I’ve been pretty quiet lately. Since Monday I’ve been laying low in Madrid, resting up and taking in some of this lovely city’s sights.
Had everything stayed on course, tomorrow would have likely been the day that I made it to Santiago and finished my 500-mile journey. Instead, it’ll be the day I had back to the States.
Obviously this is a bit of a disappointment, but in the end I think I made the right choice. Even after I bought my train ticket from León here to Madrid I kept wondering if I should keep walking and try to make it to Santiago in the next two weeks. I almost didn’t get on the train. I’d get bold (probably because I’d just taken a 600mg ibuprofen) and think my Achilles was feeling fine and I should just keep moving. Fast forward a few hours later, after the painkillers have worn off, and I realized I’d made the right choice since it was hard to walk more than a few city blocks.
Today was the first day that the ankle has been free from stiffness and most pain. I hope this bodes well for recovery. I’ve got the HURT100 coming up in mid-January and need to start getting my vert on.
But for the most part this rest has been nice. I would’ve wanted to run the Camino if it had been anywhere in the world, but fortunately for me it also happened to be in one of my favorite countries ever. I’ve been taking in lots of museums and downing even more pinchos/tapas and vermouths. (And here I thought I was going to come back from Spain fit and gaunt.)
(Pics in the post below.)
It’s definitely been fascinating to compare my experiences in ancient, small-town Spain to this opulent, cosmopolitan hub. Both are so rich and captivating. Both are pretty amazing to see. One is just better for running than the other.
Who knows. Maybe I’ll be back to take on the Camino. I wouldn’t bet against it. Also, I still ran 288 miles in 8 days so I can feel pretty darn awesome about that. And only three (I think) weeks after a big 100-miler at Pine to Palm.
So thanks to everyone for all the support. It never felt like I was running alone. Glad I could bring you along.
See ya back on the other side of the pond tomorrow.
Day Whatever: Resting Up and Soaking in Culture
It’s weird to be moving so quickly one moment and then to be suddenly totally still the next.
When I woke up this morning I rolled my ankle around and thought “Ah, that actually doesn’t feel so bad.” And then when I actually stood up on it I thought, “Oh just kidding. That’s terrible.”
The back of the ankle is a little red and swollen, hard to the touch. Classic Achilles tendinitis if I learned anything from my last bout with it. The amazing part is that my legs feel 100% fresh, like I just woke up on a regular week day, not like I just put 288 miles on them in the last 8 days.
Since it’s a Sunday, the streets were pretty quiet here (and of course all the pharmacies are closed). I woke up and walked outside to find some breakfast and—to some grand, cosmic irony—discovered that the city was setting up for a race that would end two blocks from my hotel.
I hobbled around a bit. Toured the insanely impressive cathedral with its stained glass. Watched the runners come in. Tried to push back the weird tears of irony once or twice. Drank some vermouth. Ate some tapas. Iced the ankle. Watched Regreso al Futuro II (Back to the Future II) in my room.
It’s funny. The Basílica de San Isidro here had something called the Puerta de Perdón that was a door pilgrims could walk through to pardon them if they weren’t able to complete their pilgrimage to Santiago. I went to see it today. Guess I stopped in the right city.
If I could walk from here, I might be able to finish the 300 km to the finishing in time. But this tendinitis is mean. It’s going to be a week before I can walk much at all. No way I’m making it over the Cantabrian Mountains like this.
Not sure exactly what the next move is. I still have a week and a half here but I only have this one shirt and pair of pants.
It’s raining now. I think I’ll go find a cinema.
Day 9: Leóning around
I may have officially flown to close to the sun today. But instead of gooey, melty wax-wings, I got an enraged Achilles’ tendon (also Greek). This may have been my last day on the Camino.
Everything started nicely enough this morning. After a good night’s rest, I pushed off into the 34-degree morning. Outside Sahagún, things slowly warmed up as the sun made its dramatic appearance like a pink grapefruit on the horizon.
Then, about 7 km in, I felt it. My Achilles. Instantly I knew that might be it. I got Achilles tendinitis after my finish at the Zion 100 in April. It’s a nasty, tenacious little beast. I can run through sore or depleted legs all day, but when a tendon is unhappy, there’s not much you can do. Honestly, with the mileage that I knew I’d put on my legs, I figured there was a pretty good chance this would happen. You don’t run 254 miles in a week and not pay for it (although, everything else feels frustratingly better than ever).
If this had happened in a race, I would’ve dropped in a mile or two. But I was in Absolute Nowhere, Spain, miles from the nearest anything or anyone and also more than halfway into my crazy quest. So for the first time I downed some Tylenol and pulled out my earbuds to use music to take my mind off the pain. The first song that came on was “Falling” by Haim (http://youtu.be/AIjVpRAXK18). The end of the song just repeats the phrase “Never look back and never give up.”
Listen, I’m not above admitting that I started crying to some chick rock (and some poppy chick rock at that). But in my defense, there’s something about being pointed down a desolate highway with 265 miles behind you and 235 in front of you with your dreams melting away in front of you that will get you both a little emotional and a little fired up.
I ran as best I could (partially along Ancient Roman roads) until about 38 km I made it to the town of Mansillas de las Mulas where I had lunch at an albergue. The owners were kind enough/foolish enough to give me a bottle of wine as self-serve. Sadly I learned, tendinitis cuts through wine pretty well.
From then on I swallowed my pride and forced myself to walk the 18 km into León, which took me almost four hours. It was also incredibly painful. Basically I was in excruciating pain for about 10 hours today. (Welcome to ultrarunning!)
So, I’m not exactly sure where that leaves me. At the moment, I found the only hotel room left in León (and its smallest one at that). I’m going to rest here tomorrow and then see how things feel. (Also, León seems pretty old and awesome.) I could still compete the Camino if I walked from here with some really long days, but I’m not sure the Achilles will oblige. Even the slightest incline today was nearly impossible, and we’re about to go over two mountain passes (which I had previously been really looking forward to).
So we’ll see. I probably pushed a little too hard, but it’s the only way I know. I can’t give up yet, but I’m definitely emotionally exhausted after thinking about this all day.
Vamos a ver.(And picture below.)
Day 8: Tragedy on the Meseta
Not a whole lot to talk about today. It was frankly rather boring. Not like yesterday’s glorious boringness. This was just a kind of trashy boring.
It started nice enough with a beautiful, cold sunrise outside Frómista that quickly got swallowed up by the thick cloud cover. The morning temp started somewhere around 35 degrees and it didn’t get much warmer until the afternoon. Thick clouds blocked any sun or heat so I bumbled up in my GoLite rain jacket for the first time and trudged along. The first time I got lost was trying to find my way out of town. The second was 30 minutes later in the next town when I took a turn-off for an alternative route and had to backtrack so as to not add even more mileage (hence the bonus 2 km).
Besides the meh weather today, the route paralleled roads almost all day. In the morning we ran along highway P-980 for an exceptionally long time. Then after Carrión de los Condes we were on a totally featureless and serviceless gravel road for 17 km. Then we spent a good part of the afternoon running alongside highway N-120. It was sort of just mindless. (But I suppose if makes sense since this is probably the most direct route to Santiago, as is the highway.)
(Pictures in the post below.)
The first highlight of the day was churros y chocolate at secondbreakfast in Carrión de los Condes. I had just been thinking a few kms prior about how I hadn’t seen churros y chocolate yet and how awesome it would be. And when I walked into the bar for a bite to eat, whaddaya know? (Bonus high point: Going through a town called Carrion of the Counts. Badass name. Supposedly from a legend about El Cid killing some counts that married his daughters then tried to rob him. It was crazy times back then.)
The second high point of the day was an amazing lamb lunch I had in a town that used to be a stronghold of the Knights Templar. (Today may be the first day I actually gained weight.) Also, Spain is the only place in the world where you can run 30 miles, drink two glasses of wine and then go out to run another 8 miles.
The third high point was right after lunch, I walked out of town, feeling a little beat as I has already run 30 miles and just eaten a huge lunch. I walked a km or two just as the sun finally came out for the first time all day. So I took off my jacket, leaned up against a route marker and lay down in the grass to drink in the sun. Why run all this if not to enjoy little moments like this? As I lay there, I realized this was almost exactly the halfway point for my journey. And somehow that seemed appropriate.
So yes, I’m officially over halfway done with this crazy journey. Never in a million years did I think I could run 254 miles (or 409 km) in one week. I’m not sure I really know how I expected to feel. Amazingly, my legs actually feel less sore now than they did after the first day or two. They get less tight. They’ve stopped complaining and just gone along with it.
The two things that are bothering me the most now are the bottoms of my feet which feel fairly bruised just from the constant beating they’ve taken. The other problem spot is my left knee which seems to start off the last few mornings with some kind of pain, but usually that dissipates by mid or late morning. (I’m really hoping it’s not tendinitis. Although, if it were, I don’t think it would go away with MORE running.)
I did notice today that my energy level is just a bit lower. I think the grind is finally catching up with me. Also, I’ve been subsisting on baguettes and cured ham and coffee so my body probably isn’t operating at optimal levels.
But halfway gives me a lot of excitement. I can’t believe I’m this far this fast. It also means I have a lot ahead. But I have big plans. I’m angling to arriving in Santiago on the 18th, in under two weeks and a day before my birthday. Then, if I’m feeling up to it, I’m going to walk up early on my birthday and run the extra 86 km to Finnisterre, the End of the World (aka the coast). We’ll see.
I’m excited. And I smell horrible. And I’m humbled. And I can’t wait to do some more.
Day 7: Un día de poco, un día de mucho
What a difference a day makes. After yesterday morning’s doldrums, today was a wonderful, wonderful reversal. In fact, it may be my favorite day on the Camino so far.
There’s no particular reason. It was just pleasant.
It was slightly hard to leave my hotel room in Burgos, but after a hearty breakfast I hit the road in the dark around 7:45. It was cool for an hour or so, but the clear skies meant it would turn nice. And it did.
Outside of Burgos, I entered the true Meseta. This is the vast, sprawling fields until big blue sky. Think Don Quixote. There was really nothing to take in except lots of earth and even more sky. As I ran alongside André and his bike later in the day, I realized what made it so special: space. Living in LA—or, to be fair, lots of other places—you’re crammed up against thousands/millions of other people. You can of course escape it, like I try to do on morning and weekend runs in the mountains, but it’s still an escape. This was true… space. Physical and mental I suppose. I just ran. And that’s all I did all day. Run through fields of space. And there was a warm sun shining above. Just a complete and all-encompassing joy.
It was so good that I ran 65 km (about 40 miles) to the sleepy agricultural town of Frómista. (I’m plotting an amazing dinner of lechazo asado, roasted suckling lamb, at a fancy pants restaurant where I’m currently sitting outside by the fountain enjoying a local artisanal spiced microbrew.) That’s my second biggest day yet (although perhaps the flattest too). Tomorrow, Day 7, I cross the halfway point of my trip. Feels pretty incredible. Even better, I’m still feeling very good. Much better than I thought I’d feel running 351 km/218 miles in less than one week. (That’s an average of 58.5 km or 36 miles a day! Holy crap.)
But beyond all that, the other thing that I loved about today—today’s theme if you will—was the little interactions with people along the way.
- Getting scammed by some weirdo German guy in a random highway café. I gave him 20€, knowing his sob story was probably a sham, but being a pilgrim, it’s important to complete acts of kinds towards others. About 10km later a Dutch bicyclist randomly mentioned that he gave some German guy in a bar 40€. Sweet game. It was worth the 20€ for the entertainment.
- Watching the shop owner in Hornillos de Camino scurrying around tending to people. He was super-interested in my guide book for some reason and read it for about 5 minutes while I just stood next to him. Loved it.
- Having lunch at the delightful little bar in the lovely medieval town of Castrojeriz. A pair if construction workers were mystified by the fact I was running the Camino. They said I was going to lose so much weight (sorry, Liza) and then asked if my mom was OK with that. Also they loved how small my pack is and actually took pictures of it.
- Everyone along the way at albergues, hotels and restaurants/bars that keeping asking where my bike is. “I don’t have one,” I tell them. “I’m running.” It’s pretty fun to see the reactions.
- Meeting up and running with André. Once again, we ran into each other around the “469 km a Santiago” sign and then again at lunch. For a while we ran/rode together chatting for a bit. It’s interesting that the bicyclists tend to be loners too since they’re traveling so quickly, but it’s been the cyclists that I keep coming across and chatting with most, especially André. We may end up arriving in Santiago around the same time.
So, yes, a lovely day on the Camino. I think tomorrow will be more of the same.
UPDATE: The lechazo may be the best meal I have ever had in my entire life.
Day 6: Maybe the best day yet
Today was the first blah day of this adventure. Not even blah, blerg. Eh, not even blerg, more like bleuhghudjduh.
After a pleasant night with some new friends in the albergue in Belorado (and answering a LOT of questions about what I’m doing), I hit the road while it was still dark. The air was a little warmer than I had expected, and there was a fair amount of cloud cover so it seemed like it might be a good day. But then the sun really never came up. It start very dark and cloudy all morning. I was still making really good time though so I didn’t worry to much.
But it still stayed really overcast. And then it somehow got colder. And really windy.
I stopped for secondbreakfast (my version of fourthmeal) at a roadside bar with my new Brazilian cyclist friend André for some tortilla and espresso. (We’d been playing leapfrog for the last few days and ended up seated at the same table at dinner in the albergue last night). It was warming but didn’t do much to cut the cold.
Off again, we headed up in the creepy Oca mountains. During the Middle Ages, these forests were notorious for their thieves that would rob pilgrims passing through them. As I headed up and up through the forest there was something palpably cold and evil about the place.
As I finally came to the top of the climb, I came upon the Monumento a Los Caídos (the Monument to the Fallen), a forlorn and severe upside down obelisk of sorts dedicated to the 300 men who died there during the coup in which Franco overthrew the government. It was in the middle of nowhere in a terrible, windy, cold spot. I shivered down to my soul and then pressed on.
It didn’t get any better, just colder and meaner. As I got into the little town of Atapuerca (“Tie the Pig,” also near the site where more than 90% of all the early humanoid artifacts in Europe have been found) I was just cold and not having any fun. (Pictures of all that blah below.)
Physically, I’m definitely sore and hurting here and there but nothing major. I seem to be able to correct anything pretty immediately by an adjustment in posture, stride or pace. I’d liken who I feel to about mile 40 in a hard 100-miler. Nothing feels particularly great, but there’s no acute pain. Also, you’re still really far from the end.
The most exciting part of the day happened when I accidentally peed on my own foot.
The second most exciting part was when I ate a tin of sardines in the it-would-have-been-nice-if-it-weren’t-cold-and-windy town of Agés, next to the “518km to Santiago” sign. Later on after I was heading down the road I realized that 518km would make me more than 1/3 of the way there. That was actually a positive thing.
The third most exciting moment of the day was when I stopped at this tiny but new and clean pilgrim lunch spot in the middle of nowhere. 1) I discover Damm-Limon 6-4, a combo drink of beer and lemon, and 2) as I was leaving, the radio started playing Black Eyed Peas “Tonight Is Gonna Be A Good Night.” Now normally I abhor that song, but it came on right as the sun broke through the clouds for the first time all day, and I started thinking about the hotel room and bathtub soak I promised myself, and I thought, “Yeah, tonight is going to be a good, good night.”
From that point on the day turned around. Half a km down down the road I ran into André again, and we ran/road together for a little bit.
Later, the approach to Burgos was a little weird and industrial, but it soon turned into a beautiful shaded park along a river with happy people out doing pleasant things, and everything felt much better.
I had a moment of dread on the way into Burgos when I remembered that I was in Spain, and none of the hotels had bathtubs. (I wanted one not just for the luxury but also to really try to loosen up my legs and let them soak.) To my pleasant surprise, the first hotel I went to had tubs. I took a glorious bath, shampooed my hair for the first time in a week, all while drinking the one Cruzcampo beer from the mini bar. It was glorious.
In a related note, I’m growing quite envious of all the elite ultra guys that are massage or physical therapists. I’ve been religious about massaging down my legs every day. But honestly, I have no idea what I’m doing. But I figure it can’t hurt. And neither could the two soaks I gave them in my awesome hotel tub today.
Anyway, the city of Bugos is beautiful too. (Pictures below.) The cathedral is absolutely stunning, and the town feels clean, happy and well-heeled. I ran into André at random and we went on a city tour and dinner with someone he met from the albergue. It was a lovely time and nice to take the mind off the task at hand. It really helped to make up for and turn around what could have been an all-around crap day.
I’m about 1/3 of the way done. It feels attainable. Also like a long shot still. But I’m amazed at how well I feel. As long as I run steady, be smart and try to do maintenance on myself, I think I have a shot at cracking two weeks. Could be amazing.
I just need to have a good, simple 60km day tomorrow. Anyway, I’m off for a second bath! (Like kind of like fourthmeal and secondbreakfast.)
Night 5: Much better than Day 5
Day 5: One mean day out there on the Camino
The theme of today: Pure emotions.
Today was another great day on the Camino. I think I’m starting to hit my rhythm and figure out how it can a work. I had a very restful night’s sleep at a clean, nearly empty albergue in the pleasant little town of Navarette.
From there it was just a long, slow ascent through La Rioja and eventually into the massive state of Castilla y León (basically Spain’s Midwest, lots of huge fields of wheat and such). My guide book said I did 57 km (about 35 miles), but my watch said 61 so who knows.
Either way, I’ve been extremely happy with how I feel. I think I’m less sore now than I felt after my first day. Each day I feel like I’m getting stronger (or at least not getting worst). I’m not sure what that means, but I’ll take it. I guess, when your only job is to run all day, running all day isn’t really that hard.
But yes, the emotions. Today was largely mindless in what it required of me—since it was running through a lot of vineyards and harvested amber waves of grain—so it let me really take in sensations and experiences around me and examine how each made me feel. A lot of times, as runners and ultrarunners, we experience extreme emotions at what we see or go through, but there’s no one around to share them with. Today was no different, but when you’re allowed/forced to meditate on them all day and turn them over in your mind, they can become pretty amazing. Here’s a sampling from today:
Sunrise over wine country.
It was simple and spectacular. I spent much of the morning running through vineyard after vineyard after vineyard. It’s always cool to go to a vineyard in the States and feel like you know where it comes from. But to spend hours running through them, there was a deeper appreciation I felt that I can’t quite explain. It’s almost like when you kill an animal for a meal for the first time. You’ll never look at meat (or now wine) in quite the same way. I also stopped to sample one or five grapes straight from the vine. And I get it. I get why it has been such an important thing through all of human history. There’s a sweetness and lusciousness to those grapes that must have felt like a revelation to the Ancients.
Emotions: appreciation, understanding
Cow poop as comfort
Part of wine country also had a lot of cow manure about. I’ve read about people complaining about the smell. But to me, it was exceedingly comforting. I grew up having my uncle’s dairy farm just two hours away, and I often spent my summers in the barn, slinging dried cow patties at my cousins. There’s something very familiar and universal about that smell to me, and I love it.
Emotions: comfort, nostalgia
My guidebook mentioned something about a town named Cirueña being a modern ghost town, but it was still a shocker to me. At the edge of town is a beautiful golf course, and then after you pass it, it’s nothing but empty building after empty building. Not just a few. An entire town. And it’s not an old town. It looks as if the entire town was built 20 years ago in a span of a few months. Block after block of apartment building, totally empty. “Se vende” signs on every gate. Someone sold some people on the idea of this town that never came to be. There’s something deeply unsettling about towns like this. I remember a Vice documentary about similar cities in China, and I’m sure there must be some in Florida or Nevada or something. But there is a special kind of terror in a town with no inhabitants.
Emotions: something deep and terrifying
Arriving in Santo Domingo de la Calzada
This is a town Liza and I visited when we traveled the country almost exactly two years ago. And as I approached from 5km out, I could see the whole town and its old bell tower laid below me in the valley. I haven’t felt this excited to get to any town in all my travels so far. There was a deep welling up of love and memories. I got into town, and ate lunch at the same restaurant we ate at.
Nailing the system
I think I’ve finally got my food right today, and everything went exceedingly smoothly. I ate a light but filling breakfast early before leaving Navarette, then stopped in the next major town about 18km away (Nájera) and got a second nutritious breakfast of a slice of Spanish tortilla and OJ. I also bought some Powerade, jamón Ruffles and a tin of sardines to eat when necessary throughout the day. The prix fixe lunch I had was massive and included about half a bottle of wine and rice pudding for dessert (plus a massive lettuce and tuna salad and chicken breast with fries covered in salt). I ate like a king. It was brilliant. Going to try to replicate this every day.
The blessing of speaking Spanish and Portuguese
Throughout this trip I’ve been able to use my languages to talk with all kinds of people (even if they speak Italian or French or whatever). It’s truly something that I feel very, very lucky to be able to do. It makes this whole thing really special.
Running through 1000-year old towns
These towns are empty. It could be because I run through them during siesta, but even if it didn’t they only have populations of about 50. But there’s an amazing energy that you can draw running through the narrow, stone streets past buildings that have seen millions of other people pass for centuries on end. The best thing I can relate it to is running past people on either side of you at the end of a marathon or something. Except it’s very quiet and ancient.
Keeping up the pace
Everything is going even better than I planned. This afternoon I realized that if I keep up my pace of 55km a day or so (and that is a big IF), I can finish the entire Camino in two weeks and on my birthday on the 19th. Now that I have that goal stuck in my brain (like a sub-18 100-mile finish), it will probably roll around and ferment into something crazy and grand. (Also, I can’t find any fastest known time record for a self-supported Camino run, so this run could potentially become an FKT.) We’ll see. Plenty of Camino left.
Emotion: excitement with a touch of sauciness
I’m going to enjoy a good heart meal at my albergue tonight with some other pilgrims and then hit the road tomorrow. Lots more to roll around in the heart and the head.
(As alway, pictures from today in the post below.)
Day 4: Through Spain’s Midwest and such