I understand what you’ve been / are going through, although from a different sport angle. Here’s my story … I hope it helps.
I was a late-onset runner, although I had been a serious athlete all my life until my 30s.
- In 2013 I ran my first marathon. I got into running as an easy way to get fit again and set a goal to run a marathon by the time I was 40. I discovered that I enjoyed running so much. I was pretty pleased with my marathon time, and that motivated me to continue and take it up a notch. More speed and higher training volume was next…
- In 2014, things continued to go well and I won my first race (1/2 marathon) and that motivated me to continue and take it up a notch. Another marathon and more training volume was next.
- In 2015, things continued to go well and I beat my previous marathon time by 20 minutes and that motivated me to continue and take it up a notch. A mountainous ultramarathon and more training volume was next.
- In 2016, things continued to go well and I stood on the podium in a really tough local ultramarathon and that motivated me to continue and take it up a notch. An even bigger ultramarathon and more training volume was next.
As you can see, I “took it up a notch” and increased my training volume a lot in the between 2012 and 2017.
Before I continue the story, I should introduce myself as a guy in his very late forties, married, two kids, demanding career, etc. Training was always a juggling act, especially as I kept raising the training volume and intensity. But ambition and competitiveness are double-edged swords and while they brought me to higher levels every year, eventually I had to repay the debt I had accumulated.
In my case, I lost my Mom to cancer in early 2017 and injured my back while running down a steep hill at the end of a long run and tough training cycle. Injuries were nothing new to me as a runner (so many injuries!), but this one stuck and I found myself withdrawing from my target races for 2017. Many people know how tough it is to watch your fitness slip away and your races go by without you participating. It’s a bad place to be.
So I started to cross-train and eventually, I had to find a new sport entirely because my back wasn’t going to improve (multiple medical opinions) to run at my previous levels of performance.
So I decided to commute to and from work by bike, bought a gravel bike, and in the fall, bought a Wahoo Kickr Snap with a trial subscription to The Sufferfest. I figured I’d get fit on the bike and eventually start following the triathlon plans without the swimming.
In 2020 (yes THREE years later), cycling has finally become my new sport because I finally accepted that I’d never run as often or as long as I used to. I spent all of those three years riding while trying to re-introduce running into the mix. Every autumn season I had a running race lined up and it didn’t pan out because my back got in the way. I only looked at cycling as cross-training - a temporary sport I was practicing until I’d finally make a triumphant return to running. I never gave cycling a real shot as a lifelong sport that I could enjoy for enjoyment’s sake (both the riding and the training). I do that now, and I even do plenty of run-walk sessions (which my ego would never have let me do while I was a runner) because I enjoy it, and because it’s not hard on my back (not because my aerobic system can’t handle it).
So now as I get closer to the big 50, my “comeback” is mostly about cycling (esp gravel) and the occasional hike because it gets me to the mountains and nature which I find inspiring, even if I’m not running.
As you can see, my story is quite different from yours, but it’s still about burnout and coming back. I burned myself out by increasing my volume too much while trying to handle life stress until I injured myself. To make matters worse, I refused to accept that I had burned myself out … I was blind to the fact that my “cross-training” could be my new sport.
In the end, I wish I had been more open to the possibilities of what a comeback would mean. For me, it wasn’t (and couldn’t be) a return to my previous status quo. In a sense, I reinvented myself. I found something that I could call an adventure again.
Maybe that’s what coming back is all about …