It never gets easier. You just get better.
It's worth repeating because many people think that athletic achievements are somehow easier for people who are athletes than they are for non-athletes. It's just not true. While it might be easier for one person to go faster than another (I will never bike as fast as Lance Armstrong, with our without the doping), it's never easy.
Let me repeat that: It's never easy. Not for any athlete. Not for the couch-to-5k'er, not for the experienced marathoner. Not for Lance Armstrong, even with dope.
And when you haven't run in six months, you come face to face with this inevitable truth because all of a sudden something you could once do without thinking becomes very very hard. A three mile run. Just a 5k. Sure, a 5k race is brutal, but to just go out and run a few miles at an easy pace? I used to be able to do that in my sleep.
Now there is no easy pace.
I started with a trail run two weeks ago, just 20 minutes. Last week it was a post-Thanksgiving run on my hometown trails, and I did 30 minutes without a problem. Today I did 3.5 miles and so far so good, my knee is a little sore but no stabbing pain yet.
My current plan is to work up to 4 miles once a week, with the other two runs of 30 minutes each on the elliptical. Then gradually I'll transition each of those runs back to actual running. When I can run 3 - 4 miles three times a week, then and only then will I start building in some more mileage. If it feels bad at any point, I can back off. That's something I couldn't do for oh, a couple of decades, but I'm trying to be good about training smarter and letting my body heal.
Another thing I'm trying to be good about is to release my expectations. So I did take my watch today, but I told myself I would be fine with whatever it said. 10 minute miles, 11, 12, whatever. I was pleasantly surprised to find them all under 10, with the last one under 9.
As always, the first mile always feels the worst (unless you're in an Ironman or a marathon, in which case miles 22 - 25 always feel the worst. Always.) but it did get better and that last mile felt almost.... dare I say it? Good.