The calendar page turned to June. With that, I expectantly turned to the road. Land running is all I have wanted since my injury in March. I anticipated a magical, self-propelled reunion with the soothing rhythm of my footfalls. Instead, I hit the road and tried to dial in my pace to which my body responded, “the number you have dialed is no longer in service.”

Chalking it up to nerves, I tried again on my next run and got the same message, “Beeeep. I’m sorry. The number you have dialed is no longer…” Angrily, I ignored the notice and pressed on in complete denial of this truth. This can’t be possible. I paid my dues. I worked hard, cross-training like crazy to stay as fit as possible between March and June.

This soundtrack was reiterated on my next run and the one after that. Over and over, my mind calls the flow of paces past, but my body tells me I’ve got the wrong number, like I have been rewired, and the lines have been crossed. Parts of my body are durable and reeling, while others seem to belong to someone else, perhaps someone new to running? I’m flooded with objections. Where is my reward for months of persistence? Whose body is this? Why is my breathing so labored at this pace for a single mile when I once sustained it for 26.2?

Friends see I’m back at it and offer greetings with a honk or a wave as I run past. They are happy for me. Naturally, they ask, “How are you feeling?” Honestly, I feel obligated to lie. No one wants to hear the nasty, negative, and simple truth: I am embittered. My runs are disappointing. A return to competition seems inconceivable.

For all of my denial, I am not naïve; what comes next is up to me. Reality stings with its daily reminders of what I have lost and how much work it will take to reclaim it. However, experience and logic remind me that the stinging is a temporary side effect of a wakeup call. It is the sting of a slap that tells me to wise up and think long term. It is a pain from the pinch that insists I slow down and focus on the task at hand without perseverating on the future. It is the burn of salty tears that ask me to be kind and patient with my body and mind instead of slamming a physical and psychological hammer. Still, reconciling logic and emotion has never been my strong suit.

Mileage is increasing. I wish I could say the same for my confidence. My plan this week has me running 29 miles in five days. Far from where I imagined I would be at this point, but completely reasonable given my circumstances. In fact, beyond reasonable, it should be encouraging. While the mileage isn’t vexing, the pace is perplexing.

Last Sunday, I opened the weekly email from my coach and read through the agenda. It was June 16th, just 16 days since I transitioned to full gravity and outdoor running. As a rational adult, I can report that fact and reasonably link it to the prescribed paces. The current objectives include a safe progression and a solid foundation. Nonetheless, there it was, another SLAP assaulting my ego. Is it hubris or self-doubt? Either way, I’m served another slice of humble pie.

Alarms sound in respect to my timeline for NYC 2019. In short, I was much fitter last year at this time when I began training for the NYC Marathon, where I ultimately landed a 3:18. Albeit a self-imposed decree, my 2019 qualified entry was infused with the challenge to PR. The thought of reframing this ambition turns my stomach. Again, reconciling—not my thing.

The only remaining restriction to my workload at this point is speed work. It is also an untapped variable that brings promise. I am not cleared to run fast until July. This is my hope, that next month I will experience an expedited quickening based on my consistent training in the years before this injury, a superlative rejuvenation of my VO2 max.

The 2019 NYC Marathon is my only race on the calendar as of today, a daunting circle on the first Sunday in November. It stares from afar, ready to eat me alive or bring me to life. Therein lies the joyous finish line that sparked possibility in my marathon potential. Truthfully, I believe it is still possible to earn a PR this November. Maybe it’s denial talking, or perhaps it’s gritty determination. For now, I will go with the latter and keep hitting redial until getting an answer I want to hear.