Jenny Biondi Anderson, a Spanish teacher from Virginia, will start the Camino Francés in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on February 27. She hopes to arrive in Santiago de Compostela, nearly 800 kilometres away, ten days later.
She’ll do the whole distance on foot—running. Her goal is to beat the World Speed Record of twelve days for the route.
Jenny recently answered my questions about her upcoming trip by e-mail.
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Anna-Marie: What made you decide to do this trip? Why the Camino Francés in particular?
Jenny: I love 1) “long trails” 2) challenges 3) Spain and Latin America, and 4) the idea of doing a Pilgrimage. I have heard from several people about the Camino Francés over the years and so I have had it on my radar for a while.
In the summer of 2009, I did a long trail endeavor in North Carolina for a speed record and I used that time to gauge my fitness level, emotions, and mental toughness for attempting another another long trail endeavor at record speed. I found myself dreaming about El Camino de Santiago much of the time.
I finally committed to the idea in the fall of 2010.
Have you looked into the pilgrimage aspect of the route? Do you see yourself as a pilgrim on this journey?
I absolutely see myself as a pilgrim on this journey. Some might say, “Well, you are not slowing down and really having the experience of meeting the people.” I can answer that by saying, “True; and someday I will return and take my time on the Camino. But this pilgrimage is about speed and spending some long tough days on my own putting one foot in front of the other—day after day until I reach Santiago.”
I will have to dig deep into myself and my faith as I endure some hard days. In the end, I will be a different person. This experience will change me.
What made you decide to do this without a support vehicle?
Well … I have backed off from that idea. Normally, I would absolutely do this run without support and I might come back someday and attempt this endeavor unsupported. The trail lends itself to not needing a lot of support because of the frequency it comes into town.
Recently, however, I have been alerted to the fact that the time of year that I am going (weather and low tourist volume) is not conducive to attempting this run without support. I have realized that most of the “albergues” (hostels) along the trail do not have heat and are too damp to dry your clothing. Cold and wet conditions are going to set me up for failure.
Additionally, I have discovered that many albergues are closed during the time I am going because of the weather and/or because of Spain’s current economic challenges.
Lastly, albergues close early for the evening and so if I come into town at 8 pm looking for a room, I will be out of luck without my crew holding a spot for me somewhere.
Therefore, I am sad to say, I am decided to move this run to a supported endeavor. My mom, stepfather, and one of my daughters will be there for me at the end of each day. I will be on my own throughout the day and I will even sleep in a completely separate town from my family but I will see them for about two hours each evening as I finish.
You’ll be trying to average more than seventy-three kilometres per day. How many hours will you be running in an average day? How does that compare to long-distance runs you’ve done in the past?
In the past, I have mostly done ultra-races (50k to 100 miles); however, I accomplished the SB6K program in the summer of 2009, which entailed summiting forty of North Carolina’s 6,000-foot peaks some of which were off trail. This 280 mile (450.6 kilometre) endeavor was completed in less than a week with the equivalent amount of climbing as summiting Mt. Everest twice. We covered approximately forty miles (sixty-four kilometres) a day on some pretty mountainous terrain. We averaged about fifteen hours a day. I say “we” because I did this with two other female friends.
I anticipate covering seventy-five to eighty-three kilometres a day on the the Camino Francés (averaging eighty kilometres [fifty miles] a day). I hope to average about four miles (6.4 kilometres) an hour which would be about thirteen to sixteen hours a day depending on the degree of elevation. I will need to be very patient but steadfast.
You plan to carry a five-pound (2.3-kilogram) backpack. What will you take in it?
I will carry a five-pound pack and I have been training with five pounds since October. In fact, I haven’t run a step without it. I have been putting in 90 to 125 mile (144 to 201 kilometre) weeks with the pack. I will carry the Delorme GPS and SPOT check locator. I will carry my micro-spikes for the snowy and icy mountain passes. Additionally, I will carry a camera, lots of layers of clothing in case it gets cold or wet, as well as food and water.
Will you be blogging along the way?
I will send text messages using the Delorme SPOT check and locator. I can send these messages via satellite throughout the day to my friends and family at home. Additionally, my mom and stepdad will email and call home for me to give updates. My husband will update my blog and Facebook page daily.
You say on your blog: “My pilgrimage is nothing in comparison to the life and death journey others are facing daily around the world. I will run for them and their individual stories.”
Can you tell me a bit about the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and what made you decide to fundraise for them? How is the fundraising going?
When originally looking for “the cause” that I wanted to promote and bring to light, I thought of two things: 1) I want something or someone that will truly “move” me when the going gets particularly tough in Spain, and 2) I want to help an organization that has credibility financially and logistically.
There are a lot of organizations out there that do not utilize their funds efficiently and there are several charity watchdogs that pick up on this. I turned to the American Philanthropy Association when looking to find a worthwhile organization. Several charity watchdogs have given The IRC an “A+” (the highest rating) for efficiency and use of funds. Ninety percent of all their money goes directly to refugees.
The IRC has videos all over YouTube that express and depict the impact this incredible organization has had around the world. The IRC was started by Albert Einstein over seventy-five years ago and so it carries further credibility through its longevity.
Additionally, I love the fact that this organization helps those that are on very tough journeys. These people are enduring hundreds (sometimes thousands) of miles to escape persecution and death.
They inspire me. They will be the ones that keep me going when I feel like I can’t take another step. To think of their endurance, courage, and spirit is the most moving and motivating thing I can imagine.
My fundraising goal is $2000. My campaign will end during the third week of March. I have $300 more to go and I have no doubt that I will reach my goal. $2000 will feed 400 refugee children for a month.
It’s a start.
[Update: Since writing this, Jenny announced that she’s already reached her fundraising goal.]
You wrote in your blog: “I must honestly say that I do have fear for the amount of pain I will endure. I have fear of how my emotions and perspective will alter as the suffering deepens and I run though very dark and lonely hours. Nonetheless, this is part of the journey. I would have it no other way. It will make the end that much more beautiful and worthwhile. Fear. Pain. Suffering. These are not the enemy. The enemy is using them as an excuse to not meet a goal or attempt a challenge.”
You’ve done some long runs before. How did you deal with the fear and pain then?
I have always been the type of person to subscribe to the philosophy that enduring life’s toughest moments is the only thing that truly builds character. Each difficult moment in my life has taught me the most significant lessons. I view challenges as stepping stones to great lessons and so I never run from them.
Endurance is the greatest gift I could pass on to my children. Enduring the difficult, the painful, the uncomfortable, and the impossible can be our saving grace. I think about this philosophy when times get tough.
Other things that get me through the lonely and dark moments are: 1) my abiding faith in God; 2) knowing that others are enduring a much tougher road than I so it is important to suck it up; and 3) “this is who I am and what I do.”
Is there anything else about the trip that you’d like to mention?
1) Support the IRC!
2) There is no such thing as impossible.
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To learn more about Jenny—and follow her run after February 27—visit her blog, Jenny’s Journey.