Learning to run again as an amputee – Chris’ story

In 2008, keen runner Chris and his wife Denise both lost their left legs in a motorbike accident. Together they recovered and Chris was determined to keep running. He’s since taken part in long-distance runs and triathlons, and in January 2016 he climbed Kilimanjaro to celebrate his 60th birthday. Chris is running the Royal Parks Half Marathon for Scope in October. In this blog he talks about learning to run again and why you shouldn’t let anything hold you back.

Getting back into running

There aren’t many amputee runners so a lot of it you just have to figure out for yourself. One of the first books I read after the amputation was Chris Moon’s autobiography. I got somebody to bring it to the hospital. I knew I needed it for inspiration, to get me excited about the possibility of running again!

We met with three prosthetic companies. When I asked about running, one of the prosthetists said he’d never had anyone wanting to run before but agreed it would be possible and his company would find a way. He actually got Oscar Pistorius’ prosthetist to come over and get me fitted up with a running leg that had an articulated knee. He got me running very quickly but it took a year until I could run 5km continuously with it.

The right prosthetic makes all the difference

After a while he suggested I try a pylon leg, which is one without an articulated knee. I really wasn’t keen because the movement is different. With an articulated knee the leg comes straight through, but you have to swing a pylon leg out to the side for ground clearance which looks awkward. But he said “Believe me Chris think it would make a big difference”. So we went to the running track, fitted the leg and I broke my 400m record within about 10 minutes!

We were told this statistic: if you’re a below the knee amputee you use about 15-25% more effort. If you’re above the knee, which I am, it’s 60%. It’s a lot of work! But with the pylon leg I can bounce along quite comfortably. Now when I’m running I’m not thinking about the leg. It’s just heart, lungs and the clock – just like it used to be.

Chris running the half marathon in Qatar
Chris running the half marathon in Qatar

How training has changed

Where we live is a fantastic place to run. There’s a National Trust property 500 metres up the road. You can run for miles on beautiful trails.

I’m slower now so the training takes longer; I have to plan it a bit more. I used to be able to run around six minutes a mile, now anything under 10 is good! Training for a half marathon now is a bit like training for a full marathon before the accident. I have done a full marathon with my pylon leg but it was a massive undertaking.

You have to take care of the stump, making sure you have Vaseline in all the right places! If you do get a rub it can stop you from training for about a week. You’ve also got to find a way to control sweating because the liner will start to slip. A friend suggested I try a car cloth because it absorbs a lot of moisture and it doesn’t slip. So I tried that, put the liner over the top and I’ve never looked back! It’s made a huge difference.

Advice for others

Get in contact with other people with a similar disability and find out what’s possible.

When I was training for my first triathlon I had no idea where to begin, particularly with cycling. I found para-athlete Sarah Reinertsen’s website and sent her an email. Within a couple of days she came back with a four page response with all the information I needed! I just used that as a guide book. The reason I can cycle is because of that email.

When we were still in Houston I spent some time chatting to a depressed young man who was just amazed that I was racing with an above the knee amputation. He’s racing now – and that proved to me that it’s not just about being physically able to do it but psychologically able too. So if I can inspire others, that’s what I’d like to do.

Chris running the half marathon in Houston, Texas.
Chris running the half marathon in Houston, Texas.

Don’t let anything hold you back

Despite our injuries we haven’t changed inside. We’re the same people, life goes on and it can be as enjoyable. It’s just a new normal.

Some of the runners I used to train and race with aren’t able to compete any more because of various injuries or health issues. Whereas I’m still thinking “what can I take on next?” – so I’m really not complaining!

I did my first triathlon in 2011 and it was just fantastic to learn a new endurance sport, something I’d never done before and with only one leg – it’s just incredible. And I climbed Kilimanjaro this year with my son – it was a treat for my 60th birthday!

Why I wanted to fundraise for Scope

In 2012 I joined my daughter in her first half marathon, ‘Run to the Beat’. We decided to raise funds for charity and, as a para-athlete, Scope was the obvious choice. Recently, Scope emailed me about Royal Parks and I thought “I would love to do that”. I love those parks and used to train in them when I worked in Central London. It’s also a chance to raise money again for Scope – it’s perfect!

Join Chris and the rest of Team Scope by running the Royal Parks Half Marathon this year. Sign up for £25 today and take on the challenge!

To read more of Chris and Denise’s story visit their website. You can also sponsor Chris here.