Regaining fitness: Hard work and a few wise words that did me some good

Near the finish line. I’ve dropped some weight and improved my times, but I can get faster. And as you can see, I could stand to lose a few more pounds.

I’m just over halfway through training for the Route 66 half marathon this fall, and let me tell ya, motivation is a funny thing.

Over the summer, I liked where I was going in terms of strength. But conditioning? Not so much. In late July, I made a change. A commitment to not just train for the race, but regain my fitness that I let lapse so badly over the year.

Ringing in my ears were the words of my friend Bill, who under somewhat similar circumstances called it a “forced refocus.” I liked the sound of that.

A lot of it has been things that are familiar to me: Intermediate runs, long runs, bike rides and strength training. But I’m taking speed work more seriously now. It used to be that I dreaded the long run the most in any given week. Now? It’s definitely the speed days.

What I’ve been doing: Run a specific distance at a goal race pace, then take it down to a slow jog for 400 meters. The workout is called a ladder, or in this case, a “baby ladder,” because it’s not quite the whole enchilada. I warm up for a quarter mile, then get going: 400 meters at race pace, then 400 meters at a slow jog. Then 800 meters at race pace, 400 meter jog. Followed by 1,200 meters at race pace, and a 400 meter jog. After that, it goes down to 800 meters, then 400 meters, then a quarter mile cool-down run. You get the drift.

It’s tougher than I imagined, and any time I add speed or another race pace interval, it trashes me.

But it’s also paying off. For starters: I’ve lost about 10 pounds since summer. This is good, considering I’m still eating a bunch. And my speed is improving. I’ve never been a fast runner, so take these numbers for what they are.

Back in September, my gym did a treadmill 5K fundraiser. I signed up, got a T-shirt, and finished it in 28:48. Not a great time, but faster than what I did last year.

Last weekend, my training schedule called for a 5K race. I entered this thing called The Wizarding Run — a Harry Potter-themed 5K that drew a bunch of people dressed in Hogwarts garb who were there for the theme as much as for the race. It made for a mellower field, so when I crossed the line at 27:30, it was good enough for second in my age group.

A rarity for me: Placing in my age division. I took second.

I took it with a grain of salt, but the improved time in a course where the last 2K was almost all uphill was a win in my book. And the slower field gave the mid-pack runner that I am the chance to see what it’s like to hang out for the awards portion of the event to hear my name called, collect a medal, and snap a celebratory photo. Runners like me don’t get this pleasure often.

All the while, I took some wise words to heart. Des Linden, the 2018 Boston Marathon champion, said that training is the building of fitness while racing is the test of fitness. And really, that’s how I took it. I’ve got goals for the half marathon, and I can honestly say I haven’t worked this hard at a race since the 2013 Route 66 Marathon. The little gains — the weight loss, the improved training pace, the better race results — are encouraging. It’s also a good reminder of how bad off I was in July, and how difficult it’s been to come back from the consequences of my own making.

That’s the thing I love about training. A lot of it isn’t fun, but the juice worth the squeeze. You make a plan, follow the plan and test the plan. And barring injuries or illness, the results of hard work are usually positive.

So for another five weeks, I’ll follow the schedule and its five runs per week. I’ll do the speed work and endure the long run. I’ll lift some weights and do a weekly bike ride. My mid-pack quest for speed will continue.

Why? Because for now, I can. We’re not promised tomorrow. May as well make the best of it now.

Time on the bike. It counts for half marathon training.

Bob Doucette