Haz el bien, y no mires a quién. -Spanish Proverb


The Camino de Santiago: a candid practical guide

I recently wrote a post about my experience hiking a portion of the Camino de Santiago (“The Way of St. James”), but I wanted to write another post with some practical advice for those of you who might be considering doing it yourself. The amount of preparation recommended varies a lot: I’ve talked to people who have started preparing for the Camino a year or more in advance. I, on the other hand, maybe considered the idea of doing Camino for about that long, but did almost no practical planning of any kind until a few days before I left. It helped (a LOT!) that I had already been living in Spain for a few years when I set out. This made the logisitics of getting to my starting point very easy, and I already knew the language and culture rather intimately.

I suppose there’s probably a happy medium to be found: over-planning could take the magic out of it–it’s meant to be an adventure, and the best adventures don’t have carefully pre-meditated itineraries. But no planning could wind you up in a bad situation that could have easily been avoided. I am by no means a Camino expert, but I had a very positive, relatively incident-free experience on the Camino, so I thought I’d share with you some tid bits that might help you on The Way:

Things to know ahead of time

1. A few key words and phrases. English isn’t nearly as widely-spoken in Spain as it is in the other Western European countries, much to the suprise of many (American) tourists. That said, I was shocked by how much English there actually was on signs and menus in the tiny pueblos along the Camino. It seemed to be more prevalent than what you’ll find even in some of the larger Spanish cities: a sign of the Camino “boom” of these last few years. Still, a few English words on signs does not mean the locals are going to understand you when you rattle off a lunch order in English or ask them where you can buy some Band-Aids. You should learn some basic phrases and niceties to use along The Way.

And even if you’ve got a couple years of Spanish-speaking under your belt as I did, there’s still some Camino-specific vocabulary to know:

peregrino = pilgrim, i.e. you and everyone else on their way to Santiago

albergue = the special “pilgrim shelters”/hostels especially for pilgrims of the Camino

linterna = bunk bed (most commonly what you’ll be sleeping on in an albergue)

aldea = small town/village (I lived in Spain for almost 3 years and didn’t come across this word until my very last week there! I always used “pueblo,” but aldea is commonly used to describe the villages in the very rural parts of Spain)

etapa = one stage/phase of the Camino, typically a 15-35km stretch

2. The route and recommended etapas

You may already know that there is more than one route for the Camino de Santiago. The most common route, the Camino Francés, starts just over the border into France and goes down through north-central Spain and westward to Santiago. Another route I’d like to try someday is the Camino del Norte (a.k.a. the Northern Route or the Coastal Route) which goes all along the rugged northern coast of Spain, through the Basque Country, Cantabria and Asturias before dipping back inland to Santiago. This route is known for being beautiful, but wetter and more physically challenging due to the constant climbs and descents in the terrain. You can even begin the Camino in southern Portugal and walk north all the way up to Santiago. Obviously, the less traditional routes will have a lot less accommodations for pilgrims, but if you’re really looking to rough it then you can start wherever you’d like and just camp all the way.

As far as the recommended etapas for each day, there are lots of route guidebooks for the Camino that will break down each stage and give info about each town. The particular one I used was given to me as a gift and is in Spanish, but I can’t actually even find it online (I know, hard to believe!) so you’ll just have to check out some Amazon reviews and find one that looks good for you.

3. Your options for accomodations: Again, this will depend largely on the route you take. On the heavily-traveled Camino Francés, you’ll have the most options for albergues, and the numbers will increase as you get closer to Santiago. Most towns have a albergue municipal, or public albergue for about 6€/night or a free will donation (called donativos.) I personally recommend checking out the many private albergues along the way, which offer beds for 10-12€/night and are much more comfortable than the public ones. You’ll probably only have 6 or 7 other people sleeping in the same room as you, versus 30-40 in a public albergue. They usually give you a blanket too 🙂 There seem to be new private albergues popping up everywhere as the number of peregrinos continues to increase, so check out the competiton. If you’re not too exhausted when you arrive to your stop, you can take some time to shop around a bit and pick the albergue with the better showers or more-equipped kitchen or cool Irish guys playing guitar on the patio.

The shoe room with a view at the public albergue in O'Cebreiro

The shoe room with a view at the public albergue in O’Cebreiro

How long to go

This is obviously dependent upon how much time you can afford to take. But even if you’re on an extended sabbatical and have all the time in the world, you should still consider two things:

1. Cost. The Camino is probably one of the cheapest adventures you’ll find on the face of the Earth, but it still costs money to eat and stay places. My budget on the Camino was pretty frugal: 15€/day for food and 15€/day for lodging and miscellaneous expenses (bandaids and athletic tape, mostly.) I was able to stick to this budget fairly easily. But even 30€/day gets to be a lot if you plan to do the entire journey, which takes most people at least 30 days. And I would imagine that keeping at it for that long, you would incur a few more incidental expenses than I did on my week-long hike.

2. Your level of physical fitness. This may seem like a no-brainer, but seriously take it from me: this journey is not for the faint of heart. I was a little cocky going into it, thinking it would be a piece of cake for me. I’ve worked as a fitness instructor for a number of years, run several half-marathons (including one, my PR, just a few months before doing the Camino) and am just overall pretty active, and I will tell you that I grossly underestimated the physical challenge that is the Camino. The only thing that saved my ass (quite literally, perhaps) was that I had spent the two years prior living in a big Spanish city with my main mode of transport being my own two feet; in my everyday work commute and errand-running, I put on an average of 3-5 miles walking. I’d say that this high mileage walking, more than any gym time or running, was my best preparation for the Camino. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to do some training hiking with a big pack on too, if that’s not something you’ve done in the past. The longest I had ever hiked with a pack on prior to the Camino was probably 6 or 7 HOURS…so it’s a small miracle that jumping straight into doing that much or more for 6 DAYS straight didn’t cause more problems for me.

What to bring

Perhaps it’s more useful to tell you what NOT to bring, as there are some items to omit that might surprise you.

You need NOT bring:

1. A map or a GPS device of any kind, especially on the Camino Francés route. The route is very, very well-marked with yellow arrows or shell symbols, and there is usually someone to follow or at least a local or passerby to ask in order to ensure you’re on The Way.

One of the many St. James statues, indicating where you're going and whence you came

One of the many St. James statues, indicating where you’re going and whence you came

2. A sleeping bag, especially in summer. They’re cumbersome and unnecessary. All albergues provide, at the bare minimum, a disposable fitted cover for the mattress and pillow. The nicer ones provide blankets. One of the nights, I used my microfiber towel to cover my legs and my jacket on top.

3. A lot of food. It’s good to be prepared, but food weighs a lot and it’s really not all that crucial to have food reserves, as may be the case in other long hiking trips. Because the Camino is such a traveled road, there are plenty of people making a business out of it and ready to provide you with just about anything you’d expect to find in a restaurant, grocery store or convenience store. That said, I found that curiously the last 10 or 15k of the journey was very replenishment-sparse, so if you decide to combine the final two etapas as I did (for a final day total of 40k), you’ll want to make sure you have reserves on that last day.

No, it's not a mirage!

No, it’s not a mirage!

You should, however, bring:

1. An iPod or other listening device. Sure, nature sounds are peaceful and your walking partners’ stories are fascinating, but sometimes your feet are bleeding and you don’t care about either and you just want to blast some angsty rap music to remind yourself of how badass you are.

2. The aforementioned microfiber towel. This has been my token travel towel for all my trips in the past year. They’re great if you swim regularly too: very quick-drying!

3. A journal. Even if you’re not much of a writer, I think you’ll find that you really want to jot down some of the thoughts and feelings you’re having. Even just documenting how each day goes is fun to look back on and useful when giving tips to future Camino-goers.

What to wear

You’ve heard a hundred times in a hundred scenarios to “dress in layers,” and this can’t be stressed enough for the Camino. Remember, you’re covering a lot of elevation, even if you only do the last part. I went in August, in the dog days of an especially hot summer, but I still needed a range of clothing. I started each day with pants, a tank top, long sleeved shirt, jacket and scarf. Even all of that wasn’t quite warm enough one mornings in chilly O’Cebreiro, a town atop a mountain on Galicia’s eastern border. But by 11am every day, I was stripped down to shorts and a tank top. And drenched in sweat by midday. So a clothing packing list should look something this (all items quick dry/moisture-wicking material): 1-2 prs pants, 1-2 prs shorts, 1-2 short sleeve or tank tops, 1 long sleeve top, jacket, scarf, hat, socks, underwear, shoes.

Shoes are another subject that could probably have it’s own post altogether. Athletic footwear has become a hotly debated issue since the dawn of the minimalist shoe movement. Full disclosure: I’m a total minimalist running convert, and that actually ended up significantly affecting my experience on the Camino, in both good and bad ways. I brought two pairs of shoes on the Camino: my heavy-ish duty Salomon hiking shoes and my New Balance Minimus running shoes. I planned to use the hiking shoes, which have a hard sole and toe cap, for the especially rocky parts of the route (which turned out to be, um, pretty much all of it) and use my minimalist shoes for the smoother parts as they’re MUCH lighter, but offer no “protection” from said rocky paths. The problem was that I really hadn’t hiked more than a half-day in the hiking shoes, and never in scalding heat or on such rugged terrain. I destroyed my feet with them in the first couple of days: really bad blisters and the start of inflamed heels–a condition that has stopped many a Camino-goer in their tracks. I had spent over a year getting used to using minimalist shoes, which teach you to step differently, and then went back and “blinded” my feet with a big clunky pair of hiking shoes. Bad life decision. After wearing the hiking shoes for just a few hours of the first two days, I abandoned them for the rest of the trip and pranced painfully along in my Minimuses. The good part was that training in minimalist shoes had already taught me to step more carefully and with better posture, so it probably saved me from other potential problems. But since I had already wrecked my feet with the hiking shoes, I was in a lot of pain, especially for the first few miles each day. And there were a lot of bandaids, needles and an entire roll of athletic tape involved.

Wearing my beloved NB Minimus shoes on rock in the middle of a stream

Wearing my beloved NB Minimus shoes on a rock in the middle of a stream

It should also be noted that we amazingly encountered almost no rain whatsoever on the entire trip. This is an absolute anomaly for northern Spain, and heavy rains making muddy paths may call for more heavy-duty hiking boots. In conclusion, footwear has to be “to each his own,” but I would urge you to use only hiking shoes you’re very used to and perhaps bring an extra lightweight pair. And flip flops for the showers/airing your feet out at the end of the day.

What to expect

Expect to find your limits, both physical and mental. Expect that they won’t be what you expected. I assumed my biggest physical limit would be my back, as I have a slipped disk from an old sports injury that gives me trouble when I overdo things. Instead, my back felt strong and was basically pain-free, but I never expected to be fighting back tears from the pain in my feet for the first mile or so every morning. You might actually find that your limits are much greater than you had thought–that you can go further and endure more pain than you previously realized. There might be mental struggles too, with so much time left alone to your own thoughts, but I think this is one of the main reasons why people do this sort of thing. To wrestle with hard questions.

Expect to meet a lot of amazing people from across the globe. Expect them to offer you things, like some of their wine or some Compeed. Offer things back. Listen to their story and tell them yours.

Expect to see Spain in arguably the coolest way possible. Being conscious of (literally) every step of the journey is a fantastic way to gain an appreciation for a place. You’ll be completely alone in the middle of the Spanish countryside at times and bumping elbows with locals in tiny villages at other times. It’s incredible.

You never know who your walking companions might be

You never know who your walking companions might be

¡Buen Camino!



It’s hard to believe we’re well into June! Now that things have slowed down a bit for me, I’ve had more time to reflect. May was a seriously great month. Hands down, it was one of the very best of my life. It started with great travels with my parents and continued to be full of experiences, fun and unforgettable times with friends.

On May 19 in San Sebastian, I ran my sixth half-marathon (third one on this side of the pond, after doing the half at the Bilbao Night Marathon in 2011 and 2012.) I’ve changed to minimalist-style running over the past year, and although the adjustment really took an entire year, it has finally paid off big time. I beat my half-marathon PR by 8 minutes, meaning I knocked almost an entire minute off each mile. It was a beautiful race in a beautiful place, even when the pouring rain and high winds kicked in during the last mile. Maybe you can find a happy/exhausted American girl crossing the finish line in this video.

The weekend after the race was my birthday weekend and it was…the…BEST. I’ve made so many great friends from a variety of circles in these past couple of years, and many of them were able to join me  to help me celebrate with a Mexican-style potluck in my apartment. I put together this GoPro-recorded account of the night:

My main job here as an English auxiliar for the Basque Government ended at the end of May as well. I’m much more sad about that than relieved or anything else. My job was seriously amazing: my boss and coworkers were super friendly and easy-going, and my students were intelligent, creative, engaged and extremely appreciative. There probably aren’t many teachers in the whole world that can say all of those things about their work. Thank you, EOI de Getxo, for EVERYthing.

one of my classes at the EOI, goofing around like they do best ;-)

one of my classes at the EOI, goofing around like they do best 😉

One fabulous month rolled directly into another, and June is off to a great start. I can’t wait to see what more great things this summer has in store.

I hope you are all doing well in your various corners of the world. Let the summer fun begin! 😀


how to run 100 miles in 25 days

When I made this goal a few weeks ago, I thought it would be kinda hard. Now here I am, reflecting upon its completion and thinking I should have set the bar a little higher. That’s not to say there weren’t moments of difficulty, but it really wasn’t nearly as challenging as I originally anticipated.That said, I did learn a few things from this arbitrary challenge I gave myself, and I’d like to pass them on to those of you who might be considering any sort of running goal.

So here it is, my best non-expert (but spoken-from-experience) advice on how to run 100 miles in 25 days:

1. Get out the door. It’s always the hardest part.

“…but it’s raining/cold/locust-infested outside!”

“…but I’m tired/hungover/incapacitated with desire to finish this season of (insert show here)!”

There are always a million excuses not to work out, but I can’t think of a single time I’ve regretted a workout AFTER the fact. So shut your face. Lace your shoes. Get out the door.

2. Plan ahead. One of my plans for this month was to break my PR for distance in a single run, which actually didn’t happen (hey, I need a goal for February anyway, right?) Part of that was due to a realization of a few logistics that need to be worked out. A rule of thumb for extended workout sessions is that you should have some sort of refueling replenishment after about an hour of constant exercise. That means you have to carry it with you, or have somewhere to make a pit stop for replenishment. Finding places to put things when you have to run with them for a couple of hours can be problematic, so I’m planning to invest in a running belt.

For now, I’ll keep lacing my house keys onto my shoes:

Yes, these bulky metal shanks are really my house keys. This is how most keys look here, despite it being 2012. Very "Harry Potter", no?

3. Yoga mat + rolling pin + ibuprofen + Salonpas® = effective, simple pain relief and prevention. To elaborate: get a good yoga mat for post-workout stretching sessions (and some basic yoga moves, if you please.) The rolling pin is an acceptable, cheap alternative to the ripoff known as The Stick which will come in handy for working out knots in calves, hamstrings after long runs. Ibuprofen will help minimize the post-run inflammation in your muscles. Finally, Salonpas® are these magical little stickers of joy that you can just slap on any sore muscle and get serious relief within minutes. Their topical analgesics will go to work to relieve pain in the area which subsequently allows the muscles to relax. Ahhh, feels good.

Sports injuries are a big deal, and I’m no expert on them. I’m also lucky enough to have never suffered from a major one. Now that I’ve all but discredited myself on the issue, let me state my strong opinion: I think a lot of people tend to underestimate their exercise abilities, overreact to exercise-related aches and pains and then use said pains as an excuse to quit. I’ve had my share of knee and foot pain, muscle soreness, etc., but in my experience it has worked to push through it…with care. You should obviously exercise caution when you start any new type of exercise program, but there are lots of easy, cheap ways to prevent, and later treat, the aches and pains that are bound to come when you exert yourself more than you’re accustomed to.

4. Regular workout playlist facelifts. Some of you run without music in your ears, and that is truly remarkable to me. Music entertains and encourages me through every minute of every run. I guess if you don’t need it, kudos, but if you do, I recommend updating your playlist weekly-ish to keep it new and exciting. Here are some additions from my most recent playlist facelifts:

1- Victor Magan – Love is a Gamble

2-Nadia Ali – Rapture (Avicci Remix)

3- Andy Avrosa – Sunset

4- Thomas Gold & Matthias Menck – Everybody Be Somebody

5- Livin’ Joy – Don’t Stop Movin’ (90s throwback FTW!)

5. Make it a game. Check out my last post on how I made running into a game to overcome discouraging thoughts.

6.  Get over yourself. Millions of people run. Many of them run more than you and I ever will. Be inspired by other runners, but don’t think you’re awesome or superior for running. It’s a choice, and a great one at that, but just be grateful that you’re physically able to run and that you’ve tapped in on one of life’s secret pleasures. Run for YOU. It’s one of the best feelings in the world to love to run, and some people will never know that. Make it your goal to encourage others and appreciate the gift you’ve found.

Happy (running) trails to you…until we meet again!


c’mon, let’s play the running game!

Note: In case you missed my last post, I decided to run 100 miles in 3.5 wks in the month of January, taking 2 days off/week. As of today, I’m at 80 total miles since January 5th, and I plan to finish ahead of my goal sometime this weekend 🙂

A common complaint about running long distances is that it gets “boring” after the first mile or two. I can honestly say I don’t relate with that sentiment. Rather, I find in long runs a feeling of solitude and a sort of meditative state of thought I’ve not been able to replicate any other way. I suspect many runners share in this sentiment; it’s what keeps us putting one foot in front of the other, right?

Perhaps it’s helpful that I got my start in running while living in arguably one of the most uninspiring/unmotivating cities on earth: Grand Forks, North Dakota.

Sorry, GF…what you lack in aesthetics, you make up for in…party rockin’?

party rockin' at Springfest 2011 in GF, ND

I used to run the same square-shaped loops from my apartment, past the foul-smelling Simplot potato plant, around campus and back, venturing as far as downtown GF (slight scenic upgrade) or along the river path (nature? what?) for longer runs. And let’s not forget the freeeeezing temps! I ran my very first long distance runs in the dead of winter, trudging through fresh snow with negative-degree winds whipping past my face. I’m not trying to sound tough—plenty of runners do this all the time—I’m just saying it’s a small miracle that I got into running in the first place, considering I started in less-than-motivating conditions.

So clearly, living in a big, bustling city surrounded by mountains and ocean has really added a lot of excitement to my running life. I remember my first run in the city back in October: I busted out the door of our apartment building into the warm fall air and immediately fell into a brisk, steady pace. I was using Google Maps on my phone to navigate as I wasn’t very well-oriented in the new neighborhood yet, and within a couple of blocks I realized that order to get down along the river, where it’s a lot more “culturally appropriate” to be running, I would have to take one of the narrowest, busiest, steepest streets of Bilbao: Calle Iturribide. Iturribide begins with a  descent of 6 flights of stairs (about 60 total steps), followed by a 300-foot downhill 3/4-mile plunge into the old quarter of the city. And what goes down…must go back UP on the return trip! Hills were a pretty foreign concept for my flat-lander self, so I became very quickly overwhelmed. On the return trip, I’d have to take on that elevation change in reverse…every time.  Not only was it really steep, it was full of people and cars and dogs and…jeez, how was I gonna do this on a regular basis?! Overwhelmed, I halted to a walk in order to navigate through the mess of crowds and traffic until I reached the broad river promenade. I remember feeling really discouraged and almost wishing for the boring but open, unobstructed running paths I knew back home.

Calle Iturribide:

If there was any hope for me to keep up running, I had to change my perspective.

So I’ve made it a game. An obstacle course of sorts.

In this game, the people in crowds become the moving walls of a maze. You musn’t make eye contact with any of them, as their looks of confusion and/or disapproval in your running can be distracting, but you must be keenly aware of what type of wall they are. Are they a predictably-moving and relatively forgiving wall (teens through middle-aged people)? Are they a miniature, erratically- moving, delicate wall (small children and dogs)? Are they an equally delicate, but slow-moving, taller wall (elderly people)? You need to remain very focused for the crowd-weaving stage of the game, always aiming for maximal speed with minimal crowd disturbance.

Then there are the inanimate obstacles—some are stationary and can be used to spring off of or jumped over just for fun (steps, benches, street performers’ money buckets), and others are mobile and range from mildly to extremely dangerous (cars, taxis, buses). There are other walls on wheels (cyclists) which are also sometimes found weaving through crowds, but they’re usually pretty safe to get close to as they’re likely playing the same weaving game as you, often with even greater agility.

Once you hit a wide open path, it’s time to kick back and relax into your steps until the next set of obstacles.

This game is exhilarating and rewarding: like games should be.

So, whaddya say? Why not get out there and play the running game?


10K every day

With each new year comes the idea of a fresh start: the motivation to start this, quit that, improve this, reduce that…the infamous “Propósitos del Año Nuevo,” or “New Year’s Resolutions” as we say across the pond.

I worked as a fitness instructor at the UND Wellness Center during my college career, and through that experience I gained keen insight into the most notorious of New Year’s trends: the super-swelling of gym attendance during the first month of the year, followed by a sharp drop-off as early February. As someone who maintains a relatively consistent activity level throughout the year, I just see January as the time of year when going to the gym can be more stress-inducing than stress-relieving.

So my “anti-resolution”, for January at least, was to NOT purchase a gym membership (I pay month by month) at the fabulous Gimnasio Alhóndiga, but instead to run outside more (ironically during the coldest and rainiest month of the year) and become more creative and resourceful with home workouts.

To have something more specific to work toward, I rather arbitrarily decided that I want to run 100 miles (or 161 km for those of you from countries which have more sensibly adopted the metric system) by the end of January. I truly don’t consider this a particularly impressive goal, but it will be a PR for me I suppose. If you think I’m just being modest, you need to read Born to Run (hugely inspirational for me), and then my piddly 100 miles will seem trivial to you as well.

I started this venture on January 5th, and since I usually do my longer runs on the weekend, I’ve decided that I will polish off the 100 miles on Sunday the 29th, probably with some sort of epic odyssey run to break my PR of miles run in a day (currently 13.1; a half marathon.) I’ve decided to take two days off each week, so that gives me exactly 19 separate runs to total 100 miles–an average of 5.3 miles per run. As you can see from my low-tech tracking method below, I’ve got some work to do before the 29th:

mileage tracking, low-tech version

*Note: I also use as a more”high-tech” tracking method to ensure distance accuracy and to plan my routes. This calendar simply serves as a visual encouragement (it’s taped to my closet) to get out and hit the pavement so I get to use my über-cool hot pink pen to record my accomplished mileage.

You can also see that I’m tracking hiking miles as well, but that’s just for fun–the only miles that will count toward my 100 mile goal are those that I run. I’ve also recently decided to track the amount that I walk each day for commuting, errands, meeting up with friends, etc. I already know that the average is somewhere around 3 miles per day, but I’m curious to monitor it more closely and get an accurate total.

By a very conservative estimate, after adding up 100 miles run + X miles hiked + X miles walked, I will cover over 200 miles on foot in the month of January. That works out to an average of 6.7 miles (over 10km) every single day.

I’ve run in a few half marathons over the past couple of years, and I’m excited to have another one lined up for this March in Santander, Spain: a coastal city just a bit west of Bilbao. I’m also flirting with the idea of running my first full marathon at the end of April in Madrid.

What goals do you have for staying active in 2012?

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Aupa! To the streets! (Bilbao Night Marathon 2011)

About four months ago, I was sitting in my room in Jamestown, North Dakota thinking about how dumb it is that marathons are always in the morning. I’m not really a morning person, and I am REALLY not a morning workout person. I was a fitness instructor for the last four years and some of the classes I taught didn’t even start until 8:30pm. After 6pm was when the gym was always busiest anyway, so clearly I wasn’t alone in my preference.

As with everything today, this thought about marathons had barely come to mind and I was already typing “night marathons” into Google. The first result? “Bilbao Night Marathon.” Woah, wait, WHAT? So the place that I was going to be moving to in a couple of months has exactly what I was looking for? This seemed a little bit too good to be true. I looked into it, and within a few minutes I had registered for the half-marathon (medio-maratón) and totally stoked. I can’t believe the day is finally here!


My “training schedule” has been so all-over-the-place that it’s laughable by any conventional standards. And you know what? I’m totally okay with that.

Throughout the summer, I tried to shoot for one short, fast run (~3 mi, pushing my speed the whole time) and one longer run (6-9 miles, easy pace) each week. Since I arrived in Spain 3.5 weeks ago, I have only gone for 4 runs, the longest being just over 5 miles. So that’s it. I haven’t run more than a 9-miler since my last half-marathon in Fargo last May. That does make me a little nervous, but there’s no sense in worrying about it now.

Me after finishing the Fargo Half-Marathon in May 2011

My total mileage covered on foot since I moved back here is, however, more than what I would cover if I was going for runs on a more regular basis. I estimate that I walk between 3 and 7 miles each day, just in my commute to work and errand-running. My leg muscles have definitely not been dormant 🙂

There are 3,700 people total registered for the full marathon, half-marathon, and 7.5 K “pirate race” (why pirate? not a clue.) Of the 3,700, only 700 are women!!! The number surprised me, but when I think about it I never, ever see girls out for runs here. Occasionally I’ve seen a girl running WITH a dude, but that’s it. It’s just not a thing here. In any case, it will be interesting to be one of the females representing a mere 18% of the total participants!

Our sweet race tees!

Everyone has their own theories on how to train and prepare for a race, but perhaps the most important thing is having a positive and confident attitude. I have no idea how I’m going to perform tonight, but I know that I am practically giddy that I’m about to run through the streets of my favorite city with 3,700 other people while the lively people of Bilbao flock the streets to cheer us on.

I hadn’t watched this video since that day four months ago when I found out about the race, but I just watched it again and now my heart is pounding. Watch it from 1:00 to the end. YOU might even get pumped up.

Aupa! To the streets!

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A gym rat in Europe

The gym. Perhaps the number one thing those who know me associate me with. I’m sometimes even called a “gym rat,” which isn’t exactly the most charming nickname, but I do prefer it to “bimbo.” It’s true, I love the gym. I’m a fitness instructor, and even the fact that the gym is my workplace hasn’t ruined it for me. When I pictured my semester in Europe, I thought for sure I’d be sweatin’ it at a gym at least a few times a week, and maybe even guest-instructing some Pilates class or something like that (ha.)

Wrong. The gym situation in Europe is astoundingly different than in the US. I personally don’t know of one college student here, local or foreign, who hits up a gym on a regular basis. That’s a big change from the 60-70% of my friends at home that do. There is a mediocre gym at our university that we can get a membership for, but I fear that riding 30 minutes on the bus home soaked in sweat would cause me to get even more stares of disapproval than I’m willing to cope with. There are a handful of gyms near my apartment, but the membership prices are outrageous, and they appear to me to be strictly for serious athletes. I think if I entered one, I would feel completely out of place in a gym for the first time in my life.

So what does a gym rat do without a gym? Well, for the first month or so that I was here, I was so exhausted by the amount of walking, getting lost, and dealing with my life being in a different language that going to a gym was almost out of the question. As I’ve settled into my life here, I’ve incorporated workouts into 3-4 days of my week. I run very regularly–Getxo is a very active-lifestyle-friendly place with plenty of running/cycling paths. I also do some small workouts in my room at home–lots of abs of course, and a little “muscle pump-esque” type stuff, which makes me feel super cool while alone in my room…

The Getxo lighthouse, along the path I take on most of my runs

As I’ve said before, the lifestyle here is simply WAY more active so regular sweat sessions at a gym just become less necessary. Several 20-30 minute walks per day have become a normal part of my lifestyle. In summary, walking everywhere and a few small workouts per week have just allowed me  to “break even” with the amount of dark chocolate, gummy candy and red wine I consume.

I miss hard workouts, and I miss teaching classes even more. I just have to keep reminding myself that my time here is short, and I should embrace the lifestyle here while I can. I will be back to being “Abs Megan” in no time.

As I write to you, I am finishing up the last of my packing for my two-week sabbatical around Europe. I’m kicking it off in Paris, then hitting up Dusseldorf, Cologne, Amsterdam, London, and finishing the break with a ladies’ weekend in Barcelona. Hopefully I don’t forget all the Spanish I’ve learned!

Until next time….Au revoir! Auf Wiederschauen! Tot ziens! Goodbye! Adios!