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  • Tim Mathis

Running the Camino de Santiago: Everything you need to know.

Updated: May 12

This post includes the running-specific information you need for the Camino de Santiago. For a comprehensive guide to the trail, check out my book The Camino for the Rest of Us.


The Camino de Santiago: Perhaps the greatest running adventure in the world.



If you're looking for a big adventure, you should consider running the Camino de Santiago


If you're a runner looking for a genuinely grand adventure, there's no more accessible option in the world than the Camino de Santiago.


It’s a world-unique opportunity to run across an entire country with no complicated logistical challenges. Multiple Camino routes across Spain make a weeks- or months-long journey almost unbelievably straightforward.


If you’re traveling in the summer, on the Camino you don’t need a tent, a sleeping bag, a sleeping mat, more than one change of clothes, cooking gear, or storage space for more than a half day’s food. I know from experience that you can fit everything you need into a small running pack. You can run as far as you'd like every day, and you can resupply at a variety of locations along the way, no planning required. It’s simply the world’s least complicated place to go on an extended adventure run. 


What is the Camino de Santiago (in very brief)?


If you're here, you probably have an idea of what the Camino is, so I'll keep this short.


"The Camino" is not actually any one thing. It's a network of trails and marked routes extending across Europe and terminating in Santiago de Compostella in western Spain. Santiago is the purported burial place of St. James' bones, and is a traditional pilgrimage destination that has drawn pilgrims for more than a thousand years. The routes still draw a percentage of religious pilgrims, but nowadays most people walk the Camino for personal or cultural reasons.


However, when most people talk about "the Camino," they're referring specifically to the Camino Frances. This is the most traditional route, running about 780 km between Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in western France and Santiago. The Frances is by far the most popular Camino, although multiple other routes have also grown up in recent years (more on that below).


Whichever route you follow, running the Camino is a remarkable cultural experience as well as a massive, beautiful outdoor adventure.


A map of the Camino Frances, the most intuitive route for Camino runners
The Camino Frances

What are the most runnable Camino routes?


Santiago Ways has a slightly more detailed breakdown, but in short, the popular Camino routes that are most amenable to running include:


  1. The Camino Frances, which stretches 780 km from the French border to Santiago.

  2. The Camino Ingles, which covers 122 km from Ferrol on the northwestern Spanish coast to Santiago.

  3. The Camino Portuguese. There are multiple Camino routes through Portugal, starting in Lisbon and terminating at Santiago. The distance from Lisbon is 620 km. However, the majority of people start in Porto and do a shorter portion - either 280 km along the Coastal Camino Portuguese, or 244 km along the Central Camino Portuguese. (I wrote up a complete guide to the Coastal Camino here.)

  4. The Camino Finistere, which covers 90 km from Santiago to Finisterre on the Galician coast, or 115 km if you add a connecting route to Muxia.


On all of these routes, accommodation, food, and medical care are readily available at easy intervals the entirety of the way, and terrain is straightforward.


The Camino del Norte (825 km) and the Camino Primitivo (321 km) can also make good options for runners, and can be combined to create arguably the most beautiful Camino route in Spain. However, logistics are slightly more complicated. Distances between towns tend to be further and terrain more difficult, which translates to heavier packweight from day to day.


What it's like, running the Camino de Santiago


My wife and I ran the Camino Frances and the Camino Finisterre - 500 miles between the French border and the Atlantic. When we set out, I was worried about what we were getting into, and whether the trail would actually “work” for running. By the end of the first day, we’d established a simple routine that we followed the entire trip.


For us, every day on the Camino followed the same pattern: Wake up in an albergue (the Spanish name for a hostel) surrounded by other pilgrims. Leave around 8 am, and run until we find a cafe for breakfast. Eat a chocolate croissant and a cafe con leche. Run some more. Stop for Coca Cola or fresh orange juice. Run some more. Eat lunch - a sandwich and fruit in a cafe, usually. Hike until lunch settles, and then run to our destination - usually finishing at about 2 PM just as the heat of the day is setting in. Shower and wash our clothes. Grab a beer or two. Wander in a quaint village or talk to other pilgrims. Go to sleep, crashed out despite the snoring and smells.


We repeated that pattern for a month, and it was amazing.


Terrain


I would describe the terrain as primarily “rolling” on all of the popular Caminos. There are mountainous regions in the Pyrenees and Galicia, but the the elevation changes aren't outrageous. There are a couple of climbs in the range of 2 - 3000 feet, but those extend across long miles. The grade is typically akin to railroad grade in the US, so it’s rare to find any extended periods that are genuinely steep (at least from the perspective of an experienced hiker or trailrunner). The tread is mostly dirt or gravel road, with some amount of asphalt and cobblestone in the towns. There are very few places on any of the popular routes where the Camino could be described as rugged. (The Norte and the Primitivo are typically seen as the most challenging.) These are rural routes primarily - not wilderness treks. That said, it’s beautiful countryside packed with history and culture. You’ll travel the entire way without seeing the same thing twice, so you’re unlikely to get bored. You pass multiple small towns most days, and most of the routes also go through major cities.


Approach


A general way to think about a run on the Camino is as a series of shorter stages between albergues or other accommodations. On all of the routes, these are typically spaced between 5 - 25 km apart (i.e. 3 - 15 miles). You can complete as many of those stretches per day as you like.


While the documentation is unclear, the fastest anyone has run the entire Camino Frances is in the range of a week, but the experience could be drawn out for months if you prefer. 


We weren’t particularly ambitious, and our itinerary was not dissimilar from many hikers - between 20 - 30 km/day. We did complete a 50k day into Burgos, and ran 85k of the Camino de Finisterre in one push. The entire 500 mile trip took us 33 days.


Our original planned itinerary on the Frances is linked here if you’re interested. This allowed us to have fun, move at a relaxed pace, and minimize our risk of injury. We were normally the last pilgrims to leave the albergues in the morning, and among the first to stop in the afternoons. It made for an incredibly enjoyable experience.


There’s no real barrier to approaching things however you’d like. If you want to mix running and hiking, you could pack light, run 5k - 10k a day and hike the rest. If you want to set a record and do 800 km in a week, go for it! A beautiful thing about the Camino is that there’s no single way to have a life changing experience. It’s magic, and The Way provides. 


FAQs that runners don't need to stress about


There are a couple of things we were worried about before our trip that ended up as complete non-issues. 


Language, for instance, was never a major barrier. The Camino is populated by people from all over the world and English is used as frequently as Spanish. It’s true that you will meet locals who don’t speak any English, and that it will be a much richer experience if you know some of the language and culture. However, it is by no means essential. Download Google Translate, and you'll figure it out.


Navigation is also straightforward. On the Frances, it is remarkable that every turn for 500 miles is clearly marked (outside of the major cities anyway). It can be helpful to have a guidebook or an app to follow, but the main way (and the main alternates) are normally entirely obvious. To help navigate the cities, I would recommend downloading an app appropriate to your route. There are a lot of options, but both Wise Pilgrim and Buen Camino are great. Both have built in navigation tools that you can use to make sure you stay on track.


I also worried - mostly based on rude internet comments - whether hikers would resent us for running. By and large, we actually had the opposite experience. The Camino community is incredibly supportive, and we had many more people cheer us on than give snarky comments (even if there were there were a few).


running the Camino de Santiago doesn't require much gear.


What to take: Gear and Packing for a Camino de Santiago run


We managed to fit everything we needed for a summer Camino into a running pack, and carried it the entire way (more below). If you don't want to do that, or are planning to go in the colder months when you might need more gear, on the popular routes there are very affordable luggage transfer services that will shuttle your backpack between towns. With that approach you could literally bring whatever you want, and could plan a supported Camino run any time of the year.


We used a 17 liter Solomon running pack that weighed about 8 pounds, including water and food weight. (I personally carried handheld water bottles, and only once packed water on my back - on a 10 mile stretch where it turned out to be unnecessary anyway.) 


For our general approach to gear, we ran in exactly the same clothes we use at home - shorts, a synthetic running shirt, and trail running shoes. We packed one change of clothes, a fleece, and toiletries. That was it. For functionality, we never bought anything extra, and we never threw anything out. It was exactly what we needed.


Here’s my complete packing list. (My wife's list was very similar.)


Clothes:

1 short sleeved tech shirt

1 pair running shorts

3 pairs of running socks

A couple pairs of underwear (REI synthetic) 

Buff to use to cover dirty hair, soak in water to cool, look like a rugged adventurer

Brooks Cascadia trail running shoes

1 Patagonia Houdini wind/rain shell 

1 pair of convertible long/short pants for evenings - bought at a thrift store

1 t-shirt for evenings

1 Columbia fleece sweatshirt

1 pair $2 flip flops


Gear:

Silk sleeping bag liner

Earplugs 

Solomon Fastpack - 17L

20 oz water bottle x2

First aid kit

Compeed bandage for blisters and foot protection

1 bar of soap for body and clothes 

Travel toothbrush and toothpaste

lightweight fleece towel 

debit card, Passport, Pilgrim's Passport allowing access to hostels

camera 

small flashlight


The only additional things we bought along the way were lotion for chafing, and a replacement pair of shoes when Angel's blew out unexpectedly.


Before the trip, I worried whether one change of clothes would be enough, but it was no issue. Every albergue has laundry facilities, and most people rotate between one pair of day clothes and one pair of evening clothes even if they brought more.  


Shoes


Most people on the Camino - runners or otherwise - opt for trailrunning shoes or similar. It is also entirely feasible to wear normal road runners if that’s what you’re used to. (I've actually done both. When we walked the Coastal Camino Portuguese, I wore Brooks Ghost road shoes.) If you’re an experienced distance runner, anything you wear on your long training days will likely work for the Camino.


Sleep system


My biggest gear worry was that our sleeping bag liners wouldn’t be warm enough overnight. For a summer trip, they were plenty. Blankets were available for rent in many albergues, but even on the coldest nights on our trip I wouldn’t say I was anything beyond chilly without one. Angel is typically a cold sleeper and she also didn’t have issues. I’ll talk more about weather below, but the biggest temperature issue during summer in northern Spain is heat rather than cold. For spring or fall, a lightweight down quilt or sleeping bag would work and should pack small enough to fit in a fastpacking pack.


Pack


If you’re unclear on which running pack to buy, in my experience 20 - 25L packs are large enough for a packing list like ours. Fastpacking packs are designed for running while carrying several days worth of supplies, so they're a good option. Finding a comfortable pack requires an individual process of trial and error, but iRunFar.com has a “Definitive Guide to Fastpacking” which offers great advice on what to look for. The good news is that Camino runners can carry significantly less than the average fastpacker. Most decent packs will be comfortable with the 5 - 8 pounds that you’ll need to carry. Any store that carries trail running supplies should have a selection to try on - including REI in the US and MEC in Canada. Before the trip, we went on several longer runs in our fully loaded packs to make sure that they were comfortable. I would recommend doing the same.


Gear Replacement


On the Frances, Norte, and Portuguese routes, you pass through large cities with running and outdoor stores, spaced around 3 - 7 days apart on a normal schedule. There are sporting goods stores in some smaller towns as well. If you’re from North America, and are looking to replace your shoes, your preferred brands and models might not be available. Don't worry, something will be. If you need to replace a pack, the same is true. Specialized running packs will be hard to come by outside of the major cities, but it’s likely that you could find something workable along the way. 


Most models of trail running shoes will be sturdy enough to last the full distance on all of the popular routes, so most people won't have to worry about replacements.


Santiago cathedral: the Camino runner's finish line

Health and Healthcare


Another anxiety for the aspiring runner is whether your body will hold up to the strains of distances that are likely beyond your normal weekly average. The only time that I’ve run more than 100 miles in a week was on the Camino, and we did those kind of miles for a month straight. It's maybe a bit risky, but it's also a decent way to test your capabilities.


Injury is a legitimate concern. It’s hard to predict whether your body will hold up, and what your particular problems might be. I can tell you that the approach we used kept us healthy beyond a minor (if frustrating) quadriceps strain in the last few days of the trip. We were in ultramarathon shape beforehand, so we went in with a high level of fitness. And we essentially never ran fast. We kept all of our running at a leisurely pace, and hiked when we were tired or sore. When we woke up it was common to feel stiff and tight, so we started out slowly, particularly on cold mornings when muscle strains are more likely. We rarely averaged more than 5 miles per hour per day, which was well below our normal pace for trail runs of equivalent distance and elevation gain. We also took about one rest day a week in order to let our bodies recover.


My advice is to have a contingency plan for injury. Many of the accounts of Camino runners I’ve read end with the individual quitting due to relatively minor problems (muscle strains or tendonitis). In my opinion, unless you're shooting for a record, it's better to be emotionally prepared to walk for extended periods. Better to complete the whole Way with a combined hike/run approach than to give up with an injury you could've kept moving through.


If you do develop injuries, basic healthcare is extensively available along the Camino. Pharmacies are almost as abundant as albergues. In Spain, pharmacists have wider prescriptive latitude than in the US, and they can typically help manage minor issues. Because the Camino is populated largely by first timers, they’re experts in foot care. Emergency services, hospitals and medical facilities are available in all major cities, and on most of the routes there are thousands of pilgrims along the way who will help if you injure yourself.


We didn’t carry travel insurance, but we probably should have. Healthcare in Spain is dramatically cheaper than in the US, but it’s still a trip ruiner to spend thousands of dollars on a hospital visit if you take a bad fall and end up with a break or serious injury.


Weather


The Camino routes spiderweb across the entire Iberian peninsula, parts of which are mountainous, and weather can vary significantly regardless of season. However, speaking broadly, weather on the Camino follows these patterns:


  • December/January: Usually mild compared to much of North America/Northern Europe, but high potential for below freezing temperatures even during the day. Snow makes high routes difficult and often impassable. Expect rain and precipitation, and many albergues and restaurants won’t be open.

  • February: Still cold, and some high sections still not passable. Expect rain and snow.

  • March/April/May: Shoulder season.  Cool temperatures generally, high potential for just about anything: snow (especially in March), rain and occasional hot spells (especially in May). 

  • June/July/August: Warm to searingly hot (80s – 100s F), even into nighttime hours.  Generally dry and sunny, with occasional cool, rainy days in the Pyrenees and Galicia. 

  • September/October: Shoulder season.  Cooling in September to pleasant/cool in October.  Wetter than summer but drier than spring.

  • November: High potential for cold, wet conditions and/or early freezes. 


Most Camino routes can be completed any time of year, but in the colder months pilgrims need to utilize alternates and prepare for harsh weather. Most people complete their trips between the beginning of March and the beginning of November.  


If you’re considering a summer Camino, be aware that mornings tend to be cool. The hottest part of the day tends to be between 2 - 4 pm., and heat lingers well into the night (particularly inside albergues). 


As a runner, the heat can be challenging, but the cool morning/warm evening pattern can be advantageous. It means that you don’t need a sleeping bag, and if you start early you can get your daily mileage out of the way during the coolest part of the day. We normally left around 8 am, and rarely ran past 1 - 2 pm, with lots of stops in the middle.


The shoulder seasons (April/May, September/October) are maybe better temperatures than summer for running, but the cooler nights do require you to carry more gear. You should pack a pair of long underwear and a decent rain coat (Frogg Toggs are cheap, light and packable). These, along with a packable down quilt or light sleeping bag should still fit comfortably into a 25L fastpacking backpack. Be aware that, on the Frances, in the shoulder season the more scenic high-routes are often closed (particularly in April/May). Lower alternates are available that are passable throughout the year. (Irish adventure runner Moire O’Sullivan has a packing list for an offseason Camino run here.)


"Fueling" for a run on the Camino


If you want to get the most out of the Camino, throw out the idea that eating and drinking will primarily be about “fueling.” The easy accessibility of real, good food is maybe the best thing about the trip.


Every cafe along the way has Coca Cola and fresh orange juice available. That, along with breads, pastries, and croissants make for good, high carb options. Ever-present bocadillos (basic sandwiches), coffee and fresh fruit are available for quick high calorie lunches with enough fat, protein and caffeine to keep you going. For dinner, cheap pilgrim menus are available at many restaurants that include meat or pasta, potatoes, salad, soup and a dessert. If you are vegetarian or vegan, there are real challenges to holding to your normal diet along the way, but it can be done. Here’s a starting resource for advice.  


Spain’s a modern country, so there are plenty of options available, particularly in the bigger towns and cities. We had Basque cake, pulpo (octopus), escargot, Thai, kebab, pasta, and burgers at various points along the way.


Drinking water is plentiful and you don’t need to carry a way to filter or treat. Public fuentes (drinking fountains) are incredibly common on the Frances. On other routes, they're less so, but restaurants and bars are helpful in refilling bottles, particularly if you buy something.



albergues in beautiful places are a highlight of running the camino

Sleeping


The entirety of the Camino Frances is dotted with albergues (pilgrim hostels) every 3 - 10 miles where you can get a bed, a shower, and laundry at a very affordable price. They're less frequent on some of the other Caminos, but accommodations are accessible at manageable intervals on all of the routes I listed above.


There are scores of hotels and B&Bs along the way, but because I’m pro-simplicity, I’m also pro-albergue. They are easily accessible, they’re cheap, and they’re reliable. They also sometimes have on-site meals or stores, so they can make for one stop shopping.

 

There is huge variation in quality and style, but in general, if you’ve stayed in a youth hostel, you know what an albergue is like.  You pay for a mattress in a dormitory style room. Usually sheets and pillows are included. Blankets are sometimes available, often at a small cost. There are basic cooking facilities, though often not utensils, and the range of what is available is huge – from one burner to full kitchens. Some serve group meals for purchase. There are always showers and facilities for hand-washing clothes, and often laundry machines.


Albergues can be private or public (i.e. associated with a parish church or civic organization). Public albergues are usually a couple of Euros cheaper. Word of mouth and recommendations from other hospitaleros (albergue-owners) can be the best way to make decisions about where to stay from day to day. Some are amazing, a few are dingy, but most are much more pleasant than you would expect for the cost. Hospitaleros are, in the vast majority of cases, great people who love pilgrims, and will work to make your experience the best it can be.

 

There are laws governing how public albergues operate, so there are a few peculiarities. Public albergues have limited check-in hours (starting in the afternoon and closing in mid-evening), and relatively early check-out requirements – 8 am, usually. Travelers are only allowed to stay one night (unless held up by an illness or injury), and there are official curfews when doors are locked – usually 10 pm. If you’re planning to be out into the evening, make sure you are aware of those hours, and if there is a way to get into the building if you arrive after them! 


Private albergues have fewer restrictions, and typically operate like standard hostels.


If you're planning to ship a bag forward, unfortunately it'll be tricky to use public albergues, because they typically don't accept baggage transfers. It's easy enough to find private options in most places.


A potential downside to albergues for a runner is that they can be noisy, and large groups of people smell bad. The good news is that, if you’re doing long days and need your sleep, there are private rooms, refugios, hotels, and other generally affordable types of accommodation available. In most places, you don’t have to stay in an albergue if you don’t want to. 

 

If you’re running, you probably aren’t carrying a tent anyway, but if you’re curious, I’m personally not pro-camping on the Camino.  For most of the routes, it can be difficult to find legal places to set up a tent. Because hostel beds are so cheap and accessible, most find that their tent is unnecessary weight.  If you want to sleep outdoors, or need your privacy, a bivy or light tarp would be a nice way to keep the option open, especially in summer when nights are warm.    

 

Budget and Money 


The cost of running the Camino isn't notably different from the cost of walking it.


A common figure you hear is that the Camino costs 45 - 50€/day if you stay in albergues. This is generally true as a base cost for the essentials. It's been a few years now, but my wife and I budgeted 50€/day each, took several nights off in decent hotels, ate whatever we wanted, bought a new pair of shoes, drank more alcohol than we should have, and still came in well under budget. 

  

You could spend less than that if you shop in groceries rather than eating at bars and restaurants (which we did for almost every meal), and of course alcohol is a completely unnecessary expense (though it is hard to pass up, because Spanish wine is fantastic). Portugal is a little bit cheaper than Spain, so the routes in those countries can be even more affordable.

 

Budget in a bit extra for supplies (pharmaceuticals, for instance), and have an emergency fund for things like new shoes or gear if you aren’t confident in yours.

 

For most people outside of Europe, the cost of gear and travel to and from the Camino will be higher than the actual trip.


Although this changed somewhat with Covid, the Camino is still a cash economy in places. ATMs are widely available. Carry enough cash for 3 days of food and accommodation and hide an additional stash of 100€ somewhere on your person, and you’ll be fine. 

  

And, as always when travelling internationally, notify your bank about your travel plans so they don’t disable your debit and/or credit card due to suspected fraud. 


Camino Running Stories


As a percentage of pilgrims, the population of runners is small, but there have been a number of people in recent years who’ve written about their experience running the Camino.



A runner whose story was influential in our decision to run was the Irish blogger and adventure racer Moire O’Sullivan. She traveled in the spring and carried a pack that was a bit heavier than ours, and helpfully wrote up a packing list. Her experience might be instructive for those considering going a bit less lightweight or travelling outside of the summer months. 


David Power wrote up a nice account of his experience running 100 km of the Camino Portuguese.


Jenny Anderson chronicled her successful speed record attempt, which she completed in winter, and it reads as an intriguing story if also a particularly gruelling way to approach the trail.


Further resources


Running the Camino de Santiago? Have a look at my guidebook

Guidebook


If you are seriously considering running the Camino, have a look at my comprehensive guidebook to the Camino Frances, The Camino for the Rest of Us.


Online


Your most valuable online starting place for planning is The Confraternity of St. James.


Based in the UK, this organization is designed specifically to help pilgrims succeed, and their website is, in my opinion, the best English language resource available online. What you’ll find here includes a guide to the history of the Camino, information about the various routes, transportation advice, information on accommodations along the way, information on off-season hiking, and more.


Marathon Handbook also has a useful article about running the Camino, with a lot of good information.


If you want to talk to someone with experience, Camino de Santiago All Routes is a supportive Facebook community.


Like the Camino community itself, this group is remarkably supportive. It’s huge, and any question you ask is likely to get a range of responses. It’s a great place to find other people planning their trips, and to ask for advice from those who’ve already done it.


Camino Apps


I mentioned Apps above, but my favorite are Wise Pilgrim and Buen Camino 


If you have specific questions, feel free to reach out to me via the contact form on my About page


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