I wont pain the reader with the details of my gradual return to solid training over the last few weeks, but one recent incident was indicative of the changes that my body has undergone in that time.
The Saturday before last, Dan Nunan picked me up at 6am and we drove out to Cunningham's Gap, nestled at 700m altitude, between Mount Mitchell and Mount Cordeaux. We tagged the summit of Cordeaux first, before dropping for about 7.5km to near the front of the range at Gap Creek falls.
We had a quick break at the lip of this monstrous drop before turning around to complete the very steady climb back out.
I doubted whether I could even run the whole climb at my then-current level of fitness, but resolved to try. Within 100 metres, Dan had pulled ahead.
"I'll cya at the lookout" I panted.
The next 4.4km were slow and painful, but every step was at a pathetic-run, a crawling pace. I reached the top, apologised for holding Dan up, and resolved to do better next time.
Fast forward almost exactly a week, and Dan, JP and I were splashing our feet in the creek, chatting and laughing.
"Let's get moving," JP said.
So we turned around, and began the 4.4km slog.
To be fair to the trail, it was very runnable (5-10% gradient mostly), and it was really giving me every chance to show an improvement.
"Go on", the brown path beckoned, "run me".
Writing now about the first section of that trail reminds me of the opening lines of the one of the funniest books I've read, "Hang on a Minute Mate" by the Kiwi Barry Crump:
Sam Cash looked at his old woman the way a man looks at a steep ridge he's got to climb on a hot day. It was a long time to spend in one place. Time wasted with a woman who had come to represent only a tremendous amount of noise.
When I read those lines, I pictured an open dry-grass hill scorched by the sun and dotted with a few motley eucalypts. The terrain in front of me now was almost identical, with a couple of exceptions; the eucalypts were replaced by grass trees and although the sun was out in full force, it was a cold winter's morning.
The tremendous amount of noise that beat down on me was purely internal - "Come on, faster. You don't want to keep Dan and Jono waiting at the top. Come on, surely you've improved since last week".
My head drooped as I blended off of the ridge and into the forest. The switchbacks came, as well as a tonne of lactic in my calves. I stopped to stretch ("Great, more time lost") and then chugged some more.
It was painful and slow.
But this time it was no crawl. It was a jog. A glorious jog.
Step, step, wince, step, step, spit, step, step, snot-rocket.
Last kilometre perhaps?
Think of a good song Zac, something to keep you going.
The leaves darkened and the hard dirt was replaced by soft black soil.
I rounded a bend, thinking that there were a few switchbacks still to come and, voila, there were Dan and JP at the lookout.
"How long have you been waiting" I asked.
"Oh, about four minutes".
I felt sure that four minutes wasn't too much of an inconvenience for them, and I smiled.
We finished the run with a climb of Cordeaux, and stopped off at the Aratula bakery on the way home for a feed.
JP's prowess on the trail was matched at the table - he scoffed a blueberry danish, a slice of quiche, a jam doughnut and a meat pie, putting Dan and I to shame.
But I digress. To quote countless bureaucrats and business(wo/)men as well as our national leader, [I am/think I am/hope I am] "moving forward".