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 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).

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  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 I would never have finished the race without this leg.