| 20.4°C Dublin

Couch to Camino: After a stall in her fitness programme Andrea Smith felt it was time to give her self a 'kick up the arse'


Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

Andrea Smith

So after managing to walk the 5k in Carlow last week (even though I came in last), it dawned on me that I have to do that distance at least four times per day for six days when I embark on my 115km Camino trip at the beginning of October. I think the shock of that threw me off, and I coasted a bit with my fitness programme for a few days. I was raging, so decided to think about why I was doing the thing in the first place to give myself a kick up the arse.

I decided to meet up with singer and trip organiser, Frances Black, for a chat, as this will be her third time to do a leg of the Camino in aid of her charity, The RISE Foundation.

I was interested to see how she felt before she went the first year, and how she found it when she got there. "I was daunted the first year, and I still get a bit daunted to be honest, because I'm not the fittest person in the world," says Frances, who set up RISE in 2008 to help families who have loved ones in addiction.

"The Follow the Camino guys who organise our trip explained to me that you just do it in bits, and take it at your own pace. So you get up in the morning, have breakfast, walk for a couple of hours, stop for coffee, walk for another two hours, stop for lunch and then walk another couple of hours in the afternoon.

"I was a bit anxious the first year and was worried about keeping up with everyone else, but the fast walkers take off and they'd be there by noon, whereas I'd take it at my own pace and wouldn't get there until 3 or 4pm."

Everyone doing the Camino for Rise has to raise €1,900, which is done through donations and sponsorship (I have a MyCharity page, mycharity.ie/event/couchtocamino/) or by having coffee mornings or other events or selling RISE bookmarks, pens and wristbands, etc. The charity gets €1,000 from the money raised, and the balance goes to cover the flights and accommodation.

I'd really love to raise more than €1,900 to give the charity a bigger donation, since I'm going to all this shaggin' effort to turn myself into a lean, mean walking machine. Well maybe not lean, as I'm pretty much shaped like an apple on two sticks, but you know what I mean.

More than that though, while I have thankfully not been personally affected by addiction or its impact, who among us hasn't seen the havoc it can wreak in Irish families?

As has been well documented, Frances went into recovery for alcohol and prescription drug addiction in the past, and went on to train as an addiction counsellor. She was inspired to set up the charity when she saw how little support was available to the families of those with addiction. RISE offers programmes and one-to-one counselling for family members (rather than the person in addiction), as the worry and stress they experience can have profound physical, emotional, social, and spiritual consequences.

"Family members learn that they can't control a loved one's addictive behaviour, they didn't cause it, and they can't cure it," explains Frances, adding that the 10-week programmes and aftercare programmes promote healing, and teach families to identify new, healthy ways of coping with addiction and relationships.

"We don't get any government funding, so we'll raise €20,000 from the 20 people doing the Camino this year, which will keep us going for a few months. It's our biggest fundraiser every year, and it really is a lifesaver for us as we literally go from month to month to keep our services open in Dublin, Portlaoise and Kilkenny. For our families, the programmes are life-changing, as they help them to rebuild themselves and empower them to stay strong."

Listening to Frances' words inspired me to get going again, because I really am very fortunate in life, and the least I could do is stop procrastinating and go out and do something to help someone else for a change.

I decided to try out SlimFast for five days, and headed to Boots to stock up. SlimFast has been around for decades, and it involves substituting meals with replacement shakes and snack bars.

It might sound faddish but they are all nutritionally balanced and high in protein, and the bars and shakes are very tasty. It definitely didn't seem like quite as much of a punishment as other diets I've tried, but it's not for you if you're not a fan of the restrictive thing.

The last time I tried SlimFast was in my 20s, so I was impressed at how much it has expanded and improved. There were pretzels and cheddar bites, which gave a satisfying crunch, and nougat and chocolate bars that appealed to my sweet tooth. Even the shakes now come in ready-to-drink bottles, as well as the traditional powdered tins.

I lost 3lbs in five days, and I definitely felt it was great diet for convenience, variety and speedy results. I also pulled on my trainers and got back out in the fresh air, I was inspired by Frances' insistence that doing the Camino is a lovely, spiritual experience that will be great for my own mental and physical well-being.

"There's a great sense of achievement when you finish it, so it's worth the blisters and the effort and the tiredness at the end of every day," she says.

"It's a really challenging experience, but I I wanted the walking to be the enjoyable bit and kind of used it as my meditation time. I didn't want to be rushing to get to the next destination every day, so I enjoyed the scenery and meeting lovely people and having all the chats along the way."

"Don't get me wrong, there are challenging days, but when you're walking on a journey like that, people tend to open up about their lives and it's just a lovely experience. The thing about doing the Camino is that it's the journey that's the important part, not the destination."

See therisefoundation.ie

To make a donation to Andrea's My Charity page, visit: http://mycharity.ie/event/couchtocamino

Health & Living

Related Content

Andrea Smith is embarking on a healthy eating and walking programme.