Camino Portugues: 4 days running

This is a detailed blog post about running the Camino Portugues from Vigo to Santiago over 4 days in September 2016.  Jump to these sections:

  • Day 1: Vigo to Pontevedra – 33km
  • Day 2: Pontevedra to Padron – 42km
  • Day 3: Cambados to Pontecesures – 50km
  • Day 4: Pontecesures to Santiago – 39km
  • Gear: What to bring running the Camino
  • A Typical Day on the Camino
  • Strava
Running through country farmhouses

Running through country farmhouses

Day 1: Vigo to Pontevedra – 33km

My 10 day trip started with an early Sunday flight to Vigo. I was eager to run the Camino Portugues, after getting the Camino bug while running the Camino a Fisterre in 2015. On arrival, I dropped my luggage at my hotel I’d be staying in nights later after having completed my run. Handy that – means I’m only carrying the bare essentials in my backpack.

Things got off to an ominous start – there were no spaces on the buses to the Porto that day. Dam, I hadn’t booked online. So, after looking at options, I changed direction 180 degrees and decided to skip the bus and start running to Pontevedra. It’s 33km to the north, so I thought why not easy myself in a day early and figure the route out from there. The good thing about the Camino is you don’t reserve a bed in the albergues, so you can be totally flexible and change plans.

The route out of Vigo was on the main road, as I couldn’t find the Camino. Heading towards Redondela in the Ria Vigo on my left and beautiful views across to where I was headed. I decided to wear my Luna Sandals and felt very comfortable and refreshed with my toes out.

The route was quiet with pilgrims. Most would be finished for the day ahead of me. The route was on lots of wooded trail, mixed with tarmac and through farmland. Really peaceful in this old Roman route. Just a few climbs, nothing big. My legs felt good, the watch beeping every 5km, about every 30 mins (10km/h). The run finished on a river trail coming into Pontevedra which was nice. The albergue was big – about 65 beds in 2 massive dorms. All for EUR6. The shower felt great then I wandered into town for a cold beer and some food. This was my 3rd time here – it brought back good memories of the duathlon in 2014. Back home in bed by 10.30pm, light out.

Day 2: Pontevedra to Padron – 42km

Up early – you have to be out by 8am from the albergue. I think an alarm sounded at 8am – but by then lots of people are up anyway. I had a small bite to eat and headed off in the semi-darkness. The air was fresh, about 12C but fine once you’re moving. Through the old streets of Pontevedra, then upwards through some villages. Lots of pilgrims walking, everyone starting around now. Most people walk in twos, some groups 4-6 and some solo walkers. Most have big backpacks and a little concha (shell). People say “hola” or “buen camino”. Some are surprised that (a) I’m running and (b) I’m in sandals. It puts a smile on my face as I pass.

Roman streets and remnants in Padron

Roman streets and remnants in Padron

The route was mainly off road, through some lovely wooded trails, then between fields and farms. You see crops: maize, vines with grapes, apples. Lots of dogs – all behind walls or kennels thankfully. And the sounds of cocks crowing. So many hens and some ducks on the river.

I stopped for breakfast after 2hrs and 24km in Caldas das Reis – a old Roman town. Café con leche and an omelette (bocadillo con tortilla francesa) did the trick, not filling me too much. I don’t eat much, even though I’m moving for over 4 hours. A small apple, lots of water from my backpack bladder, a small bar I made and that’s it. I feel fine. I know lunch will reward my body. My ketosis adaptation is progressing – last year I wouldn’t have had the confidence to do that long a run on so little. Nearing 4 hours running I felt good and thought “is this it? Are we there already?” Crazy I’ve ran a marathon and want to keep going.

I’m glad to see Padron, so find a nice bar with a EUR9 menu del dia which hit the spot – soup, schnitzel (milanesa), lovely bread, a great vino tinto, a cold beer, a cheesecake and a coffee. I feel great sitting in the sunny plaza. I get out my map and make plans for tomorrow – making it up as I go along – I love the spontaneity!

Day 3: Cambados to Pontecesures – 50km

Ok that was a long day. It’s 4pm and I’ve just showered in the albergue. My feet are sore – a cracked heel and a cut on the ball of my foot. But my legs and body feel fine – just like after a long cycle or race.

A record distance today – nearly 5 hours running. Starting in the port of Cambados at 8am, my plan was to take a detour to cross the long bridge to visit Illa de Arousa. It was lovely – a strong headwind through but flat roads. I lost the camino several times, but knew the direction where I was headed so didn’t mind the roads. Not much trail today but some sandy paths along the coast.

Beautiful churches & scenery

Beautiful churches & scenery

I didn’t pass a pilgrim all day – this route is a new one so not as popular – no albergues on the route and hard to find info online also could deter people I guess (I read in the paper they are developing tourism in Galicia by expanding these alternative camino routes, so it will improve).

Anyway my mind kept talking to me – is it too far? Could I take the bus for the last bit? Why didn’t I plan the distance better? Have I eaten enough? Why did I lose the bloody camino again?

After a nice coffee break, refuelling with a croissant in Vilagarcia de Arousa, after 31km and 3hr40min running. I felt good in my legs, yet my mind still felt daunted by what’s ahead. It was “only” 18km – 1h40m I reckoned, very doable. But it was the total distance which was uncharted territory and probably the fact it could impede my recovery for tomorrow or the race on Sunday.

Anyway, the last bit was more off road, up a forest trail which turned out to be beautiful. Downhill and then the last 4km on a dead straight road. It was never ending but I got there. First stop was the supermarket for some coke and supplies. Then lunch on the plaza. Salad and chicken sandwich. Cold beer and wine were great. Now I’m tired. This town is quiet – but I’m not looking for a late night. I’ll sleep well.

Day 4: Pontecesures to Santiago – 39km

Day 4 on the Camino would bring me to the end – the Cathedral in Santiago. My body wasn’t as sore as last year, so other than a few cuts on my feet, I set off slowly by 8am. The route would be generally uphill – passing lots of country houses and ugly bits on the main road. The paths were busy with pilgrims – many have been walking for weeks I guess, so today must feel good.

You pass by such quiet narrow streets lined with farmhouses. It’s usually very quiet – old men going out to the corn or vineyards. Old women, usually with aprons, cutting grass or pulling a wheelbarrow. You notice the scarecrows, the old communal washing basins and of course the dogs. My big fear when you hear them barking, but the great thing is they’re all fenced in behind closed gates. No problems – not sure how fast I could sprint down the road.

I was running slowly today and felt more tired (6min/km). I stopped for a banana snack after 2hrs/20km at a little church in O Milladoiro. Only 8km to Santiago downhill mostly. Arriving into the city suburbs, I got renewed energy. A sense of joy fills you as you realise you’ve made it. Seeing so many souls in Praza do Obradouro is great – hikers, bikers, walkers, everyone relieved, happy and with a story to tell. I decided to push onto Monte do Gozo, 4km outside town, to see the biggest albergue on the Camino Frances. It was a busy road full of pilgrims wandering into town.

Back in town, my final stop was the market where I got fresh figs (higos – yum!), an empanada de bacalao, pulpo, a bocadillo and a drink in the sun. That evening I took the bus to Vigo and got to see Celta Vigo beat Sporting Gijon 2-1 in Balaidos. A great if long day. Now to have a relaxing holiday…

Islas Cies

Islas Cies

Islas Cies

The sound of the sea, waves crashing on rocks, is one of the most soothing sounds you can hear. I’m sitting at a lighthouse looking down a sharp cliff at the Illas Cies – 3 islands off the coast of Vigo. They are uninhabited, so you just visit for the day by ferry.

The Guardian described the beach “Playa das Rodos” as one of the most beautiful in the world. They are stunning – panoramic views, colourful landscapes – green woodland to yellow lichen covered rocks, to golden sandy beaches to blue and white seas.

I brought my own lunch – there’s only one restaurant here. A sandwich with ham, cheese, tomato, plus some salmon and sardines. I hope the antioxidants help my body recover. Reading the book “Flow” about achieving a state of happiness. Enjoying the present and absorbing what’s around you with all your senses- that’s recommended here.

Gear: What to bring running the Camino

There’s a lot written online and in guidebooks about what to bring when walking the camino. Obviously in a 25 litre rucksack you can bring a lot that you can’t bring if you’re running. For a start, out goes the sleeping bag, the jacket, the change of clothes and shoes, the toiletries, the supply of food/drink/snacks. Forget about a guidebook or even paper.

Running forces you into minimalism and essentials. I learnt last year that even a 2-3g bag hurts your shoulders after a few days, and you don’t need that much anyway. So, here’s my list of essentials, plus some surpluses as well as some things I missed. Thanks to Moire O’Sullivan for writing about this in 2012 – this was my guide.

Essentials

  • 10 litre backpack with a built in 23l water bladder
  • Running shorts, t-shirt, hat
  • Runners (or sandals in my case)
  • Change of clothes (t-shirt, shorts)
  • Dry towel
  • Toiletries (toothbrush, small toothpaste, sun cream, body lotion, shampoo/bath gel – all 20ml bottles)
  • Electrolyte tabs for water
  • Plastic zip lock bags to hold wallet, passport, money, leaflets, pen, pilgrim passport (credencial)
  • Small lunch box for food – I carried some nuts/dates as well as ChiaBia seed sachets, some fruit I’d buy in the shop each day
  • Phone charger
  • Magnesium spray (to help me sleep at night)

Surplus

  • Headphones – much nicer to listen to the sounds of the countryside as you passed, people, animals, the wind, your feet
  • Running shoes/socks – I carried around my runners for 4 days, but liked the sandals so much

Forgot

  • Light blanket for dorm bed – it can get cold and they only provide a pillow but no sheets
  • Garmin charger – I used my phone’s Runtastic app to track my route on the other days
  • Plasters & anti-septic wipes

Food

Each day I bought food: fruit, nuts, cheese, creams. You’ll find supermarkets or café bars in every town, so don’t ever worry about carrying stuff unnecessarily. Ask yourself: do I need this for the next 2 hours running? If not, it can wait ‘til next stop.

7am Breakfast: light bite – yoghurt, chia seeds, kiwi

11am Break: coffee, bread, cheese, banana, nuts

2pm Lunch: menu del dia or sandwich/salad

8pm Dinner: tapas in bars or one plate

A Typical Day on the Camino

  • 7am       Awake and light breakfast in the albergue
  • 8am       Start running in the semi darkness (you have to leave the albergue by 8am)
  • 10.30am Stop for coffee & pastry after 25-30km
  • 1pm       Finish running, arrive in town, grab some supplies in supermarket
  • 2pm       Sit down for lunch: 3 course menu del dia to refuel/recover/relax. Enjoy with beer, wine, coffee. Feel good about another great day on the Camino. The food tastes so good, as do the cold drinks. “Vale la pena” as they say. Read the papers. I like reading the local news plus usually the football/sports.
  • 4pm       Wander around town or check-in to albergue. They cost EUR6 for a basic bed in a large dorm –they have showers so you can freshen up – your feet are dirty! Change into clean clothes & relax.
  • 7pm       Wander around town, grab a beer and tapas. Have some food – usually not too much.
  • 10pm    Arrive back at albergue – they close the doors at 10pm with lights out 10.30pm. Everyone’s tired, it’s real quiet so no problem sleeping.

Strava

All my runs are on Strava

Camino Portugues: Vigo a Pontevedra

Camino Portugues: Pontevedra a Padron

Camino Portugues: Cambados a Pontecesures

Camino Portugues: Padrón a Santiago

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4 responses to “Camino Portugues: 4 days running

  1. Awesome trip David, congratulations! I cycled the Portuguese Camino a few years back: running is outside the realm of my current capabilities, but would love to get there 🙂

  2. Brilliant blog as always David…perfect mix of travel, running and good food.

    Cycled part of the Spanish camino a few years and this gave me some inspiration to go back and get some more copas y pintxos back in my life…
    Had been wondering if you were keeping up the low carb, high fat approach… Running a marathon a day is probably forgiving of most kinds of nutrition anyway. Will you go strict again over winter?
    My own diet has been generally paleo with oats and beans added. I’ve been working at ‘running on empty’ with good results over the last few months. Generally happy with it but always interested to hear how people combine fat adaption with endurance
    Brian

    • Glad you enjoyed it – it’s easy to write a bit every day, then type it up after and share with the world, as lots of other people in the same boat. I’m happy with how I fuel my body now, nutrition and LCHF principles are important, but I realised only one area. You need to have sleep, recovery, mental health, relationships all right to be at your peak. Good to hear you’re making progress too. Have you been racing much…what have you noticed?

      • Probably confidence as much as anything else really is what I’ve got out of it…being able to do a 20 miler on a bp coffee and some dried fruit on the run is quite liberating… I ate more carb leading up to DCM recently but had trained low and had no nutrition issues on the day running 2:47… No gels, just a few raisins…
        Going to continue to run low in the morning but not too sure how strict I’ll be the rest of the time…you seem to have a good balance…occasional bread etc

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