This time last year Launceston athlete Josh Harris was running about 240 kilometres in 17 hours over a week.
Twelve months on following surgery in January and an ongoing recovery program, Harris is lucky to run 10 kilometres without two or three walking intervals.
It has been slow and steady, many highs and lows for a naturally positive guy that runs for fun and achievement since suffering a career-threatening injury 16 days out from his debut world championships.
At an altitude training camp in St. Moritz, Switzerland, the 28-year-old marathon runner broke the talus bone in his right foot, however, against medical advice proceeded to live out his childhood dream.
After leaving London’s Tower Bridge start line, Harris managed to last just over half of the 42-kilometre journey in excruciating pain before pulling the pin, removing his shirt and calling for a moped.
He had no doubts back then and still doesn’t today even after “putting on a few kilos”, lengthy periods in a moonboot and many more months of recovery ahead.
“The thing with running and sport in general is that nothing is guaranteed,” he said.
“Regardless of what I did that day, I’m not guaranteed that I make another one of those teams.
“If I did not start and I was standing here today, potentially slightly further down the track in my recovery, I imagine there would be a lot of what-ifs.”
The Launceston Big Picture School mentor and Kings Meadows High relief teacher was given the all-clear six weeks ago to start the “tiniest amount of running”.
Not an easy thing to do with weakened muscle tone in one leg and limited fitness. Last week he took part in a five-kilometre park run where he did repeats of a 400m jog and 200m walk to finish in 27 minutes and 53 seconds.
“It’s been very difficult. It’s been essentially 12 months since I’ve run,” the notorious beer mile champion said.
“It’s still going to be a lengthy process but the fact that I’m running and getting through these runs and able to go out every couple of days is really great progress; because there were some thoughts that I potentially may not have been able to run again.
“It will be a matter of patience over the next six months or so but I’m starting to see some progress.
“I’m starting to feel a little bit smoother and that my foot is recovering quicker as a result. It’s not going to be progress every day but hopefully it keeps trending upwards.”
Harris is carrying out 10 to 12 hours of cross training per week – gym work, swimming, cycling and some jogging – with a goal of eventually only pulling on the shoes and running for hours.
“After being in a moonboot and crutches for so long my left leg is really dominant and that’s still the case now,” he said.
“Recently because I’ve been able to do this limited amount of running I’m kind of watching what I’m doing throughout the rest of my day to make sure that I can do that adequately.
“For example, I might be standing at work and placing more pressure on my left leg just to save the other one so I can run.
“I spend roughly three times a week on the bike, three times in the gym, three times in the pool, three times very minimal running and then every day I do this little foot-strengthening circuit to try and strengthen the little muscles in the foot.
“I was doing up to about 17 hours of actual running a week leading into London and my biggest week was around 240 kilometres; and last week was my biggest week in 12 months where I did about 10 kilometres.
“Comparatively it’s absolutely nothing but I’m not taking it for granted at the moment and I hope there is more good than bad in the next few months.”
Aside from the obvious physical barriers, the incumbent Athletics Tasmania long distance runner of the year had great support from family and friends to help him mentally.
The self-coached Harris has maintained a positive outlook on his situation during which many would have been excused for having a few meltdowns.
“I’ve had to shift my focus into other areas, which was the most important thing I did to kind of beat those battles, but after my surgery I’ve found that I’ve been very motivated,” he said.
“The surgery was rock bottom and everything from there was a step forward so I was motivated to do everything right.
“I knew I was going to be out for quite some time so I used that initial period to just be a normal person.
“I had a bit of fun and kind of lived like a normal 28-year-old would have and then I’ve used the last 12 months to focus a bit more on work than what I have in the past.
“I see it as a good opportunity to save some money up which will help me when I’m hopefully back to my best.”
Leading into last year’s IAAF world championships., Harris was arguably at the peak of his powers.
The Tasmanian 20,000m, 25,000m and 30,000m record holder was stopping the clock at personal best times – including a three minute 10,000m PB at the Zatopek 10.
A place Harris has set no timelines of returning to.
And he has two main goals: one to make an Olympic team, and two to redeem himself at a world championships.
“Assuming I get back to where I want to be, they’re the two things I want to tick off,” Harris said.
“If I don’t get back there then I can end that inspired with what I managed to get done by making that team last year.
“Unfortunately with the injury I’ve had it might make running my mileage week to week more difficult in the future. In terms of making teams it has to be the marathon because I’m not quick enough to run the times for the 10,000m.
“I’m going to have to hope that the body plays nice, and if it can’t cope with those workloads, then I’ve still got other personal goals that I would like to achieve at some shorter distances.”
While you're with us, did you know that you can now sign up to receive breaking news updates direct to your inbox. Sign up here.