is it comes in quite handy when you need a boost. I also ate some more fruit, and offed an additional liter of water.
By this point I had eaten, 8 bananas. 2 peaches, 4 kiwi, a pack of strawberries, and trail mix. Lunch had consisted of a salad and some sort of pork dish with a lemon mousse as dessert. A chocolate croissant was snuck in at some point for good measure. 5 liters of water and 4 coffees had washed all this down.
The weather most of the morning and early afternoon had been reasonably cool. Perfect weather for hiking and a primary component in my success to this point. Around 3pm the cloud cover had all but dissipated and the temperatures began to rise. No big deal, I had hiked in much worse heat.
5 miles on the other side of Arca, I made my way up the second to last steady long climb before reaching Santiago. The weather was considerably warm. While it had not been particularly warm all day, I had been sweating most of the day. The climb up the hill wasn’t particularly challenging, and only 3km long. But things started going quite wrong.
I was sweating profusely. I was trying to make heads or tails of it. The trail flattened out, but I was struggling. Sweat was pouring off of me. I was completely soaked. I began running a mental checklist to see what might be wrong. I made it about half way through the list when I felt my blood pressure bottom out. I became incredibly faint.
I managed to keep it together long enough to have the thought, “Well I’m about a mile from the next town, it’s late in the afternoon and I havent seen another hiker in over an hour. If I pass out, it could be a while before someone finds me.”
Having this realization, made me a bit panicky. I became very concerned. I didn’t want to call for help, and have it just be a fleeting thing, but I also didn’t want to pass out on the trail and die out there because I was to macho to ask for help. This all flitted through my brain in about 3 seconds, and was apparently just what I needed. I felt a huge rush of adrenaline and my symptoms went away.
I completed the mental checklist of possible causes after pulling my head together and determined I was running dangerously low on sodium. A full day of sweating coupled with a diet consisting of mostly low sodium fruit had left me with depleted reserves.
I sent Brian a message letting him know I was having a little trouble but told him I was maintaining at the moment. I vowed I would stop in the next town and have the Spanish equivalent of Gatorade (Aquarius) and re-evaluate if I would push on from there. He was understandably concerned, but also trusted my instincts about what I was experiencing.
In retrospect it was probably exceedingly difficult for him to get a text saying, “Hey I nearly passed out, but I’m ok now.” However, from my perspective, I wanted him to know, in the event he didn’t hear from me for a while that I might be in trouble. He had a general idea of where I was on the trail, and if it came down to it, he could have summoned help.
I walked the remaining mile to Porta de Santiago without incident. Fatigue was definitely making itself known, and I was beginning to get increasingly sore. I stopped as promised and had an Aquarius. I rested for a few minutes, and also drank a Nestea. Not even close to ice tea, but a chemically tasting alternative. Caffeine check, sugar, check, electrolytes (It’s what plants crave) check.
I hit the road within 15 minutes. Feeling slightly recharged and systems functioning as they should, I felt home free. Brian and I continued to chat a bit via text message. I couldn’t seem to get into a groove. While I enjoy texting with Brian in almost all circumstances, I had to excuse myself from the conversation. Staying in the conversation was making me too present in the moment and I was unable to find a good rhythm. At this point, finishing required I put my head down and just gut it out.
I climbed the last gradual climb to Monte del Gozo. It was quite literally all down hill from here. With 5k remaining, I began giving updates to people at home. They were just as excited as I was. I had watched a storm build in the distance for the previous several hours, and it now appeared it was going to be raining when I entered Santiago.
I made one last pit stop to put on my pack cover, to keep its contents dry. I skipped donning my rain jacket. I felt I didn’t need anything that was going to make me sweat any more than I had to. Also, the weather was quite warm.
I descended into Santiago and hit the outskirts of town. I was nearly home free. A light drizzle turned into sprinkling rain. As I walked through town, the weather gradually worsened to a steady rain. Not quite a downpour, but enough that I was soaked head to toe. Past the 8 o’clock hour, there were no other pilgrims finishing. I watched a bustling city pass by as I dredged across wet streets. Many a curious look were flashed my way. I’m sure many were thinking, why is he walking in the rain.
I was on a mission. I spotted the cathedral and gave an update to home. Less than a mile to go. Through the tiny winding streets of old town, I managed to lose the Camino. I could still see the spires of the cathedral, so I simply headed that general direction. I ended up a couple blocks south of the arch that most pilgrims finish through. No matter, I walked around the other side of the cathedral and entered the square. The square was void of anyone else other than a local police having a smoke. It was surreal. I had finally made it. I took the time to make the video I posted two days ago.
Emotional, exhausted and soaked, I wasted little time making my way to my hotel. The check in process was complicated. Needless to say they have an automated system that is anything but. An employee of the hotel arrived within 15 minutes to let me in the building and check me in. By the time I was settled and bathed to warm up and wash 42 miles worth of funk off, it was well after 10pm. While the time wasn’t a problem from a restaurant perspective, the thought of donning clothes and heading back out was not appealing in the least.
I ate a banana and some trail mix and laid in bed. Sleep wasn’t easy, as I was incredibly sore. Anytime I moved throughout the night I was awoken by the pain it caused. And with my sleep schedule as of late, I was wide awake at 5am the next morning.
I learned a lot about myself in the completion of 42 miles. I hiked from 5:30am to 9:15pm, with less than an hour in breaks. Having participated in a variety of endurance events over the last 9 years, I have come to understand my body quite well. Without this prior knowledge, I think my episode of faintness would have been the end of my day.
I also learned the secret to ultra distances. I have for years found ultra-endurance events to be quite intriguing. I mean really, who runs 50km, 50 miles, or 100k or 100 miles? How is it even possible for the human body? And while I don’t claim to be in the realm of such athletes, I saw a glimpse within my own self of them being entirely possible.
The secret to it? The answer is quite trite and simple. You just keep going. Of course you simply won’t be capable of going from the couch one day, and hike 40 miles straight the next. Nor are you going to run your first 5k and turn around and complete a 50 mile race the next weekend. However, if you put in the training. Consistent, methodical training, you can accomplish feats you thought unimaginable months or years before.
As to why I decided to put down 42 miles? As I said before, I have been intrigued by ultra endurance sports for quite some time. As a result I have followed several prominent names in the sport and read several books published by them. A few years ago I read Scott Jurek’s book, “Eat and Run.” He speaks of his father and the work ethic he instilled in Scott very early on. In fact Scott basically said his father was a hard ass.
His father had asked Scott to do something one day and Scott asked, “Why?”
His father’s response, “Sometimes you just do things!”
This has resonated with Scott since that time.
It resonated with me the day I completed the Camino. I walked 42 miles to complete a month-long journey, “Sometimes, you just do things!”