The pilgrimage path to Fatima is a physical and mental challenge for which one must prepare well.
– Train in advance, working daily at the gym in order to tone your body and make your back, legs and neck muscles more flexible;
– Establish a training plan that includes hikes of 20 to 30 km per day and / or 60 to 100 km of mountain bike trails. Keep in mind your physical abilities when establishing the training plan, namely the distance to be covered;
– Study the weather forecasts to take care of yourself with the most suitable clothes (for heat, cold and humidity. Note that humidity can influence chronic pain in skeletal muscles);
– Pay a visit to the physiotherapist to relax your muscles and start the journey in the best possible physical shape.
1 – Pilgrimage preparation training
To do the walking path
– If you are not used to walking long distances, start by making small ones and gradually increase the number of kilometers. If you can, go to a mountainous area to get used to going up and down inclined paths, until you adapt and become comfortable with the distance you are planning to cover at each stage;
– In the last hikes of the training plan for the Caminho de Fátima, also train with the backpack (and estimated weight) you will carry. You should put the items you are going to carry in your backpack. If it is too heavy it is better to remove weight for the trip;
– Adjust the backpack on your back, making sure it is not too tight or too loose. The weight should be close to the body when in an upright position and its center of gravity;
– If you have not had the opportunity to train before the beginning of the Path, you should make a smooth approach to the journey and gradually increase the distances, paying special attention to the information that the body itself will transmit on the adequacy of the effort.
To make the bike path
– For people who are not used to cycling, and depending on the distance you plan to cover daily, two months of previous training will be sufficient.
– You should start little by little, starting by cycling normally on courses of low degree of difficulty, and gradually go choosing trails with a steeper slope alternating with flat trails. This will allow you to better identify your capacity profile at the moment to define the steps of the Path. In the final days of preparation before starting the journey, carry loaded saddlebags. This way you have time to get used to its transport and you can assess whether the amount of luggage is adequate: it is in your interest to try to reduce it to the maximum, which means taking only the really essential things.
– Take a bottle of water, or an isotonic drink to replenish the mineral salts lost during the effort and prevent fatigue.
2 – Clothing
– Take clothes suitable for the season, taking into account that the Caminho de Fátima passes through areas at different altitudes.
– Wear a cap or hat to avoid exposing your head directly to the sun. This will help prevent a heat stroke, hyperthermia, …
– Wear a raincoat (preferably a raincoat that also covers the backpack); and a windbreaker.
– Take two or three pairs of shorts or trousers, 2 or 3 breathable t-shirts, 1 sweater / jacket to keep you warm in the morning and night, several changes of underwear and seamless cotton socks.
– You can use a t-shirt / sweater with a warm and light polar over it, in order to isolate the body and keep a thin layer of hot air between the body and the clothes which will contribute to the maintenance of body temperature. Or, if you prefer, several layers of clothing, which you can adapt to be comfortable.
3 – Footwear
– Wear lightweight and waterproof mountain boots. They should adjust to your foot (but should be slightly larger than your usual size), allow you to sweat, protect your ankles from possible injuries and make walking on rocky and muddy ground easier.
– Wear seamless cotton socks, or special trekking socks, always washed.
– In summer, you can also wear sneakers, with a sole suitable for rocky or stony terrain (without heel pads). However, it would be better to wear summer mountain boots.
– Take slippers or sandals to relax your feet during rest periods and let them air, which also benefits your feet if you have blisters or wounds that need to heal quickly.
– The boots must already be worn and adapted to your foot. Never wear new boots to make a Path.
4 – Backpack
– The backpack has to be comfortable, adaptable and light. The back must be adjustable in height, must have buckles to adjust to the waist or hips and to the chest. And, have pockets on top and side.
– Do not carry the backpack too much (never more than 10 kg). It is advisable never to carry more than 10% of your weight, including the weight of the backpack).
– Do not leave the buckles in contact with the body in order to irritate the skin by rubbing.
5 – Walking techniques
– Take a hiking stick with you. It helps you to support your body weight, to test the floor you step on, and to prevent tendonitis as it will exchange energy with the floor.
– Before starting the daily walk, do some stretching. Especially the calf muscles: lean with your hands against the wall, on tiptoes, and then lower the sole of your foot until you feel some tension behind your knees as your body reaches the floor. You should also stretch your thigh, quadriceps and hamstring muscles.
– Start walking at a calm and paced pace, never rushed, until you have warmed up. After heating, the pace should be moderate and continuous.
– Rest at least 10 minutes, or more if you need to, every hour or two.
– Always walk at a comfortable pace, the one where you can follow well and can still talk easily. Walking should be as natural as breathing, that is, you should do it without thinking about it.
– On a horizontal floor, walk as you normally would, with steps that are neither too long nor too short. When going uphill, and since there is no hurry, use shorter strides and walk more slowly, relieving the buckle at the waist of the backpack to breathe more easily and support the entire sole of your foot on the floor to avoid overloading any specific area of your body .
– When walking downhill, and if the terrain allows it, take bigger and faster strides. Rest your heels firmly on the floor and slightly adjust your backpack buckles to give your shoulders a rest.
– When you reach the end of the Path, you will have taken a million steps. Even so, be careful and pay attention where you walk. One bad foot is enough to remove you from the pilgrimage. Therefore, and especially when traveling on uneven terrain, or in places with holes, or loose stones, you should pay special attention to where you place your feet.
– If you are walking with someone who walks faster than you, do not try to accompany that person. Otherwise, your muscles will be exhausted after a few hours.
– It is absolutely essential to hydrate your body well before starting, during and after walking (drink three glasses of water an hour or two before starting each step, two glasses 15 minutes before starting; and the equivalent of approximately one glass of water between every 40 minutes of walking; a total of two liters per day).
– Drink even if you don’t feel thirsty. This will prevent muscle problems like cramps.
– Do not walk more than 15km without drinking water.
– Do not drink water from sources, streams or other sources without being sure that they are drinkable.
7 – Pauses / stops
– In summer, look for a cool place in the shade.
– Loosen your shoes and put your feet up.
– Make the most of the break to drink and eat something (nuts, chocolate, fruit, energy bars, etc.) if you wish, but in small quantities, just what is necessary to restore your energy.
– If you are doing the bike path, the breaks should be done away from the road and the shoulders.
– Cycling breaks should be short and infrequent.
– In this case, if the stage consists of two sessions, take a long break to eat and restore energy.
8 – Foot care
– Take special care of your personal hygiene – if you are unable to bathe at the end of the day, wash your feet thoroughly. If there is no water, rub a cream on them which will refresh and relieve them from tiredness.
– If you wear sneakers, put on seamless cotton socks (or trekking socks). If you wear boots, in addition to cotton socks, it will be beneficial to wear a 2nd pair of washed wool socks to reduce friction between the skin and the boot, or else use special socks for trekking.
– It will be useful to refresh your feet in a spring or stream that you find along the way. Be careful to dry them very well, the best way to let them air dry.
– Blisters on the feet – Blisters are a reaction to skin burns caused by the continued rubbing of the shoes against a point on the skin of the foot. If blisters form on your feet: pierce the blister with a hypodermic syringe (in one or two places) and completely drain the blister liquid. Never cut the skin, as it serves to protect the injury. Put on a hydrocolloid dressing, or if not, a moisturizing cream and a quick dressing (you should put the cream on for this dressing not to stick to the wound), taking care to put it in the right place and reduce its size if necessary. At the end of the day, you should remove the dressing and wash and dry your feet thoroughly, and repeat the bubble treatment process again (perforating the bubble again to drain it if necessary). The next day, before starting the stage, put on a new dressing (hydrocolloid, or moisturizer and fast dressing).
– Athlete’s foot infection – Athlete’s foot is a ringworm (fungal infection) that affects the skin of the feet (which starts to have a peeling and brittle appearance) and causes intense itching, especially between the toes. It should be treated as follows: after washing and drying your feet carefully, spray an antifungal for this purpose between your toes and let it air dry. Then put on your socks – always cotton. It is not a good idea to use creams or ointments as they keep the space between your fingers moist and fungi will take advantage of these conditions to develop. You must do the foot treatment before starting the day of walking and at the end of the day when it ends.
9 – Fight fatigue
– Rest while you are not too tired, in order to recover well. If you walk / cycle to exhaustion, recovery will be slower and more difficult.
– If you are extremely tired, you should rest an entire day a week.
– Drink lots of fluids, including energy drinks that replenish minerals lost in sweating and through urine, to prevent your muscles from getting tired.
– If you are suffering from heat exhaustion, or a travel companion, find a cool place, slowly drink water or isotonic drink, refresh your body (apply a cold compress to the neck and wrists), and rest lying down with your legs slightly elevated until fully recovered. Exhaustion by heat is caused by the excessive loss of water and minerals, and the symptoms are rapid pulse, excessive sweating, and may be accompanied by dizziness, headaches, nausea or cramps. If you feel vomiting, dizziness that prevents you from standing, disorientation, or if it does not improve in 1 hour, contact the national medical emergency number – 112.
10 – Most frequent injuries
The best thing to do in case of an injury is to go to the nearest Health Center or physical therapist.
Tendonitis or muscle strain
– When walking approximately 25km a day, carrying a backpack, it is common to suffer from tendonitis or muscle strain.
– Apply a cold bag to prevent inflammation and decrease pain. If using ice, do not put it in contact with your skin, put a cloth between your skin and the ice to avoid burns.
– If the pain is severe, take Paracetamol, and rub anti-inflammatory ointment on the affected area several times a day.
– If the area becomes inflamed, take an anti-inflammatory, but only on a full stomach.
– If you have tendonitis, seek the help of a physical therapist in the area.
– If the injury is muscle strain, you should put a compression bandage on the affected area and consult a doctor or physiotherapist to see if you are able to continue the Path.
– The Achilles tendon is the most frequently affected area among pilgrims.
– This injury is characterized by a pain in the back of the heel in the morning, when taking the first steps of the day, which becomes more intense during and after exercise, with increasing intensity. The pain also increases in duration and can remain constant, even when physical activity is involved.
– The most frequent causes of this injury are: the difference in height of the heels normally used (for example in women who usually wear high heels and now walk with shallow heels. The difference and change in height to which the body is accustomed forces the tendon to stretch in a way you are not used to); the use of shoes whose soles are too soft; walking uphill – which causes the tendon to stretch, bringing its elasticity to the limit; and the pressure that the shoes exerts on the tendon, caused by high boots when they are too tight at the ankle.
– This injury can be avoided, basically, by choosing shoes well. You should wear boots with hard soles, without shock absorbers on the heel, and check that the legs are not elevated at the back. The legs, in most good boots today, are lower at the back of the heel, precisely to prevent the walker from suffering from tendonitis in the Achilles tendon. Before starting the Fatima Way, you should train by doing stretching exercises on the Achilles tendon, making them more and more intense, especially in the case of ladies who usually wear high heels regularly.
– If, despite all the care, you get this tendonitis, take anti-inflammatory, put an ice bag in the area (without direct contact with the skin) and visit a physical therapist.
Sprain (injury caused by stretching or tearing of ligaments)
– Sprains in the ankles are the most frequent, and occur when the ankle is twisted, due to poor foot support on the ground in the stride.
– When this happens, you will feel a sharp and sharp pain in your ankle.
– Ankle sprains happen especially when walking on uneven ground, and especially when going down.
– If you carry many things, being overweight will cause the ligament to stretch, or even rupture. This situation is more serious.
– You can avoid sprained ankles by wearing boots that adequately support the ankle, and of course, carrying as little weight as possible.
– If you twist your ankle, without breaking ligaments, you can put ice on the area where it hurts (without direct contact with the skin) and rest for a day or two. This should be sufficient.
– Taking an anti-inflammatory (on a full stomach) can also be helpful.
– A more severe sprain (one in which there is partial or total rupture of the ligament) will make the continuation of the journey unfeasible, and you will have to interrupt the Path and return home.
Arthritis caused by injury, especially in the legs
– Injury in a joint can create a painful situation that may force the walk to stop.
– These situations are more common in the knees after long descents.
– Excessively long steps, prolonged descents, and carrying a heavy backpack facilitate the occurrence of these injuries.
– You can try to prevent this type of arthritis by planning not too long steps and keeping the weight of your backpack to a minimum.
– If you suffer an injury, treat it with anti-inflammatory and a cold bag (if it is of ice put a tissue between the bag and the skin).
– If you are careful, these injuries may not be a serious problem, although they certainly make the journey more painful.
11 – Practical advice for people with disabilities
– Before starting the Path, you should check the physical conditions you are in, assessing the ability to cover the distance established for each stage.
– With spare parts of the wheelchair, rubbers for crutches, gloves, and to avoid bubbles, a cream or an appropriate pharmaceutical product should be prevented.
-The weight of the backpack must be in accordance with what you can carry, taking into account the climbs you will have to travel.
– Make sure you have a support vehicle and embrace the Caminho de Fátima with the company of someone who can help you in some more difficult part.
– People with some degree of mental disability should be accompanied by someone who knows their condition and can provide specific help if needed.
– People with hearing impairment must be extremely careful when crossing roads on which they will travel many kilometers of the way.
– We advise people with visual impairments to always be accompanied on their walk, due to frequent crossings, deviations in the path, uneven ground, and other important aspects that lack of vision can make it more complicated.
Sources: Text adapted from Physiotherapy on the Camino (2010); Official Colexio of Physiotherapists of Galicia.