Blade Runners Better or Not?

Loads of people ask me me ‘just how good are these super duper running blades we’ve seen at the Paralympics?  Answer: brilliant. I did my first marathon http://www.virginmoneylondonmarathon.com as an amputee in 1996 less than a year after I'd left hospital and since then the improvements in lower leg prosthesis are awesome. I finished my first in just over five and half hours. 10 years later I was nearly two hours faster. With a high activity limb I would run a mile in 10 to 11 minutes, after I got my first blade, run it in gradually and done some training I was well under seven minutes.

The next logical question is can an amputee have an advantage? From a mechanical, bio-mechanical and health science perspective it’s really difficult to measure this. I've worked with many healthcare professionals and one recently informed me that 52% of all health science statistics are made up in the pub! If I had to guess based on my own experience, when the carbon fibre is warmed up and on a perfectly flat, hard energy return surface like a running track or well surfaced flat road; I think my prosthesis feels slightly more powerful than my real leg. Any advantage however is immediately lost if you go onto a slightly uneven or soft surface. I can remember being third in a cross-country race for the road section and then dropping back to the rear of the field on an uneven muddy riverside path.

If there is a consensus amongst amputees and professionals it would seem to be that a double below knee amputee  (with mature and robust stumps) on an even and flat surface might well have an advantage over an able-bodied athlete of similar stature and fitness.

For those keen on detail the Smithsonian wrote an article on whether Oscar Pistorius had an advantage over able-bodied runners (prior to the tragic events of his shooting of  Reeva Steenkamp). http://www.smithsonianmag.com/summerolympics/does-double-amputee-oscar-pistorius-have-an-unfair-advantage-at-the-2012-olympic-games-2655123/

So is it likely that the blade will be developed that can go on rough ground?

Hurrah Great news! The answer is yes and my prayers have been answered! The wonderful people at Blatchford www.blatchford.co.uk  have produced the blade XT. Essentially this is a blade with a heel. It means I can run on wet, mud, snow and ice (on my previous blade when I did this it felt like I was on a greased pogo stick). It handles uneven ground really well and in last year's hotter temperatures at www.badwater.com I would never have finished the race without this leg. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2351869/US-weather-Death-Valley-hits-125-degrees-near-130-degree-world-record.html


300 miles on a bike......bit harder than I thought.

23-24 August Newcastle to London 300 miles in 24 hours www.rideuk24.com/event2.php

The slight whistle is hardly noticeable above the noise of the engine as we glide down the M74 heading for the lowlands of Scotland. It’s the only sign of the four racing bikes on the roof rack, carefully positioned to avoid rubbing and lovingly locked on by Alan a speedy cyclist from Glasgow Green Club. Nicknamed Papa Smurf because of his sensible demeanour and strong stumpy legs he sticks rigidly to the speed limit.

Iain ‘Pretty Boy Smurf’ (named without a hint of envy because of his good looks and natural cycling physique) discusses 300 mile ride tactics with Kenny ‘No Smurf Name’ ‘coz we’re bored with that now. Both are from Glasgow Green and after considerable discussion on 300 mile strategy we decide the best thing is get on our bikes at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gateshead and ride them to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London, pausing en route at the stops to eat, drink and use the facilities. How hard can I be? (Really hard actually as I soon found out).

They think we should all ride together. I don’t, because I’ll slow them down. I’ve done a bit of ultra-running (www.badwater.com) but am new to serious cycling. Never mind I’m full of confidence because I managed to get in a training ride last Sunday so all will be well. So far I’ve learned one thing about cycling: there’s a lot to learn. At my level I think it is “all about the bike”. By that I mean I’ve found it helpful getting a light bike, set up correctly with narrow tyres. The metal framed springy bike with chunky tractor tyres I used to have made a reassuring roaring noise as I powered it down the road bouncing happily through potholes and up and down the curb, but the difference in speed is a measurable 3 to 4 mph.

The great thing about smart phones is you can get an up-to-date weather forecast anytime, so we’re delighted to learn from about 5 PM Saturday through to late Sunday morning it’s going to rain heavily. We console ourselves with the thought the forecast’s never right and look forward to sunshine and a warm August night breeze. Before we know it were in Newcastle well on time and arrive at the efficiently organised start and tuck into the promised snacks and coffee, hurrah a great start.
There are some really professional looking cyclists, who clearly have a God-given talent, a natural body for it and spend most of their life cycling. It’s gonna be a breeze for these guys. I detect an air of nervous anticipation in other riders indicated by their facial expressions and the way they’re queuing for the toilet. I don’t mind in the slightest when people ask me where my arm and leg have gone and I take great delight in telling several people in the bog line it was a cycle crash when I was doing a 300 mile endurance bike ride. I then say only joking it was when I was working for a charity clearing landmines after I left the Army. Looking on the bright side I consider myself lucky because by the grace of God I lived. Most of us have many things we take for granted, life being one of them. A thankful heart finds many blessings.

I say ‘hello’ to a charming Frenchman in bright yellow lycra who looks like a genetically modified Joe 90 designed specifically for cycling. For a start he’s about 8 feet tall with tree trunk legs at least five feet long and made of muscle. I don’t think I’d keep up with him if I had four arms and legs. Never mind we can only do our best and for me cycling Newcastle to London in about a day is going to be tough and something I can tell my grandchildren (if I ever have any). It’s also brilliant training for my next charity event.

Behind a sea of cyclists we set off on time at midday. We start last, there’s plenty of time it’s not a race and 300 miles is quite a long way. After 10 minutes we get onto a straight and cycle at a decent speed. Ian Pretty Boy Smurf gives me the nod to cycle ahead and we decide to go at our own speed. After several minutes I know I’m pushing it too hard and in an unusually sensible move settle into a steady rhythm. We reach the first checkpoint in no time. I have problems getting out my pedals and worry as I fall over at the checkpoint my bike will get damaged, but it’s okay I manage to protect it by falling on what’s left of my body. We eat cake and carry on.

By 5 o’clock in the afternoon the weather forecasters are proved right many times over, but at least the rain’s warm. The other cyclists are encouraging, cheerful and full of good humour. I’m starting to get the feeling I’m making 140 new friends. Most of the route’s flat and in the dark of the night the Fenland’s seem to go on forever. By mile 175 it’s getting chilly and I’m pleased I brought a second coat. I’m either slightly too fast or slow to ride with one of the many groups who all kindly issue invitations. In the dark of the night we are blessed with a tail wind. It feels completely surreal to see signs for Cambridge having left Newcastle on a bike about 12 hours ago. If I’ve come this far I can do the rest.

Sounds strange but I’m surprised how disabled I am compared to everyone else. In daily life I plan and work hard to overcome it, but here there are some things that are unusual (walking in cycling shoes, sorting kit etc...) I’m twice as long as I should be in the first break. It’s the combination of arm and leg and having nothing on the right side. I decide to take Action Challenge’s advice and ‘ask someone in a red T-shirt for help if unsure of anything’. Works well in the second checkpoint and I don’t fall off the bike.

Being ex-Army I’m delighted to meet two Royal Marines. I’m a bit disappointed they’re not naked or wearing women’s clothes, but they’re fine fellows none the less. Rob the bike mechanic alters my pedals and kindly fits my lights. After mile 225 my lower back lets me know one of the problems I have as an amputee is not being able to move riding position and get out the saddle like everyone else. A small adjustment by Rob moving the saddle forward makes a big difference to the comfort level. As I arrive at the finish in a now sunny London the joy of going the distance washes away the aches.

Life’s too short to sit about and be tossed on the tide of life. It’s about going the extra mile so thanks www.actionchallenge.com for organising a great event. So what’s next? It was tough going 300 miles and at the finish I’d had enough, so I’ll try and go a bit faster and possibly a bit further. I’m reminded of Einstein’s words Don’t worry about the future it will be here soon enough. So let’s make the best of the present and plan to find a way to be the best we can be. To those I shared the journey with it was an honour thank you and the six-hour drive (on a more direct route) back to Newcastle made us realise we’d cycled quite a long way.

Only 280 miles to go!
Only 280 miles to go!

Hotter Than I Could Have Imagined

www.badwater.com is said to be the toughest foot race on earth. Don’t know if other planets have feet or races but this 135 miler at the hottest time of year is the hardest, meanest, hottest race I’ve found this side of Mars. Gone the distance five times and am proud to say I’ve finished every time, but pride comes before a fall; so there is no room for complacency and it gets tougher every time, that's Badwater. Yes it is hot as hell and running into infinity.Read more


Fear is my Friend

When we face up to difficult issues in our life and do something about them they stop being so difficult...The difficult issue I face at the moment is an element of fear tingling away at the back of my mind. www.badwater.com is exactly what it says on the tin 'the world's toughest footrace' I'll be there soon. It's not the thought of 135 miles through the hottest place on earth at the hottest time of year against some of the world's toughest Ultra athletes, or the pain from blisters on my stump or the thought of projectile vomiting again that fills me with fear. It is the thought that I might not do as well as last year and I could fail which haunts me.

I've had a few injury problems and I'm behind on my training, but when I face up to it and use it rather than lose it the fear becomes my friend because it drives me to get off my backside and train. So on that note I'm off to do something about it and I feel better already. Use it don't lose it.

Please enjoy the highlights from the 2012 race it's great

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_5hKw4ZJiR8