Training for the Turtles

Late last year I volunteered with a turtle organisation in Costa Rica, and it was a life changing experience. I’ll be blogging about the trip in future posts but for now, I want to talk about the training I did to prepare for the adventure.

This picture is taken from the path down to Gunamatta Beach right at the southern end of Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula. This walk’s significant because it was the first of the hundreds of training walks I did to prepare for the volunteering.

The organisation I signed up with (Sea Turtle Conservancy, STC for short – were very clear on the physical demands placed on their volunteers. According to their website, I needed to be able to walk 5 – 8 miles (approx. 8 – 12 kilometres), and a total of 4 – 5 hours walking on soft sand every night. Ok, so the distance was manageable (with some training) but the soft sand? That was an issue.

Anyone who’s ever walked for even a small distance above the high tide line on a beach knows how uncomfortable walking on soft sand can be. Still, if I wanted to volunteer and work with the turtles, I’d have to train, and train hard.

I began with the Gunamatta walk and it was great – lots of undulating hills, a bit of beach, and a long hard climb up a series of steps to the car park. The trouble was though, there wasn’t enough sand.

So, I started walking along the stretch of beach near where I live. I’m lucky to have endless coastline nearby, and much of it sinking soft sand. By the time 3 months had passed, and I was 6 months out from the trip, I was regularly walking 10 kilometres 2 – 3 times every week. I still hadn’t made the time length though. The most I’d been able to walk was 3.5 hours.

A small section of the debris-strewn beach we patrolled most nights while volunteering in Costa Rica

I kept looking at photos of the beach on the STC website and tried to figure out just how soft the soft sand was. Many times I convinced myself it couldn’t be as bad as the website suggested, but I still wanted to be prepared.

After an injury to my back (pulled inter-costal muscles), I started going to the gym. My physiotherapist worked out a program for me that was designed to repair the damage to my back, as well as build up the muscles in my calves. With stronger calf muscles, the theory was, it’d be easier to do the sand walking.

Now, with 5 months left until departure, I was going to the gym 3 – 4 times per week and beach walking 2 – 3 times a week. I also started an eating plan thanks to the CSIRO Wellbeing Diet. I was going to be the fittest I’d ever been!

I still worried about the distance though. I became obsessed with the phrases ‘4 – 5 hours every night’ and ‘5 – 8 miles on soft sand’ and, as the date for departure grew closer and closer, I doubted I’d ever be ready.

My intercostals gave me no more trouble but walking nearly 4 hours in a single session still felt uncomfortable. I was seriously questioning my ability to do the volunteering and, if I hadn’t already booked my tickets and paid for the trip, I may have called it off.

I was so glad I didn’t though.

When I finally stepped onto that beach in Costa Rica ready for my first patrol, I knew I could do it. I measured and body checked turtles, counted eggs, and surveyed the beaches all while walking 4 hours up and down the beach.

Now that I’m back, I’ve kept up my walking and I love it! I still walk most days but now, if I have the choice of sand or boardwalk, I choose the boardwalk. I don’t have to walk on soft sand anymore and I’m happy about that.

Follow my blog for more stories including my experience working with the endangered green sea turtles in Costa Rica.

Until next time,


With thanks to STC & Jaguar Conservation, Costa Rica

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s