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The Way Back

Runner of the first ever sub-4 mile in SOAR kit, SOAR Race Team member Ian Crowe-Wright endured a difficult 2021 season, suffering from Plantar fasciitis. He spoke to us about his journey back to fitness and offers a wider insight into how to deal with injuries.

Ian, could you briefly describe your rehab process?

I first experienced minor symptoms of plantar fasciitis after a cold track session in January 2021. What followed was 5 months of increasing pain and abridged training trying to “manage” the injury. During this time, I tried multiple treatments: anti-inflammatories, shockwave, insoles, night splint, icing, stretching, massage (and many more) with no real improvements in symptoms.

After giving up on the Olympic year’s track season, and a longer period of rest, a cortisone injection in July gave me about 8 weeks of pain-free running. But this did not last, and symptoms soon returned, an MRI in October showed a partial (cleft) tear in my PF. This is where I realised the shortest path back to pain-free running would require stauncher measures.

November: I underwent a series of PRP injections, and my foot was immobilised in a boot and crutches for four weeks. I couldn't do much, the best thing for it was rest. However, I was able to do some general non-weight bearing gym work and start some very limited rehab (see @andykay_performance for an example).

December: Boot off. More strength. More rehab. Two months of no running left. Started cross training. Plenty of cycling, swimming, and aqua jogging.

January: Progressing the above strength and rehab, incorporating some plyometric work. Adding extra cross training methods e.g., elliptical. Started some purposeful fast walking to prepare for actual running.

February: Return to running. Mainly walk / jog work. Running as rehab. Started this block with 5*1min run / 1min walk and ended it with an easy 2 miles. Also continuing to progress the gym, rehab, and cross training work.

March: *Somewhat normal running* Gradually increasing duration, intensity, and consecutive days one new stimulus at a time. Shifting rehab work to preventative measures. Adding and progressing running drills / strides. Winding down the cross training to allow recovery from the increased impact.

Do you have any strategies to maintain motivation through injury?

Firstly, get to the point where the injury improves every day and you can see progress, no matter how small. The darkest days for me were when I was trying to manage the injury whilst symptoms were worsening. As soon as I had treatment it was just about counting down the days and ticking off the individual steps in the rehab process.

Don’t fret if you are not yet at this point. Rationally think about all the options for managing or treating the injury, seek professional unbiased advice! Also think about what you would say to another athlete in your position, is it different to what you tell yourself? Have faith that things will improve. Sometimes you have to take a small step back to leap forward.

To maintain motivation, it is important to find new ways to challenge yourself. This can be achieved through cross training methods, or it could be a new project at work/home, or simply spending more time with family and friends. During this period, it could be advantageous to focus on elements of your running that you may have previously neglected in full training, e.g., cultivating a cutting-edge mental game, or improved core + glute strength. Set goals for any of these like you would with racing.

Surround yourself with a great support squad and check in with them regularly. I’ve been very fortunate to have head coach Geoff Wightman, physio Alex O’Gorman and strength and conditioning coach Andy Kay communicating with each other and agreeing the best path forward during this time. But also check in with friends and family, especially if feeling isolated.

What have you learned about maintaining fitness whilst cross training through injury?

Relaxation - the priority has to be health. Fitness will come when you are ready. Cross training is important and can be a great tool for maintaining fitness whilst injured. But it plays second fiddle to the rehab and recovery from said injury. What’s the use in having cardio-vascular system fitter than what your legs are prepared for? That being said in the early days of an injury light activity is good to get blood flow to the area, just be careful with the intensity! There are many athletes who have produced incredible running results from purely training on a stationary bike. I prefer to get to a point of ‘normal running training’ before thinking about competition. A previous coach from my University of Birmingham days, Bud Baldaro repeatedly told us: “You are only ever 6 weeks of good training away from a personal best.”

Lastly, there may be times when you are not feeling up to cross training. Simple solution for these days, don’t do it. This is the most important time to listen to your body and any signals it sends you.

Which aspects of your cross training do you think were most beneficial?

Disclaimer: I’m yet to truly return to competition and truly see the benefits of the work I’ve done but I believe I have already learnt a few valuable lessons on cross training:

Variation is good:

Different activities at different intensities will decrease overload in any one area. Variation also prevents burn-out and frustration with any one activity. I have biked, swam, aqua-jogged and elliptical(ed) over the past 4 months. Try it all and work out what works for you.

Find ways to make it new and exciting:

During previous bouts of injury, I had spent many hours killing myself in the gym on a spin bike, this can be very draining mentally. This time round I thought I’d treat myself to a turbo trainer and a Zwift membership. The challenges and races (against other riders all around the world!) were more than enough to keep me engaged. For those who know and love a climb, my best is 43min for Alpe du Zwift.

Do it with company:

I also joined the local triathlon club for their swimming sessions. I’d never used swimming as a method of cross training before, as I didn’t feel I could swim well enough to work hard. Luckily at Thames Turbo Triathlon Club the coaches were incredibly accommodating and gave me invaluable technical advice. I started out in their slowest lane and was able to move up a lane every few weeks. It was great to have the other members for company, they were all very supportive and accepting.

Find ways to make it similar to running:

Replicate your favourite running session using duration for reps and heart rate to guide effort. Here you can even engineer specific sessions designed to develop specific running skills like change of pace (e.g., a ‘kick’). It also helps to view running and cross training as one and the same - the heart doesn’t discriminate, there are many ways to get it pumping.

What are your goals and aspirations for running in 2022?

Given that I started running in February and didn’t do more than 30 easy minutes until March. I’m still apprehensive about setting goals for this year. The priority is to stay healthy. Anything more than that is a bonus. Nevertheless, there are multiple opportunities this year that I am aware of in the back of my mind. If I can continue to progress through each milestone in training; boot off, first walk, first run, steadies, tempos, grass sessions, hill sessions, track sessions, without an excessive reaction in my Plantar I will think about racing specific goals. Last Saturday I ran 14:39 at Dulwich parkrun, it’s nothing special but it’s a start.

Next month, I’m fortunate enough to be heading up to Flagstaff AZ for an altitude training camp with Jake Wightman. If all goes well, I will be running almost as normal and able to get a good 6 weeks’ training in!