I’ve been through four “major” injuries in my years as a competitive runner, and plantar fasciitis has been one of the most mentally gruelling of them all. With any injury, it’s often the case where the mental side of the pain (the dread of not being able to do that one thing that enhances everything else in your life), is significantly worse than the physical pain.
But as much as the past three months have been somewhat brutal from both a physical and mental perspective (I even thought I’d have to retire at one point!), plantar fasciitis has been one of the greatest learning experiences I could have asked for in my running journey. I now feel like I’m setting myself up for a future in the sport full of longevity and future injury prevention, from the consistent learning I’ve done every single day since taking time off Mid-November.
Since taking time off in November, I’ve developed the following:
- Better routines around mobility, flexibility, and strength work
- More awareness and implementation of intentional training methods, proper fuelling, hydration and recovery.
- More of a guide toward what it is that I actually want to train for, and how to successfully implement a training plan to accomplish those goals.
- How to listen to my body and cross-train in efficient ways when my body is not feeling up for the run.
Breaking down each of these, they have often been intertwined in a day to day process, where everything is working in harmony toward my full recovery.
MOBILITY & STRENGTH
Any time an overuse injury occurs, it is a warning sign that something in your body is not completely aligned. Most of the time, it has less to do with the exact area of pain, and more to do with the potential culprits around the pain.
With now a keen recognition into this, I have done significant work into strengthening all areas of my lower extremities, from the back to hips to previous sore spots like hamstrings and abductors. I’ve kept up the daily core routine I’ve had for years, but have also added in daily yoga and flexibility. I finally even invested in a foam roller and massage balls, ensuring I’m helping get the blood flow back into tight areas.
I’ve pumped him up in so many posts, but my absolute favourite person for yoga is Man Flow Yoga. If you find someone you like, I recommend sticking to their videos and searching for videos on any specific pain points you have or areas of development you notice.
His plantar fasciitis balance exercises have become a hallmark of my daily routine, which will remain for years to come.
INTENTIONAL TRAINING + PROPER FUEL
At the height of my previous block of training, I would travel 30-40 minutes away for a training run with no food, and water only to be used after the run was over. This meant that it could be an hour before I replenished my resources. Now every time I travel for a training or long run, I carry a bottle (or two), and have a meal ready to go immediately post-run.
I also make sure I’m eating before my runs, and then incorporating even more protein, Vitamin D and iron into my diet than ever before.
Importantly I’ve developed better awareness about how to accumulate more intentional training in a short span of time, ensuring that the work I’m doing actually has a meaningful impact in some way or another every single time I step out the door. I often felt like the slow 7-12k days felt relatively insignificant, and were only part of my process so that I’d have the energy for the harder efforts without burning myself out, or on the other end of the spectrum – missing a day of running. I could have been taking more rest days, or creating greater adaptations in those runs, such as incorporating more hills, training in heat/cold, practicing fuelling, etc. Every run now just feels filled with meaning, even if that meaning is helping a running friend reach their best.
Since I know now that I specifically want to run sub-ultra trail and mountain races, 50k’s and the more or less 6-8 hour races, I now know what I’m training for and how to incorporate vertical gain, fuelling strategies and heat acclimatization into the mix.
It doesn’t mean that every run will look like this past Sunday, but I can now incorporate more race-specific training into the mix on the regular.
I’ve never been one to follow a strict plan. I always like to adapt, and even when I have a strict plan in mind, I can’t possibly progress without changing the plan in some way. I think that’s the nature of working in sports and recreation, as so much of what happens is out of your control, and you can always adapt to the needs of your participants in the moment.
But this kind of mindset has transferred over to my own training, and I’ve struggled to follow a rigid plan. While I’m still taking things day by day, running by feel and not following my intended plans, I’m much better at actually recognizing what it is that my body needs for the day, and how to bring that out in my training. Importantly, I’ve developed an awareness of how to do this without over-training into oblivion.
Following the advice from others will be imperative as I go along my process and regain that heavy mileage, but for now, I’m surprising myself in ways where I’ve been able to increase and load more onto my body than I ever imagined I could at this point in my recovery. So while the plan has been continuously adapted, it’s also been meticulously adapted to meet the state I’m in on a day-to-day basis.
Nevertheless, I will be following an intentional training plan soon enough, ensuring that I’m practicing what I preach.
If I had the choice, I would run everyday. But I’ve long been an advocate for a weekly rest day, and know how important it is to longevity. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the two weeks that I did not take a single rest day ended up being the two weeks that set me up for the full-blown injury version of PF where I’d have to take the next thirteen weeks off. I simply never allowed my body to reset, while not taking care of it in the ways I needed to (sleep, hydration, recovery, fuel, stress management, etc.).
But now having gone through this process, I’ve developed some new favourite cycling workouts, have developed an awareness for the value of treadmill uphill walks, hikes in the outdoors, and even my new favourite – walking up stairs! I’ve even tried out the elliptical, and if my triathlon friend bangs the drum loudly enough, I’d even swim or aqua jog with her.
Cross-training can be a beautiful and magical thing as it works different muscles in the body, while allowing your running muscles time to recover. It has to be done with the same steady progressions as your running to avoid the fear of further injuries, but can often be the perfect method for getting the best out of your intentional running days.
So with that, we are now getting to the point where my injury is slowing disappearing into the abyss. But the lessons I’ve learned along the way about intentional training and injury prevention have been invaluable. One of my greatest life failures has been my inability to avoid injury, but as a runner it has also been one of my greatest strengths as it’s continuously challenged me to come back stronger.
Today is the first day since November where I’m genuinely feeling like I could run consecutive days. But with the right mindsets now developed, I probably won’t. Instead, I’ll likely be back in a few days out on the trails again, and back even stronger than before.
Strava Profile | Rhys Desmond
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