Fitness Friday: 5 things you need to do for proper recovery

When you’re working hard to get in shape, don’t overlook the need for recovery.

There comes a time in any sort of training where you’re dragging. Things start to hurt more. Soreness lingers longer than it should. And your energy levels aren’t there.

These are tell-tale signs that your recovery habits aren’t cutting it, and if you don’t do something fast your progress is going to grind to a halt. Even worse, you might get injured. And none of us have time for that.

With all the information I’ve given you in the previous four weeks, this might be the most important thing you’ll read to date. You must give yourself proper recovery. So, let’s look at the various ways you can do this.

You need proper sleep: Getting a good night’s rest is critical. I know this is a major issue for a lot of people, but it is something you must work on. The more you push yourself, the more time you need to snooze.

Sleep is when the body goes into overdrive to repair and strengthen your muscles. You can train hard and eat well, but it will all be hamstrung if you don’t sleep right. The winner of the 2018 Boston Marathon, Des Linden, said in one interview that she gets between 9-10 hours of sleep a day. Given the number of miles she runs and the intensity in which she trains, you can bet that she needs it. And in getting it, Linden continues to perform at an elite level. Same goes for any athlete. Try to get 8-9 hours a night.

You need proper nutrition: I’m not a nutritionist or a dietician, but what I can tell you is if you’re training hard, you need to give your body what it needs for recovery. Don’t short-change yourself on protein; try to eat about 0.7 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily. And what I like to tell people, “eat your colors.” If your diet is primarily shades of brown and white, you need to change that. Fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and so forth all need to be in your diet. And don’t think you can eat junk if you’re popping multivitamin pills and drinking protein shakes. Get those 6-10 servings of fruits and veggies daily and lean toward healthy carbs like white rice. Good fuel equals good performance – and good recovery.

If you’re a runner and you’re training hard, you need a periodic “step-back” week: In any decent marathon or half-marathon training program, you’ll notice a couple of weeks on the schedule where your mileage goes down instead of up. That’s by design. Every month or so, dial back your miles by about 10 percent, and shorten your weekend long run. You’ll go into the next week fresher.

If you’re hitting the weights hard, you need a periodic deload week: This is a lot like the step-back week for running. Successful strength training includes progressive overload over time, but every so often you need to have a week where you dial back the reps, sets and weight. Yeah, go ahead and lift. But take the weight down in all your main lifts. Multiple hard weeks of training tend to tax your joints and fry your central nervous system (symptoms of this include low energy). How often you do a deload is somewhat subjective, but most people do it once every 6-8 weeks. I’m getting a little older, so I’ll train hard for four weeks, then do a deload on the fifth. Trust me, you’ll bounce back fresh and strong.

Take your rest day weekly: Once a week, take a day where you don’t train. At all. No weights, no running, no cross-training. Go for a mellow walk if you want. But don’t train. You need that day to recover. But what about all those 30-day challenges and run streaks, you say? Dump ‘em in the trash if you’re serious about your training. They’ll only get in your way.

Next week: Some people don’t have time to hit the weights six days a week. And some athletes, such as runners, can’t afford to lift that much and still get the miles they need. I’ve got a solution for that.

Bob Doucette

Nature’s timeclock is blessedly slow

Time moves differently out here.

About a week ago, I was doing an interview with a wildlife biologist. I was anxious to talk to her because her expertise brings insight to a project I’m working on, and the fact that she took time to talk to me while out in the field doing wildlife counts made it that much more appreciated.

As we spoke, she said something as an aside that stuck with me. She said she wanted to observe these animals “slowed down” in their time instead of what we’re used to in our uber-structured world.

It hit me because in my life, most things are more or less organized by times that I set: When I get up, when I eat each meal, when I hit the gym, go to work, wind down and hit the sack. Every day has its own routine that is specific to preordained tasks that I want done. Daily deadlines at work must be met, and the clock is always ticking.

I imagine that’s true for just about everyone. Everyone, that is, except non-human creatures that live in the wild. And when we visit their world (face it, almost all of us are “visitors,” even if we’re outdoorsy types), it’s striking how much differently time passes.

The clock tells basically two times: Sunrise and sundown. In extremely hot places, the heat of the day pushes wildlife into the shade and underground, waiting for things to cool. In cold places, winter drives hibernation. Seasons dictate migration, fur thickness and even the color of hairs and plumage. Mating and birth have their own seasons, too. So, there’s structure in the wild, too, but not in the manic way in which it’s enforced by humans.

Day to day, things slow down. Way down. And they get quieter.

On solo hikes, the quiet of the land hits me like a truck. Animals don’t seem to be in a rush, unless they have to be rushed. Usually that’s driven by the need to feed or escape those who want to feed on them. On multi-day backpacking trips, the simplicity of the unmanufactured world can be jarring, too. You want to sleep in, but after a time, dawn is your alarm clock. I stay up late every night at home, but come sundown at camp, I turn in. A few days of this and you hit a natural routine, that circadian rhythm that doctors keep telling us is so healthy.

And have you ever noticed how boring it can be out there? No TV, no cellphone coverage, no radio, no constant barrage of things to grab your attention. Just trees, breezes and the muted sounds of wildlife. Nothing for your thumbs to do for days at a time.

But here’s the kicker: Sometimes you need to be bored. All those man-made crutches that keep our attention can make our mental muscles weak from disuse. You can actually spend time to think more deeply. Or not think at all. Eventually, you notice things more – colors of the woods, the desert or the prairie. The different calls of birds and rodents. You’ll see the way water moves and perceive what the skies are trying to tell you about what’s to come.

I’ll admit, I’m a little jealous of the biologist I talked to, because it’s her job to be in these environs. She gets paid to live on nature’s clock, and when the task is done, she can return to “modern” life. It’s a gift to be able to float between those two worlds.

I like my routines. They serve me well. But I need to take a page out of her book and travel more between my structured life and that of a slower, more ancient timeclock.

Bob Doucette

Fitness Friday: More ways to use interval training for conditioning

Go to any commercial gym and there is a good chance you’ll have a lot of tools you can use for interval training conditioning.

I’m a fan of interval training. It’s a way to get a lot of work done in a compressed amount of time. And the method works: Performing intervals will build cardiovascular capacity and help burn excess body fat.

But going back to last week’s post, I knew that I’d need to follow it up with some ideas that do not involve running longer distances. Not everyone is a runner, either by choice or from physical limitations. What I want to do here is give you some ideas for interval training that do not involve “running” workouts.

As a refresher, let’s talk about different forms of cardio. The type you see when someone plows ahead on some machine for 30-60 minutes at the same speed is called steady state cardio. The same is true of someone out for a run or on their bike who travels at pretty much the same pace the entire way.

Intervals involve an activity where you switch speeds from a slower, easy pace to progressively higher speeds, then drop back down to the original slower pace. Another version of this involves working at a high, intense speed (think sprint), then slowing way down to a recovery pace and doing that for multiple rounds. This is sometimes referred to as high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

The up-and-down nature of intervals tends to have greater fat-burning qualities than steady state. And you can generally get that benefit in a shorter amount of time with intervals than you can with steady state workouts. The latter has its place, but for most of us, interval training has more value.

So let’s get to it. I’ll break it down into inside and outside forms of interval training you can do.

INSIDE

If you have access to a gym, there is a good chance it has a variety of machines like treadmills, ellipticals, stationary bikes, stair climbers and rowing machines. Although I’d much rather get my work done outside, there is a benefit to having these tools at your disposal.

One of my favorite machines is the stairmill. One of my friends calls it the “stairway to hell,” and I know why. It’s not pleasant. But it can give you a great workout. And it is very interval-friendly. I’ll start out at an easy speed, and then every minute, go up one level for four minutes, then drop it back down to the speed where I started. Five founds of this and I can climb 1,000 feet in 20 minutes and burn a few hundred calories:

Minute 1: Speed level 8

Minute 2: 9

Minute 3: 10

Minute 4: 11

And than back down to 8 to start the next round.

Ellipticals have the same feature: a speed level, or in some cases, speed is measured in RPMs. In that case, the intervals would look like this:

Minute 1: 55 RPMs

Minute 2: 65 RPMs

Minute 3: 75 RPMs

Minute 4: 85-95 RPMs

And then back down to 55 to start the next round.

A similar path could be forged on an exercise bike using miles per hour as your guide. And so on. Do five rounds of this, and make sure that hardest interval (minute 4) is one in which you are really working hard. You need to be gassed when you take it back down to the slow interval on the next round.

You may have a couple of machines that are more conducive to sprint intervals. Two that I can think of are the spin bike and the rowing machine.

In this case, the goal is to work as hard as you can for a minute, then take a two-minute break before doing the next sprint. Do this for 6-10 rounds. It’s important to remember that your sprint pace is going to feel rough. You’ll need those rest breaks. And when you’re done, you’ll be trashed.

If you’re lucky enough to have a place where you can push a prowler sled, you can do sprints with those, too. Load the sled with a weight you could push at a walk pace fairly easily. Get behind it and sprint behind it as hard as you can. Do 6-10 rounds with a 1-2 minute break between sprints.

As with any form of cardio, I recommend doing your conditioning after you lift and not before.

This grassy pitch is small, but if you run up and down it enough you will get one tough workout.

OUTSIDE

If the idea of indoor exercise is a no-go for you, then you still have options. Probably not as many, and you may need to go back to running a bit. But the distances will be short, so it won’t be anything like longer steady state runs or cross-country style workouts.

Hills on the bike: Find a hill that has a moderately steep grade and is long enough that you can get a 30-60 second ride uphill. Ride as hard as you can up the hill, coast back downhill to recover. Repeat for 10 rounds.

Hills on foot: Find a moderately steep hill that is at least 50-100 yards to the top. From the bottom, run hard uphill, turn around, jog slowly back downhill. Repeat this for 10 rounds.

Wind sprints on foot: Depending on your fitness level, find a stretch of level ground anywhere from 50-100 yards. From a full stop, explode at full speed for the distance you choose. Walk back to the start line, and give yourself a 1-2 minute break between sprints. Do this for 6-10 rounds. Word of caution: I wouldn’t do wind sprints if you are just starting out in your exercise journey. The potential for injury is higher for an untrained person, and if that’s you, build up to sprints by doing other forms of conditioning first.

What I hope you get out of this is your toolbox for conditioning is fairly extensive, especially if you have access to the tools or the places that have the tools to get you there. Not every conditioning workout has to involve running for miles and miles. And if you use intervals and work hard, you’ll see results.

Coming up next week: We’ll take a look at one of the most important (and undervalued) part of training: Recovery.

See you then.

Bob Doucette

Fitness Friday: Running intervals to build speed, torch fat

Good-ole running is a solid way to work on your conditioning goals.

The last couple of Fitness Fridays have been heavy on the weight training side of things, so I wanted to go in a different direction this week. Let’s talk conditioning, and then go over a couple of run-based plans that will definitely up your fitness game.

Fitness is basically two things: strength and conditioning. Strength is the ability to produce force. Conditioning is the ability to produce work capacity. If that sounds nebulous, let’s get down to brass tacks. A strong person can lift and move heavy things. A conditioned person can carry out rigorous physical activity for prolonged periods of time. A good athlete is a person who exhibits high performance in both areas.

And this even includes people in very specialized areas. Strongman champion Eddie Hall, who set a world record deadlift at 1,100 pounds, used swimming to make him better in competitions. Elite marathoner Jordan Hasay can deadlift twice her body weight. The two are nothing alike as athletes, but respective to their fields they are both strong and well-conditioned.

And they set a good example for you. It doesn’t matter if you want to be strong as a bull or able to run long distances at a good clip. If you have a good balance between strength and conditioning, you will be better at what you choose to do, and healthier overall. I went through some basics of strength last week. Now it’s time to talk conditioning.

Let me say at the outset that running is both the default exercise of choice for conditioning (or “cardio,” as you’ve probably come to know it) and a much-maligned activity in some fitness circles. It’s the default because it’s a natural human movement. You ran around as a kid. You ran laps in PE class or for whatever sports program you were in. Aside from running form techniques, running is about as intuitive as it gets.

It’s maligned because some folks see it as a way to get hurt (I think that’s overblown) or believe that other forms of conditioning are superior. Run too much, they say, and it will inhibit strength gains. There are grains of truth to all of this, but generally speaking, a good running program with moderate distances and different types of workouts offers a lot of bang for the buck, and without nearly as much downside as detractors would have you believe. Yes, it will be hard to build strength if you’re running 30, 40, or 60 miles a week. But we’re not going there, at least not in this post.

One last note before I get into the meat of it. The workout ideas I’m going to throw out there in this post will be for people who are already doing some running. If you’re a beginner, you’ll need to start slower and much more modestly and build up your running base before trying what I’m going to present here. A solid Couch to 5K program is going to be right up your alley. Tackle that and you’ll be ready to go to the next level.

Now for the rest of us. You can get fit running 15 to 20 miles a week. But your body will eventually adapt, and when it does, you’ll find your fitness levels stagnate or even regress. Adaptation is a bummer. So that’s why we must challenge ourselves by making things hard.

And that’s where intervals come in. What are intervals? For running, intervals are when you run at a challenging pace for a specific distance or time, then slow down to an easy recovery pace for a short time. Once that recovery period is over, you ramp up the intensity again.

A basic interval run might look like a “race pace” 400-meter interval, followed by a 200-meter slow jog or walk, and repeating this process for about eight rounds. That will give you about three miles of movement. A “race pace” speed should be a hard effort, akin to running but not being able to hold conversation during the effort. Your rewards: torching excess body fat, improving your cardiovascular capacity and gaining experience running at challenging paces that might have made you pause. Try it and see what you think.

400-meter warmup

400-meter race pace 200-meter recovery walk or slow jog, x8

400-meter cooldown (light jog)

As you get accustomed to this, try kicking up the speed on the race pace intervals.

Here’s a place where you can work on some speed.

Too easy? Let’s kick it up a notch. But I’ll just warn you right now:  It’s hard. It’s called a ladder, and it’s a whole lot of no-fun work with big rewards.

How it works: After a moderate warmup, you’ll run a certain distance at a challenging pace, or maybe a desired race pace. Then you’ll slow down to a light jog for 400 meters. When that recovery interval is over, you do a longer race-pace run, then slow down to the light jog. And the next interval has you go at an even longer race pace interval. When you reach a peak distance on the “fast” intervals, you’ll then shrink their distance until you reach the “fast” interval distance that you started with.

If you’ve never done this before, start with a “baby ladder.” It looks like this:

400-meter warmup

400-meter race pace 400-meter recovery jog

800-meter race pace 400-meter recovery jog

1200-meter race pace 400-meter recovery jog

800-meter race pace 400-meter recovery jog

400-meter race pace

400-meter cool-down

The first time I did this, it trashed me. And this isn’t even the full monty!

Here’s the full ladder:

400-meter warmup

400-meter, race pace 400-meter recovery jog

800-meter race pace 400-meter recovery jog

1200-meter race pace 400-meter recovery jog

1600-meter race pace 400-meter recovery jog

1200-meter race pace 400-meter recovery jog

800-meter race pace 400-meter recovery jog

400-meter race pace

400-meter cool-down

That’s a lot of work, a lot of intensity, and a decent amount of mileage, to boot. It’s important to remember that during this workout, you never stop for a water break, never stop to walk. You’re always running. As you adapt, increase the speed on your race pace intervals.

The best places to do this is either on a track (one lap is 400-meters, so it’s easy to keep track of distances) or on a treadmill (distances are going to be on the control panel). It will be a little harder to track your speed on the track, though most sports watches can help. On a treadmill, you can set precise speeds.

Do this speed workout once a week, mixed in with your regular runs or other conditioning routines.

Your weekly run schedule might look something like this:

Monday: 3-mile-run

Tuesday: 5-mile run

Wednesday: Speed work (ladders or other form of speed interval)

Thursday: Rest

Friday: 3-mile run

Saturday: Long run

Sunday: 30-minute cross train (bike, swim or some other form of conditioning)

Next week: I’ll get into some other ideas for conditioning, and not all of them will involve running.

Bob Doucette

Rather than bail, go ahead and take that hike

Sweet trails at Loveland Pass, Colo., on an iffy weather day in 2015.

I got pretty stoked at last weekend’s forecast. It called for snow, which we rarely get anymore here in northeast Oklahoma, so my plan was to get my weekend chores out of the way, head to the trails and see what the woods looked like with a fresh blanket of snow on them.

I woke up to the snow ending, and just barely enough to pockmark the grass with dots of white. A dusting, and not the three inches I’d been expecting. It seems like the last few winters have merely been an extended fall that hurry themselves into spring earlier than I’d like. Part of that whole “hottest decade ever recorded” thing, I guess.

Anyway, I bailed on the hike and watched football instead.

But part of me wonders if I missed out, even without the scenery I expected. After all, some of the most memorable hikes I’ve done have come at times when the weather seemed to be saying “no.”

A few that come to mind…

In the summer of 2015, forecasts called for relentless morning and afternoon storms in the Rockies. I’d already been chased off Longs Peak earlier that week by bad weather and route conditions. But I desperately wanted some alpine time, so despite the ugly prediction I headed up to Loveland Pass to see what I could get.

It wasn’t a huge hike, nor was Cupid a prestigious summit. But the summit views and the way the clouds weaved around and over the mountaintops was so worth it.

Huron Peak emerging from the clouds, as seen from the northwest ridge of Missouri Mountain in 2013.

Two years earlier, terrible rains were flooding the Front Range and northern Colorado when I was supposed to join a group for a climb of Capitol Peak. The trip was jettisoned, but here I was in Denver and having spent a bunch of time just driving there, I couldn’t let it go. I took a chance on the iffy forecast, headed to the Sawatch Mountains and car camped at the trailhead of Missouri Gulch Basin. The next morning, with things looking as dicey as ever, I started marching uphill toward Missouri Mountain.

The weather held off. I was treated to surreal scenery and solitude on what was probably the most memorable summit hike I’ve ever done. It wasn’t a particularly difficult mountain but doing it solo on a day like that made it special. I wouldn’t trade that day for anything.

Rewind three more years. One weekend I had some free time and decided to head to the Wichita Mountains of southwest Oklahoma. I unintentionally ignored the forecast, but when I got there, it was apparent it was going to be a stormy day. Having driven more than two hours already, I said, “to hell with it” and marched down the trail.

A break in the weather going up a ridge in the Wichita Mountains in 2010.

I didn’t get to my objective that day (too stormy), but I did see some amazing things and got to know the range in a way that most of us never get to see: Enveloped in a historic squall, wearing the weather’s colors in a manner that was almost mythic. I’ll never forget that day.

I’ve had a few friends tell me that when it comes to big hikes and climbing mountains that you just need to go, even if the forecast sucks. It might turn out accurate, and you may have to bail. But you also might catch a window that allows you to have a memorable adventure. If you bagged it prematurely, you never know what you may have missed.

So, I suppose when I get my heart set on some snowy scenery and it doesn’t pan out, maybe I should go hike anyway. Something else might await that makes it worthwhile.

Bob Doucette

Fitness Friday: Basic strength, work capacity, and a blueprint for continued strength gains in the squat, deadlift and bench press

Getting stronger in the big lifts has huge benefits. And it can improve over time if you do it the right way.

I’ve done some research over the years to find things that work in terms of strength training. Two methods come to mind: the 5-by-5 rep scheme, and the importance of volume training. The former is something promoted by the well-regarded author of the book “Starting Strength,” Mark Rippetoe, and the latter is something I picked up from listening to Westside Barbell founder Louie Simmons.

Let’s look at that 5-by-5 first. What it has you do: Using the “big lifts” – bench press, squat and deadlift — you’re going to start by selecting a weight you can comfortably do for five reps. Do the set, then add some weight for the next set, and do five more. You keep doing this until you’ve completed five sets of five, and that last set should be a struggle – one where you’re probably not going to get all five reps. Once you get to the point where you can complete all 25 reps, it’s time to move up the weight in all the work sets. Repeat this cycle for 12 weeks, and you’ll pack on some strength on those lifts.

Now for a curveball: When you’re working with rep ranges like five or less, your body will tend to grind down. You’ll keep progressing, but it will slow and eventually stall. That’s my experience, anyway.

Enter Louie Simmons.

If you don’t know who Simmons is, here’s the short of it: He founded the Westside Barbell Club in Columbus, Ohio, and using what he learned from American and Eastern Bloc strength coaches, he came up with a system that helped his gym produce more world-record powerlifters than just about anybody. Simmons knows his stuff.

One of the things he said he discovered is that when his athletes would get to the end of a training cycle, they’d grind down and, to paraphrase his words, walk into a meet with a lack of conditioning.

What he meant by that is they’d be stronger at the end of the cycle, but not as strong as they should or could be. As their lifts got heavier, their total reps per workout got fewer. Sometimes, they’d miss their lifts at the meet – a fate no competitor wants. So, he split his lifters’ workouts: One day would be heavier weight/lower reps, and the following workout with the same lift would include lower weight, but a lot more reps.

And that’s how the legend of Westside Barbell was born.

So how would that look for you? Let’s set up some squat workouts combining these two methods. Say your leg day workouts are Mondays and Thursdays. I’m sure you’ll have other leg exercises besides squats, but I’ll let you figure out what those are (I provided some examples in last week’s post). You’ll be doing them after you squat anyway. All weights I’ve listed below are used only as an example. You’ll have to figure out what works best for you/challenges you and go from there, but remember, that last set of five should be at a level where you won’t get all five, and when you do, it’s time to move up in weight on all of your work sets.

Monday squats (5-by-5)

Warm up:  Empty bar, 10 reps; 135, eight reps.

Work sets (5 reps each) 185, 205, 225, 245, 265

Then do the rest of your accessory leg work.

Your Thursday routine will look at lot different. Lighter weights, more reps. It’s volume all the way, baby. How I’ve been doing this for leg day is a deal I call “death by squats.” In this routine, you’re going to pick a weight that is light for you. You’re going to do 10 sets of 10 reps, and you’re going to rest precisely one minute between each set. Use a timer to keep yourself honest. Again, the work set weight is just an example. You’ll need to figure out what’s “light” but doable for you.

Thursday squats (Death by Squats)

Warm up: 10 reps, empty bar.

Work sets: 10×10, 135 pounds, 1-minute rest between sets.

Now catch your breath, get a drink of water, go find your spleen, and continue with your leg day accessory lifts.

Why does this combo work? For starters, you’re getting good volume on both days. You’re getting 25 reps of work set weight on Mondays, and a whopping 100 reps on your high-volume day. That’s a lot of squats! But importantly, you’re getting a good combination of reps with heavier weights AND a bunch of volume with the lighter weights. The variation will boost strength AND work capacity (a term Crossfitters know, and a trait all of us should emulate, even if you have an aversion to Crossfit).

You can do similar plans on your bench day (I call it a “press” day) and on your deadlift day (my “pull” day). I’m not sure I’d do “death by bench” or “death by deadlifts,” but you can find a way to use lighter weights with high rep ranges to give you a similar effect. On my volume bench day, I’ll do a couple of warm-up sets, and then do four sets of 15, adding 10 pounds to the bar with each set. On my deadlift day, my volume workout has been doing 3-4 sets of Romanian deadlifts at 12 reps a pop. And if Death by Squats sounds a little too extreme, feel free to use a different combination of sets with lighter weights and higher reps. In the squat, I’d advise something like four sets of 15-20 reps with lighter weights on your high volume day. In any  case, I’m using much lighter weights than what I use in my work sets during my 5-by-5 days.

Bottom line: Get some good volume with heavier, challenging weights. And then in your next workout, dial back the weight and jack up your volume.  And let the gains begin.

Next week: We’ll get into the weeds of running, and a form of speed training that will blast you into shape.

Bob Doucette

Looking back on my last ten years: A storm, but with rays of light

Looking forward to whatever lies ahead. (Johnny Hunter photo)

At the end of the year, everyone got reflective on the previous ten years. I decided to wait until my next trip around the sun came to pass.

Or something close to it. Next week, I’ll hit one of the milestone birthdays. The Big 5-0. Yeah, I know. A strong fear of ageism gives me pause even mentioning the number, partially because I still feel like a 30-something and admitting otherwise might (erroneously) bring on a bunch of “OK, Boomer” darts hurled my way. I’m Gen-X, ya knuckleheads. Get it straight.

The fact that I’m getting off-track might, indeed, be a sign of advancing age. So, let’s get past all that. Some thoughts that are rolling through my head right now go something like this…

I spent the first full decade of my adult years working lots of hours for low wages, all to build a resume and reputation that would land me a better gig. By age 28, I got that job, and my career got much more interesting and profitable.

That allowed me, in my 30s, to take a whole different path. That decade was all about exploration. I rediscovered by love of hiking and the outdoors and hiked my first 14er. I took up jujitsu and eventually became an instructor. I traveled to China, Thailand and several places in the Caribbean. I won’t lie, my 30s were awesome.

And then my 40s showed up. Like a storm.

That promising job turned sour. My oldest brother – a friend, mentor and confidant – got sick. Then I got laid off and spent four months looking for work just as the country was coming out of its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. And my brother ultimately succumbed to cancer. All that happened within 16 months of what was the worst time in my life.

Finding new work meant uprooting from the community I’d lived in for two decades. Even with a new gig, bankruptcy became a real possibility. To this day, the relatively good times, financially speaking, of the prior decade are just a memory. The middle class ain’t what it used to be.

But it wasn’t all bad news. Amid the storm, there were rays of light.

I took up running. And then trail running. I met some fantastic people in the running community and eventually ran my first half marathon. And then seven months later, my first marathon.

I still found time to hike, camp, take road trips and climb mountains. I met more great people in these endeavors, from many states. Tougher, more rewarding ascents followed. And solo road trips and hikes.

In 2011, I was looking for an outlet to write about these experiences, so I started this blog. I wasn’t expecting it to be anything more than an opportunity to practice a craft I love, and hopefully people would get something out of it.

Seven years later, I wrote and published a book. I’m not on any best-seller list, but it is by far the best thing I’ve ever done in my writing career.

As my next milestone approaches, I’ve got plans to do more. And looking back, I know there is value in the struggle. I’ve found that I write better from a place of pain, and if not for the wounds I suffered in my 40s, I’m sure anything I produced would have been less than what it is. I mean, you can appreciate the blues to a point, but you don’t really get it until you’ve suffered. That’s the weird thing about the human condition – those sufferfests might break you, but if they don’t, they will make you. Struggling through the storms gives me a better place to see other people, too. I see your gray areas, your flaws and your tragedies and I get it.

I’ve got this thing in my head that believes age is just a number, that I can run and hike and bike and live out loud and as hard as I want, even when the AARP comes knocking at my door. I’ve always had a bad case of Peter Pan syndrome.

But I’m OK with that. Because it means I’m going to run trails, line up for races, lift hard, camp in the cold, exhaust myself on mountain ridges and seek solace and understanding in lonely, wild places. I’ll keep trying weird foods, especially those in other lands, if I get that opportunity again. And I’ll sit down for a beer or three with just about anybody, because all of us have only so much time, and really, we’re in this thing together, like it or not.

And above all, I want to be a better human. How many crises could I have avoided and how many people could I have blessed by just doing that.

What will the next ten trips around the sun look like? Who knows? Each decade has been vastly different from the others, so I can only imagine that will be the case again.

So off I go, toward the second star on the right and straight on till morning. I don’t know any other way.

Bob Doucette