Chasing Ignatius: Boston College Grad Becomes First Person to Run Ignatian Camino in Spain
By Ariel Laguilles, Boston College ’00, Gonzaga College High School ‘96
On June 4, 2019, I became the first person to run the entire length of the Camino Ignaciano (Ignatian Way). It took me 8 days,12 hours and 45 minutes to complete the 408 mile route through Spain that St. Ignatius walked almost 500 years ago, from his birthplace in Loyola to the town of Manresa, where he developed the Spiritual Exercises. Having attended Gonzaga College High School, earned my B.A. at Boston College, lived in Managua, Nicaragua as a member of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and recently completed my 15th year teaching at Gonzaga, I cannot think of a more unique opportunity that blended my life as a product of Jesuit education with my love for running. As I reflect back on those eight days following in the footsteps of the founder of the Society of Jesus, I share a few lessons learned from that experience.
Do your homework
In June 2018, I decided that I wanted to run the Camino Ignaciano in eight days, which meant covering about 50 miles a day from Loyola to Manresa. Preparing for something like this was uncharted territory for me. I bought the guidebook (and also put myself in touch with Rev. Josep Iriberri, S.J., one of the authors and Director of the Pilgrim’s Office of the Camino Ignaciano), and studied each stage, description, map, mileage and any other detail I felt necessary to know.
After that, I came up with a training plan that would ultimately prepare my body to endure multiple days of high mileage and get accustomed to running on tired legs. My priority in training was to make it through my ten-month plan without getting injured or burning out.
Since my knowledge of the Camino Ignaciano was limited to the guidebook and the website, I booked a solo training trip during my spring break in March, where I had the opportunity to see some of the route firsthand. I ran the first 100 miles (almost all of Basque Country) in three days, en route to the highest weekly mileage I had, at that point, ever run in my life: 124 miles. The confidence I gained from that trip put my nerves at ease and prepared me for the real thing.
Take all the help you can get
Usually during longer ultra races, a runner has a crew: a team of people who help throughout the race. They meet you at aid stations to make sure you have enough food and drink, keep you focused, ensure your overall survival, and even run with you. My crew for this run was Agustín (Auggie) Oulton and Diran Devletian.
My path crossed with Auggie last summer when he organized a summer immersion trip for a group of Gonzaga students to Argentina and Uruguay through his company, Varsity Sports and Educational Tours. It was during that trip that the idea hatched. After saying I would love to run the Camino Ignaciano one day, Auggie quickly replied, “If you’re serious about it, I’ll support you.” By September, we were messaging each other, making plans for May 2019: the Ignatian Run was going to happen.
Throughout the run, Auggie and Diran (who works for Varsity Tours) kept supplies stocked. They made sure I had all the Red Bull, potato chips, and Aquarius (an isotonic sports drink) that I could ever need. I knew I could expect the same ritual during each planned (and unplanned) stop I would make: sit on stool, receive cold, wet cloth on my head, chug a Red Bull, consume bottles of Aquarius, stuff face with chips. They made sure my hydration bottle was filled, and that I had gels in my pack before continuing on. Diran would ride alongside me on an often squeaky-wheeled, borrowed mountain bike he named “La mula,” a nod to both St. Ignatius and Don Quixote’s mules. I undervalued his company in the beginning since I was accustomed to running and training alone. I enjoyed the solitude, the quiet and the escape that running for hours afforded me. However, as the hours ticked by and the discomfort grew, having Diran to talk to kept me focused on the present, and made sure we did not stray from the route. Often he would talk and I remained silent, too tired to converse, but knowing he was there gave me some peace of mind.
Without my crew, I don’t think I would have made it to Manresa.
On suffering: Expect it and accept it
By day 5, the extensor tendons in my right ankle swelled so much that I had minimal dorsiflexion in my foot. The unrelenting sun and overall fatigue from the long days left me under a cloud of suffering. I knew this journey was going to have its challenges but the feelings of desolation began to take its toll.
The next day, Auggie and Diran wrapped my ankle after a miserable 11 mile segment that took me most of that morning to complete. At noon, having arrived to Lleida, and seeing my wife, Marissa, who had arrived to see me finish (but also to enjoy the week-long vacation in Barcelona planned for after the run), we decided an extra afternoon of rest would do us all some good. Auggie and Diran returned to their homes in Barcelona for the night and Marissa and I checked into a hotel to rest. After some big meals and a full night of sleep, I woke up with a renewed spirit. I also remembered the messages of support I received during the week from friends, family and even strangers, which energized and inspired me to remain resilient and to keep going. The pain in my ankle and the fatigue in my body were just a part of the experience, and instead of letting it drain me, I accepted it and focused more on the simple joys that running along the Camino Ignaciano would bring.
You’ll get there when you get there
The final day of my journey sent me up to Montserrat, followed by the descent to Manresa. Like the rest of the week, it was challenging, but as each step brought me closer to finishing, I reflected on a particular experience a few days prior when I crossed the Monegros Desert. That 60-mile day started at 5:30 AM and it was as hot and dry as we expected it to be. As I ran through the desert, all I wanted was to get to the end. Staring down at the path, I noticed someone else’s footsteps in the dirt, which was strange because who else in their right mind would be out here? As I followed them, my mind began to imagine what St. Ignatius’ pilgrimage must have been like. I thought about all of those people who made this journey before me, and those who will make it after me. Soon my obsession with “getting there” turned into an appreciation for something greater.
I am guilty of being overly concerned in daily life with the destination, the end product, or the result; but in doing that, it is easy to miss what is happening in the moments that make up the journey because that is where God is usually working. Throughout my eight days in Spain, I felt more connected to my Ignatian identity than ever before. I opened myself to everything this experience offered me and found that God is indeed present in all things: not only in those moments of consolation, but also in the desolation that occurs at my physical, emotional and spiritual limits.
Ariel Laguilles is a proud Jesuit-educated graduate of Gonzaga College High School (’96) and Boston College (‘00), who also served in Nicaragua through the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) from 2000–2002. He currently teaches in the Modern Languages department at Gonzaga, located in Washington, D.C.