Is the comeback really stronger than the setback?

You see this saying on those inspirational memes as you scroll through your various social media. Its so pervasive, we’ve lost all connection with who might have even said it in the first place, or importantly the context it was originally used for. But every-time I see this particular quote it does make me close my eyes and dream of cruising over the line of some race in the future, my fists pumping the air as I achieve a new personal-best. But I know that I will later lace up my trainers that day and the harsh reality of how far I am away from last year’s fitness will be like a bucket of water thrown over me (which also matches how I’ll look after sweating my entire bodily fluids).

I’ve always tried hard and worked for results, but you do get in a groove with the majority of your running feeling like you can, as a major sporting retailer would say, ‘just do it’. But when I run now, it’s hard. Not because I am going fast, but because I am unfit. I go out and I no longer glide, I clunkily flump along as I breathe with the ferocity of a bathroom hand-dryer. Or maybe that’s my fairy-tale, rose-tinted look back on how things used to be.

Injury is hard and you make it harder for yourself. You torture yourself by looking up old race times and wondering how you ever achieved them. I jumped on my ‘smart scales’ for it to ask whether I am the same person as there’s a ‘significant’ difference from the last weigh in. The yearly clock ticked over to me being 34 and I wondered whether father-time will prevent me from ever achieving what I’ve achieved before.

This, coupled with a reduction in my normal daily activity due to working from home has given my mental health a real kicking. I think we’re all feeling less connected, but running has, historically always been a way to bridge that gap. Fortunately I’ve managed to keep my eating disorder under control, but before I was able to run or cycle, I could feel my body dysmorphia getting worse by the day. Exercise is a method of me controlling my eating disorder, it helps me have a healthier relationship. I talked before about how my ‘long-run’ has been a reset button for my eating, well this rug has been well and truly pulled from under me.

The positive is that it’s given me perspective. What I achieved before is something I can actually say I am proud of, whereas before I only had my eyes on the next event, the next PB. I sit on calls in my home office with my carefully placed running medals in shot in the hope that someone might ask about them and I can re-live my glory days.

People talk about the most important thing is about ‘enjoying the run’ and that ‘one day you won’t get any quicker so you need to enjoy running for more than just times’. I feel almost guilty that I can’t have this relationship with running. Yes it’s great to be back running, but I need a deeper motivation, even if it’s just quicker than my last run.

Flash forward to one of my clunky flumpy runs and I stare down at my watch. I am looping around Victoria Park and I have my watch face showing my ‘lap time’ for that kilometre. It’s slower than my ‘easy’ runs before and twice the effort, but I dig in and work to ensure it stays in that 10 second bracket. The same for the next kilometre and the next. It’s a pointless arbitrary target but it actually means something to me. It means I am not done yet. There’s more competition and fight.

As I write this article, it’s really warm and as I sit at my laptop I close my eyes one more time and allow myself to daydream about hitting those new heights. Maybe the comeback won’t be greater than the setback, but I’ll put up a damn good fight to try and show it who’s boss.