They are all alike, and they are all different. The beginning is slow and painful, fraught with self-doubt and exhaustion and resistance. There are shin splints and other aches, body parts that crackle like fireworks when you stretch. The beginning lasts longer than you feel it should. The aches and pains and struggles to regain mobility and strength are always different, the frustration always the same.
Then, seemingly overnight, there is a breakthrough—a run that feels effortless and smooth, a swim that makes you remember why you loved this sport to begin with. You feel the beautiful coordination of muscles working together rather than the strain of trying to get a muscle to work when it doesn’t want to. After weeks or months of swatting away the question: “Why am I doing this?” you are suddenly simply doing it.
On Saturday, I entered the second stage of this current comeback on a five-mile run through the sunny streets of Silicon Valley, where Steve and I stopped to visit a dear runner-friend en route to Hawaii (Yes, Hawaii! More on that in a bit). I went into it with a backup plan to turn back for an easy three-miler instead. I kept going, and to my surprise, it was fine—slow but uneventful, easy and conversational until the very end.
It was the kind of run that surprised me by being a non-event, and that made me feel like the New Jersey Half-Marathon is still within my reach. The race is five weeks from the day of my five-miler, meaning I have just enough time to work up to the distance before I toe the line on May 5. I plan to train my usual way: two days of shorter tempo runs or speed workouts, three days of cross-training, one long run and one rest day. Here’s how long runs should go
March 31: Seven miles
April 7: Nine miles
April 14: 11 miles
April 21: 13 miles
April 28: 10 miles
May 5: Race day
I write this with the knowledge that a successful training plan includes base mileage and stepback weeks and other things that this does not include. I also write it with the knowledge that 11 might turn into nine, and 13 may turn into 10. But right now, today, I feel confident that the rest of my comeback could be as smooth as the first part.
This week, cross-training will mean swimming and stand-up paddleboarding in the Pacific Ocean—on O’ahu, where we’ll be spending the next several days! We have a few weeks left of being able to fly on the military’s Space-A flights, or cargo planes that take passengers if they have space available, and we intend to take full advantage of the privilege.
We’ll be camping and backpacking and generally trying to live off a shoestring budget (the flights may be free, but lodging and food certainly aren’t). And we will be healing—perhaps the comeback’s most important component of all.