I'm getting back into the groove of training after several months off, and even though I've been through a period like this before, I'm struck by just how hard it is, physically but perhaps even more tough mentally, to rebuild fitness following time away from running.
Building fitness for the first time, when you become a runner, is different; each milestone is new. The first time you run a mile nonstop feels awesome! The first time you finish a 5k or 10k race is a huge accomplishment! All of these milestones feel amazing because every race is a PR, and at least for the first few years, it seems that with each step you're getting faster, stronger, and more capable of covering longer distances.
Getting "back on the horse" and rebuilding fitness after time away from running just isn't as thrilling. Rather than the excitement of covering a particular distance for the first time, you're stuck with negative thoughts:
"I used to cover this distance so much more quickly!" Or
"I used to run up this hill, and now I'm sucking wind just power-hiking it!"
It's so easy to fall into a terrible attitude, chiding yourself for not being the runner you used to be.
But at this stage of my own running, I am trying hard not to fall into the "comparison trap."
With an eye toward building strength for the long term (to hopefully avoid injuries in the future) I'm spending more time in the gym, working on core and hip strength: formerly my greatest weaknesses. I'm using an app on my phone to keep my focus on consistency in my training schedule -- not speed or intensity -- so that I don't get distracted or discouraged by thoughts of how quickly or easily I used to cover a particular stretch of trail. I'm trying to celebrate the incremental improvements, instead of thinking about how much farther I have to go.
Like yesterday: it was my first time up Towers Road in 2013... actually, my first time up in months. I know I need to do a lot more vertical training to prepare for the Speedgoat 50k, so a trip up Towers was a nice start.
Knowing that I haven't been up there in a while, and that I'd be hiking a lot of the way, I told myself at the trailhead that I'd need more than an hour for the ascent, but that I wouldn't give myself a hard time about it. I know that as my strength improves and as my training builds, I'll get faster and stronger. So it was a huge surprise when I tagged the building at the summit, stopped my watch, and saw that we'd made it up in 56:33. Not a PR by any stretch, but definitely better than I was expecting, and an encouraging sign that maybe all those squats and lunges are starting to pay off.
Hope everyone's 2013 training is going well, and see you on the trail!