Professor in the degrees in Physical Activity and Sport Sciences and Physiotherapy at the University San Jorge (USJ), Héctor Gutiérrez has proposed to walk the 776 kilometres of the Camino de Santiago in the shortest possible time. All for a charitable cause: to raise money for the Spanish Association Against Cancer and its research projects. Under the title Reto Santiago 776, on 26 May he will start his challenge, which will end on 1 June.
Héctor, where did the need for this challenge come from?
I like to use the word “need”, but things add up and in the end beautiful things like this come up. For many years I’ve had the idea of running the Camino de Santiago. My father died of cancer a few years ago and he did the Camino a year before he died. I wanted to do it my way, and my way is to do it running, as I love running in the mountains.
With my colleagues at the San Jorge University, we saw that the best time had been 6 days and 10 hours and we wanted to do it in less time. We are dedicated to research and we saw it as a scientific and sporting challenge, but we had to set up a lot of stuff to do it, I will take 4 or 5 people as technical staff.
In addition to this, at a lunch my mother suggested I do it to raise money for a good cause. We contacted the Spanish Association Against Cancer and they gave us the platform to raise money in a comfortable way. This was in December and we started training. In February I told the USJ about my idea and they wanted to join in by sponsoring all the expenses of the trip, which was a definitive boost for more people to get to know us and raise more money.
How many objectives have you set yourself with Reto Santiago 776?
Raising money for childhood cancer research is the main goal, but there are intermediate goals. One is that children with cancer in hospitals in Aragon and elsewhere can take part in the challenge. Also to meet people who have suffered from the disease and to be able to inspire them and to inspire us, to put them in contact, to give them a hand in their projects. These are objectives that have arisen on the fly and which are wonderful. I can’t say that it has remained a secondary objective because it is not, but we are working very hard on the sporting objective and now it has become a bit of an excuse.
Why did you choose to contribute to childhood cancer research?
When I embarked on the challenge, the disease was clear to me. I am the father of a 5 and a half year old boy who is fortunately very healthy. They celebrate Cancer Day at school and the children are very interesting because of the questions they ask. My boy asks me a lot about his grandfather. Choosing childhood cancer has been a parent’s motivation. If this disease is hard, as a parent I empathise a lot with families who may be going through this situation and have a child with this disease.
How has the preparation for the Santiago 776 Challenge been?
Very hard, very hard. I’ve been training for this for six months, but I’ve been training for this long distance sport for 7 or 8 years. There are weeks that I train 24 hours for the challenge, and in 7 days, I do 20 training sessions, and training sessions of 115 kilometres, 90, 60, 45 kilometres… We have accumulated more than 2,000 kilometres. It’s a very demanding training, especially to fit it into my personal schedule
How do you do it?
I train in the mornings and teach in the afternoons. I have a team of coaches, physical trainers, physiotherapists, nutritionists and psychologists who look after me wonderfully. If it wasn’t for them I would have exploded for sure. It is a great satisfaction to work with so many colleagues in a project with a very marked scientific character and all in solidarity, where the university contributes its grain of sand and in which many people are helping altruistically.
How important is psychological preparation?
I am a professor of psychology applied to sport. That’s why I contacted a psychologist as one of the first professionals I contacted for the challenge. We have set ourselves a lot of homework related to managing the family schedule, work stress, media pressure, social networks, effort management, sleep hygiene, as well as the basic motivation for the challenge. When you have to run 120 kilometres in 12 to 14 hours, you have to have all kinds of strategies, such as listening to music you like, calling your son, fighting until you reach the next stop, paying attention to your running technique, knowing how to manage pain…
Is it more important than the physical?
Some manuals say that the longer the distance, the more important the psychological aspect becomes. I wouldn’t neglect the physical aspect, but it is very important. Now, a few days before the challenge, I imagine every day the arrival in Santiago, the problems I might have and how I can solve those problems, how I can face an episode of acute pain, I imagine my sick father going through some stages… I’m trying to get motivated.
How do you feel physically and mentally?
Physically, I am 37 years old and I feel in the best moment of my life. Training in such a professional and organised way makes training feel very good and my body accepts it well, I recover very easily and I’m achieving my goal. Psychologically I feel great. There has been something unexpected in this challenge: I have met with the affection of people and with people who have had the disease and who tell you about their experiences. I am discovering the altruistic nature of many Aragonese companies and people who are helping me. I thought it was going to be a constant and permanent suffering and it has been an avalanche of altruism.
Who are these companies and people who have altruistically joined the challenge?
I think Carlos Hernández is the most important person in the project. He is in charge of communication and social networks for the challenge and has been contacting all kinds of companies from the beginning to give visibility to the cause. In terms of companies, we are supported by FarmaBiota, which supplies us with everything from first aid kits to sun creams, the telecommunications company 9siete6, which lends us a wifi router to travel with a permanent data connection, and Futbol Emotion, which distributes sports clothing; El Limpia del Tubo, a bar that has made us an exhibition with the stones made by the children of Miguel Servet; Tempo Finito, which will provide us with technology to time and validate the challenge, Opiatesocks; a sock company that has made a design for socks with the drawings of the stones. Okeymás are a sports centre that have let me train for free during all this time and Ibiomechanics has helped me with the footprint study and to improve my running technique.
The company 4D, dedicated to personalised sports training, supported the functional assessment of the athlete and Encantados de comerte, an ethical company that sells perishable food products at low cost, provided us with refreshment points along the route.
I must not forget the Miguel Servet Hospital, which has collaborated with Believe In Art in a painting competition in the hospital classroom. And not forgetting San Jorge University, which has directly supported the Santiago 776 Challenge by financing the costs of the trip.
Once you achieve it…
How do you want to continue with the project?
This is another fantastic thing that has happened with the project. We thought it was going to end on the 1st of June when we arrived in Santiago and it didn’t. We want to consolidate it. We want to consolidate it, we are not clear yet what the strategy is going to be and we have to rest it first to have a project with a certain impact. We want to continue contributing to research into this disease, always with the ultimate aim of raising money for cancer research. There are interesting things we have in mind, such as training people who have passed the disease to walk the Camino de Santiago or replicating this model in another challenge, continuing to collaborate with the USJ in its Huella USJ project… we’ll see.