Euro Cross U23 team silver medallist pursuing long-term progress in spite of dealing with Crohn’s disease

As a rule, athletes are creatures of habit. They like to plan, to set schedules, pinpoint goals and to map out a path which leads to long-term development.

Introducing a constant level of unpredictability to daily life, therefore, would be just about the last thing someone would want in such a scenario but that is precisely what Ollie Fox is having to contend with.

It was late in 2016 when the 22-year-old fourth-year Cambridge University medical student, who will earn his fifth Great Britain vest at this weekend’s IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Denmark, was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease – an incurable condition which can inflame parts of the digestive system and cause symptoms such as diarrhoea, stomach cramps, weight loss and fatigue.

Flare-ups can occur at any time, without warning, and though medication has brought some semblance of control, Fox admits to concerns around how long the treatment will work for and, subsequently, how much time he will ultimately be granted to continue his athletic pursuits.

It would be understandable, then, if a degree of impatience was starting to creep into the 2018 European Cross under-23 team silver medallist’s running – an increasing level of urgency to push himself right now and to maximise any opportunities that come his way.

Fox, however, is doing his utmost not to be dictated to by his condition and, guided by coach Richard Llewellyn-Eaton, is choosing to avoid any short-termism.

“I do wonder ‘will I be able to run in 10 years’ time?’” he says. “I don’t think the disease is necessarily progressive so I’m kind of assuming that I will be able to.

“The philosophy that we’ve had in terms of training is that we want to have long-term goals rather than short-term and I would rather stick with that philosophy of Richard’s as much as we can because that’s producing much better results than aiming in the short term.

“I would say that I’m seizing opportunities as they come along but keeping my perspective and not trying to go overboard because that’s how I’d end up burning out and how I would stop improving.”

“The philosophy that we’ve had in terms of training is that we want to have long-term goals rather than short-term… I would say that I’m seizing opportunities as they come along but keeping my perspective and not trying to go overboard”

He adds: “Dealing with a long-term illness, I think the more that you can put it on the sidelines the better. There are of course some illnesses that you can’t put on the sideline and are at the forefront of everything you do and dictate everything you do but I would say I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve had good treatment and that I’ve been able to get the amount of control where I am able to sideline it as much as I can.

“It’s still a big part of my life but it’s certainly not something I’ll let dictate what I do and if it does then that’s something I’ve got to accept and deal with it as it comes rather than worrying too much about it.”

Fox’s approach has certainly been working. He has raced twice in 2019, coming third at both the BUCS and then Inter-Counties Championships at which he won his place on the plane to Aarhus. He is looking to cap what has been an impressive cross country season by taking on the world’s finest this weekend, as well as furthering his sporting education.

“The main thing I want to get from the World Cross is really experiencing what the top athletes in the world do,” says the Wells City athlete. “Every time I’ve progressed from juniors to seniors, you tend to adapt to the group that you’re running with or the group you’re racing with and I think there’s a real advantage in going to somewhere like the World Cross where the best guys in the world are going to be.

“You can learn how they train, how they live, what they do to become that good.”

He adds: “I’ve heard some of the best track runners in the UK say that going to the world cross has opened their eyes to what you need to do to get to the top and I think that’s really important.

“You can sit around in a domestic league and become good but I think if you really want to target things further on then you need to understand what you have to do and you can only really do that by experiencing things like the World Cross.

“I would like to talk to people and see what they do. Even just running in the same race as them, you get an idea of how they race, their approach to racing, just watching them warming up. I don’t know exactly what it is but you can kind of pick up what people are like by being around them – you don’t always need to speak to them to get an impression of them and that’s usually enough to wear off and make you realise what’s important.”

» You can follow Ollie Fox on Instagram – ollie.fox1