Rebuilding Dan Studley: From Pain to Personal Bests with phits Orthotics

8 min read


Discover how phits orthotics and the Gait and Motion team helped distance runner Dan Studley overcome persistent Achilles issues and get back to his best.

Since first taking to the track at the age of 10, Dan Studley has worked his way up from running in club and county competitions to representing England and Great Britain. By the end of 2018, his accolades included a silver medal in the 1500m at the British Universities Championships and a scholarship to run for the University of New Mexico in the USA. Personal best followed personal best.

But then came the injury.

“As of late 2020, I’d been dealing with two years of Achilles tendinopathy, which was quite a strange injury,” Dan recalls. “It wasn’t something that had a quick fix or an operation we knew we could turn to. I was trying to manage pain that would be made worse both by running too much and by not running enough.

“From December 2019, I didn’t race for about two and a half years. It never reached a critical point where I literally couldn’t run, but I think that was the worst thing about it. For tendon tissue to repair, it has to replenish — so if it doesn’t move, that tissue will stay inflamed for a long time. I was trying to find that balance between resting and building up tolerance.”

Understandably, the injury had more than just a physical impact on Dan’s health. Any athlete will tell you how life centers around their sport, and it was an incredibly frustrating interruption to the progress he’d made year after year.

“I think one of the hardest things for me was the identity element of running. The first question everyone asks is, ‘How's your running going?’  Working through injury and rehab and explaining that over a long period was challenging for sure. But the thought of quitting never crossed my mind.”

Finding the cause with dynamic gait analysis

Finding a suitable treatment proved complicated. In cases like this, what works for one athlete doesn’t necessarily work for another. Several scans showed a medium level of inflammation, but the pain was often debilitating. Dan continued to run, but usually only for short periods before having to return home. During his time away from racing, he followed the advice of other athletes in the pro-running sphere and booked an appointment at a Gait and Motion clinic in Oxford.

“I wanted to understand more about the why and what, so after speaking with George Cummins, Director of Gait and Motion, I worked with a clinician there, doing tests with some really interesting tech — stuff I’d never come across before. We began by looking at my background movement in a few areas, then started to explore things like foot position and weight distribution. I learned a lot about my gait and elements that I need to work on.”

Indeed, one of the big surprises for Dan was learning precisely where his problems began. Much like many other patients, it wasn’t the part that hurt — it began with alignment issues elsewhere in his body. To help remedy this, the Gait and Motion team designed a pair of 3D-printed phits orthotics tailored to Dan’s body and needs.

Distance runner Dan Studley stands in front of a phits orthotics banner, holding a box with his custom-made, 3D-printed phits orthotics.
Dan's custom 3D-printed phits orthotics are a crucial tool in his recovery process

“We were trying to figure out a plan that would get me back to training at my best. The insoles were a really important part of that. They helped determine my foot placement, foot position, and other little wins that alleviate pressure off some parts of the foot.

“It basically leaned towards the fact that even though my Achilles was the thing that was inflicting pain, they could reduce the inflammation by sitting my heel up a bit higher, taking some pressure off my calves and hips, and generally looking at the bigger picture. That’s how I could get back to running pain-free.”

[phits+] insoles definitely help get me into the right position, getting over my big toe to land more on my midfoot. I can run more efficiently and really promote that nice midfoot drive-through.

Rebuilding with phits orthotics

Some of the features in Dan’s phits+ orthotics have made a big difference. Not only are they slimmer and lighter than before — ideal for stripped-out race shoes — but having a built-in heel cup and natural curvature is also helping to redefine his running style into something comfortable, natural, and effective.

“The insoles definitely help get me into the right position, getting over my big toe to land more on my midfoot. I can run more efficiently and really promote that nice midfoot drive-through. It took some getting used to, of course, but now I have pairs in my casual shoes, my racing shoes, and my everyday running shoes. They work for all elements of day-to-day movement, and that makes a big difference, for sure.”

It's an experience that Dan would be quick to recommend to other athletes, regardless of their level. Understanding how your body works is beneficial to all of us, after all.

“Many people think you should see a clinician when you’re injured — I think it’s far more important to see one when you’re not,” he says. “Assessments like this, exploring your gait and how you move, are so important to help alleviate injuries or stop them from becoming something bigger down the line. Rather than feeling a niggle and just carrying on, see a professional and get the bigger picture of what’s happening. It can really make a difference.”

Getting back to his best

With the help of his clinician and new phits orthotics, Dan’s recovery has come on leaps and bounds. While he still feels pain in his Achilles occasionally, his strength and conditioning work has seen him get back to the level of training he last saw several years ago, and he feels close to his best. Running the Barcelona half-marathon with a time of 1 hour and 5 minutes — just two minutes shy of his personal best — is proof of that.

Distance runner Dan Studley crosses the finish line in the 2023 Trafford 10k, followed by three people on bicycles wearing high-vis jackets. A crowd of spectators stand on either side.
Dan returned from his Achilles injury to run a PB of 29:16 at the Trafford 10K in 2023

A key part of this progress has been a shift in both his training method and mentality. Mixing up the usual running with time on a bike, cross trainers, and even aqua jogging helps to keep things fresh — along with a unique idea to help with the psychological side of his recovery.

“One thing that really helped me get back to this level was keeping an injury log where I’d write down what I had going on each day,” he tells us. “After building that picture, if anything feels a bit stiff, I can just look and see what I did leading up to that. So, if it's perfectly logical that it feels like that because of what I've done, it's completely fine. If it's feeling like that, and there's nothing that logically makes sense, then I can have a conversation with my clinician.”

Looking to the future

With the worst of the injury finally behind him, Dan is once again looking forward. But what does the future hold? Aside from a busy year, including half marathons in Denmark and the Czech Republic, he’s eyeing his next big step in distance running: full-length marathons.

Distance runner Dan Studley completes the Barcelona half-marathon. A cameraman films him as he crosses the line.
A solid performance in the Barcelona half-marathon has Dan aiming even higher for 2025 and beyond

“This year, I’m just working on my half-marathon and trying to get that back down to my PB. Then the goal is to go into a marathon training block over the winter in preparation for the Seville marathon in February 2025,” he tells us. “Distance-wise, it’s my next big goal. Being 32, I’d still say that I’m very much a young athlete in terms of marathon years — Chris Thompson ran for Team GB at the last Olympics in his 40s, so it’s an old man’s game! I’d love to do the same in the next few years.”

We’re certainly excited to see where Dan’s career goes from here and will be supporting him all the way.

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