What I found that worked for me was to jump full throttle into higher volume. During a 4.5 year break from running, I went straight to 70 "effort" mile weeks - running mixed with a lot of supplemental cross training to help the excess weight come off quickly and build a large aerobic base faster. Over time, running began replacing lots of the cross training, but never completely as the keeping the cross training involved help me get over 100 "effort" miles a week in a couple of years.
It may not be optimal and it is more risky injury wise, but like yourself I was fairly competitive in my college years and preferred a faster route to get competitive again rather than the slow conservative approach. My fear was that if I took the "optimal" approach, I'd lose interest quickly in the attempt to get back in shape and quit a couple months in after seeing how far off I still was from prior years.
If you're considering a more aggressive approach to it, I'd be happy to share more what my build up looked like. I suppose the majority of responses will disagree with the approach I took (and rightfully so), but it did work for me.