What Makes a Good Comeback

AJW's TaproomI’m a total sucker for a good comeback story. It doesn’t matter what kind–sports, politics, academics, entertainment–I have found comebacks alluring since I was a little kid. Now, over the last 18 months, I’ve been living my own comeback story.

Back in April of 2018, I underwent hip-resurfacing surgery. The procedure was invasive but after my six-week post-op check-up, it was clear that the implant was in place and stable. After six months, I was cleared to return to all activities with no restrictions. I began my return-to-running program cautiously and after a few months had regained some fitness. Even so, I found that my body needed more time to heal. At the one-year mark, I was still failing to run consistently, which also caused me to struggle with both my confidence and optimism. I completely shut down from running this past July and August and focused solely on strength and flexibility as well as my golf game. Finally, as September gave way to October, I returned to consistent running and have now enjoyed six consecutive weeks of daily running (albeit quite a bit more slowly than before) and an average weekly training volume of between nine and 12 hours. At long last, I think I am back!

During that mentally challenging period of starting and stopping, adjusting and readjusting, I found myself looking back longingly at other comeback stories both from the wide world of sports in general as well as from long-distance running specifically. In my not-so-scientific research, I was able to discern three characteristics which seemed common to all those comeback stories. I resolved to focus on them in my own comeback attempt.

The first step in an effective comeback is to remain flexible and adaptable. As the comeback experience unfolds, there are invariably bumps in the road, setbacks, and circumstances that require us to change plans, readjust expectations, and refocus our priorities. In my comeback, I found myself doing this on an almost weekly basis. The more often I did it, the more adaptable I became. And the more adaptable I became, the more progress I made toward achieving my goals. The cyclical nature of my ‘adaptability wheel’ was a key to my steady progress.

Next, I realized that recovering from a major setback requires self-discipline, and a different kind of self-discipline than what we runners use in a regular training cycle. Comeback self-discipline requires us to frequently step back from day-to-day training in order to keep an eye on the big picture, focus on long-term goals, and accept the fact that sometimes less is more, consistency is of the utmost importance, and staying the course is how we can successfully return.

Finally, the most common characteristic of the comebacks I examined was optimism. About halfway through last summer, it became clear that in order for me to come back from my surgery to run again, I needed to truly believe I could come back. I needed the conviction to hope for the best and remain positive even in the midst of the down times. If I gave up hope, I’d be done for. I simply could not DNF this comeback and so I needed to have 100% belief that I would.

Adaptability, self-discipline, and optimism, these three characteristics hold the key to a successful comeback and I am grateful for my own experience in finding a path forward. To all of you out there working on your own comebacks, good luck and godspeed. I hope you find it in you to adapt, endure, and hope. It can make all the difference.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from all-time Taproom favorite Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, California. They recently released a creatively brewed, unfiltered Pils called Southern Gothic. Seemingly defying convention, Southern Gothic is crisp and drinkable with a hop-forward bite and a smooth-drinking taste.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Even if on a smaller scale, we’ve all had setbacks with our running that have required intentional comebacks. Can you share an example of a comeback you’ve made and what character traits were required of you through it?
  • And how about life comebacks? What’s yours and how’d you do it?

There are 9 comments

  1. Volker Hagedorn

    Hi AJW ,
    good to read from you running again .
    I always look forward to your next theme .
    During my now 35 years longing running career I had a few comebacks from month of injury .
    You are right optimism is important to stay focused on running again as before .
    Wish you all the best for your comeback.
    kind regards fro Germany

  2. Joe G

    Just starting my own comeback from hip (torn labrum) surgery today, almost 9 months after surgery. Timely and really, really helpful advice here. Thanks and good luck on keeping your comeback going AJW!

    1. Dan C.

      I got injured in college and didn’t run for 18 years. Was able to start back at 37 and had the same injury within 6 months. Psoas muscle. Got in great shape at 40, had an accident at work, and missed another 3.5 years. Been running consistently now for over 11 years. It just comes down to pursuing something you enjoy.

  3. Brian Schmidt

    I completely understand and agree with everything you said AJW. During my recovery from my incident, I learned patience as well. The support from family, friends and the running community does great things.

  4. Pete

    The Mike Morton comeback a few years ago,albeit a short one, was amazing. Comebacks I’m holding out for: Ellie Greenwood, Chris Vargo, Cameron Clayton,and Ashley Erba.

  5. James

    This is a great, really simple article. Thanks for sharing.

    I’ve just come back from a 3 month injury from a minor session. That was after having a phase of huge weekly distances, where I didn’t get injured once.

    Hugely frustrating, but, you’re right, you need to find a new level of self-discipline to stick with what you know is good in the long term

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