How to Get More Fit (for real) in 29 Days

29 days ago I was reasonably fit. I’m entering my kinda-mid 50s and I don’t just sit around and do nothing. I was a competitive athlete when I was younger and as a kid did a ton of contact sports. While the end result is arthritis in my back and some disc problems, I usually walk between 5–8 miles a day and can do so pretty easily.

But, last month, having left the company I built, I found myself having the time to read magazines again. And I began with a couple men’s fitness ones, which then led me to think “Hey – I’m heading to Maine for a month or so, maybe I can focus on kicking up my fitness level a notch?”

That 30 days in one place thing isn’t the norm for me these days. I’m close to a 4 million mile lifetime air traveler and while I’m coming off a few pretty slow air travel years, 2017 has been crazy travel, commuting between homes in Europe and North America.

So, 30 days to have some fitness focus and be in one place. With a resolve to move up one fitness level, whatever that means. And, along with me, I had this extremely fit and magnificent Standard Poodle of mine.

The magazines really weren’t any practical help, though they were inspiring. They seemed to assure me that if I found a gym (I used to love gyms – despise them now) I could soon look like this.

So I thought back to my days where I trained for actual sports and thought about what I did that worked and was, at the same time, really, really simple.

For me, interval training was always how I got into shape and stayed there. So, in thinking about being in Maine and also the likes of my training partner, we resolved to do trail runs every day, with a piece of that run being intervals.

She destroyed me every time, usually sprinting ahead, circling back, passing me, and waiting at the tree that marked the end of said interval.

Just before coming to Maine, I did some fairly intense walks in The Netherlands and Germany. So while I think I probably had a little head start on the training, the first week was tough. I could really feel it in my lungs.

But then I stopped noticing and my speed and endurance improved. I at least felt that I was regulating my breathing better and using oxygen more effectively. About halfway through the month, I decided to head alone to the running track around Portland’s Back Cove and do some serious sprints, which I haven’t done in a decade.

It at least felt somewhat like this.

No. I wasn’t as fast as when I was 20 or 30, but maybe as fast (and stronger) than 40? Or I could just be trippin’.

So, 29 days in, and just now back from a rainy set of intervals with the girl, as I write this, I think I’m up that one fitness level.

A side note – for me, training in the summer is normally really hard. I’m extremely sensitive to heat and don’t do well at all in it. I’m totally a winter dude. But part of the advantage (and it was a calculated one) of being in Maine is that it just doesn’t get too hot here. There was only one day where it was in the 90s, and given the low humidity that day, it didn’t even feel bad

Also worth noting that I’m not doing anything differently. My sleep is okay – sleeping better this month but still not long enough. I eat whatever and whenever I want. It’s often “healthy” food, but it’s also a mess of chicken wings, or a trough of vanilla soft serve, or a few kosher dawgs.

But, all in all, here are some of my takeaways that can, maybe, help you if you want to step up your fitness level:

1. Be realistic about what you can accomplish in a month. If you’re not very fit, you won’t be fit in a month. Define, for yourself, what the benchmarks and milestones of one fitness level are for you and track against that.

2. Focus on activity. You can’t focus on everything at once. Sure, if you want to gently modify other aspects of your life, you can try. But to think that you’re going to go from a hot mess of bad habits to all good ones in a month is setting yourself up for the fail whale.

3. Make your body do something different. I chose to do trail intervals because I don’t really ever run on trails. So I get a 2x return between the actual intervals and doing them in the woods on uneven and often sketchy inclines.

4. Do it and don’t think about it. Don’t obsess about the changes you’re making because when you do, they get old fast. That’s part of why some find dieting so challenging – the diet itself occupies your thoughts far more than it could ever need to. So make your fitness goals just one part of your life and carry on without becoming that person.

5. Ideally, don’t do it alone. This would have been much harder had I not had my most excellent companion. Seriously – Standard Poodles need a lot of exercise, so I’m always doing activities with her when I’m not traveling. Her enthusiasm was awesome and we would chase each other and make games out of the training. We loved it and always looked forward to – rather than dreading – our next exercise session in the woods.

I hope that my experience this month helps you in whatever you’d like to accomplish.