Taking a Break Before the Break Takes You…

IMG_0904One afternoon in Spain, I got chatting to a friendly South Korean woman about our camino journey so far. Like me, she was taking a break in the shade of a café bar, so we naturally fell into chat about our walking experience and our lives in general.

She told me that in South Korea, the army have a particular policy when they bring their troops on long walks for training or active service. For every four miles they walk, they then stop for a fifteen-minute break.

Whatever the weather, they stop.

Even if people feel strong enough to keep going, they stop.

Even if people don’t feel like stopping, they stop.

The logic is this:

Taking timely breaks prevents the body from getting too tired.

Taking timely breaks prevents people from getting weary and mindless.

Taking timely breaks prevents people from burning out.

Ultimately, the troops are able to walk farther for longer, and are not an exhausted heap by the time they reach their destination.

What a concept!

Her story fascinated me. I’ve never met anyone from the South Korean military to verify whether her story was true but the message really struck a chord with me that day:

Take a break before the break takes you!

While I walked all those miles across Spain, I didn’t follow this advice very well. I walked and walked and walked, and then had some really bad days where I felt exhausted and utterly overwhelmed. I experienced a sort of all-or-nothing extremism and it meant that some days were really, really hard. It wasn’t how I wanted to experience camino but I didn’t quite know how to change the pattern.

It never occurred to me that I could create a schedule of some sort and, for example, take a day off for every five days I walked. It never occurred to me to book private accommodation in advance and avail of some quiet privacy. It never occurred to me to take a break before I hit that desperate, wrecked, breaking point. As a result, I was probably more tired and cranky than I could have been. I pushed myself too hard and that sense of exhaustion was a predominant part of my camino. Rightly or wrongly, it’s a huge memory for me, too.

I say all of this now because I need to take my own advice again.

The blog has been quiet for the past month while I wrestle with a flu and chest infection. It’s winter here, I know, but still…when sickness grinds my life to a halt like this, it forces me to pay attention. Maybe I’ve been doing too much. Maybe I’ve been pushing too hard. Maybe I should schedule breaks each week or month, just like I schedule my work meetings and grocery shopping and household chores and and and and and….

You get the idea 🙂

Even when I don’t get to write about camino, I find myself thinking about it a lot and applying the lessons to my everyday life. Honestly, the learning was so pragmatic that it’s hard *not* to apply it to my everyday life, and I take a huge amount of inspiration from that time on the trail. Quite literally, the camino continues to change my life and how I live it, usually with everyday examples like learning how to slow down a bit.

So, this weekend, I encourage you all to take a break. Whatever the weather, stop for a little while. Whether you feel strong enough to keep going, stop for a little while. Even if you don’t feel like taking a break, do it anyway.

Take a break before the break takes you.

It’s a good way to keep healthy and well! 🙂


4 thoughts on “Taking a Break Before the Break Takes You…

  1. Hi Geraldine,

    I am perforce reading your blog about’camino Backwards in time, starting with the final steps you have so far written of, handsome husbands surprise appearance etc. I am sp’glad to have found this real and honest writing about camino, which that movie, the way glorified in a way I never trusted. I now do not know whether to try for’this coming but far off spring2019 or wait unti, September and the end of the season. I do not do well for many reasons in sunny hot weather, and certain medications I take every day can promote heat stroke if I become at all dehydrated. So the summer is not an option but otherwise I could go any time if I can get a plane ticket. Coming the east coast of the US I dunno about round trip versus one way tickets, but I do know I would not want to have time or timing hanging on me…I have read that fall is a more rainy time than spring. But honestly I have no idea…if you write about such things, would love to know…


    Phoebe Sparrow wagner

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Phoebe,
      Thank you for your kind words, and I’m happy to hear you’re enjoying the blog.
      Your questions are great: when is a good time to walk?
      The camino forums at the link below are a great source of up-to-date information: https://www.caminodesantiago.me/community/
      The pilgrims there ask and answer all sorts of questions, and there are lots of discussions around the weather and walking at different times of the year. They can also give good information about when it’s quiet verses when it’s more crowded, so that might have a bearing on your decision too.
      So, it might be helpful to look at what people are saying there.
      I agree that it’s good to avoid the very hot sun and other extremes (snow, storms, that kind of thing). Different people walk in, and thrive, in all sorts of different conditions so there are lots of “right” answers. Spring and Autumn are both good options. Take some time to know what feels best for you and have some trust in that inner voice 🙂


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