The Disabled Runner

As the Paralympics have flung disability sport into the spotlight, I'd thought I'd offer an insight into running with a disability. I'm qualified. I have a paralysed right arm following an accident in 1989. I've run three marathons, an ultra, a grade AL championship fell race, two sprint triathlons and a gazillion other races. Like most of you, I've never won, but I did come tenth at parkrun once.

A friend recently said to me that disability is a state of mind. Whilst that's debatable, I believe there's plenty of truth in it. Following my accident, for years I classified myself as "disabled", and I didn't run at all, because I didn't believe I could. But like those wonderful Paralympians, I've overcome that feeling.

What's it like to be a runner with a "disability"? It's hard to explain. I'd say that for about 90% of my time there's no difference. But I still have to handle the other 10%, and its impact on my running and life.

By far the worst of all is the constant pain - it's common with spinal injury - but a supply of Diclofenic helps. Then there's the practical side of things. Wearing lycra is something most of us struggle to comprehend wearing, but it's doubly hard when you have to put it on one handed, especially if it starts inside out! Tying laces, putting on shorts - it's all a challenge. You might think that if getting dressed is your biggest challenge then life's not too bad - and you're right - but how often do you struggle with it before it gets you down?

When racing, I can't wear my club vest on its own, because the sling that supports my arm will merrily machete its way through the sweaty naked skin it rubs against. So I wear my vest over a t-shirt, which is okay, but Holmfirth's vest is bright amber and clashes! Chafing and fashion disasters, and that's before I've even tried to pin my number on one-handed!

So full of pain killers, compression socked, laces tied, fashion issues sorted and blood flow stemmed - shazam - I'm at the start, hoping to get to the first water station without needing a drink because I can't carry a bottle. The gun goes - I'm off.

This is where I want to be - the same as everyone else - an anonymous runner in the crowd. Bliss! Competing in a straight fight, my competitive gene kicks in - I'm away and guess what - I'm doing better than most. That's the nub. Just because a part of you doesn't work, do you really think the desire to compete vanishes?

Once running am I disadvantaged? I don't know if any comparisons exist as to how running with one arm compares to having two, but I know my gait is horrible, and gets worse as I get tired. If I'm really unlucky my shoulder semi dislocates - and shoving it back smarts. Right-handed water stations cause problems, as does taking gels - but I deal with it, and by and large I feel equal and like I say, do okay.

How about other runners, marshals and crowds? Many people assume I've broken my clavicle or wrist, and then get apologetic when they learn the reality. That's fine - it's genuine human interest and humility, and I don't take offence. There are a few who take it further - the "commentator" on the PA as I finish, musing over the wisdom of running with a broken arm; the wit in the loo queue wisecracking about handicap races, the smile only wiped from his face by a Fetch friend explaining the permanent nature of the situation! But in general, most runners just get on with it - it speaks volumes about the nature of runners. In my club, there's me and a sprinter who suffers from cerebral palsy. No one stares or is negative. I get ribbed when I'm fumbling with a gate on cross country routes, but mainly because I give plenty out first!

I found myself screaming more loudly for Team GB at the Paralympics than at the Olympics. It grabbed the imagination and rammed down its throat that disabled athletes are just as driven. Think of David Wetherill or Jody Cundy - no gentle demonstration of what disabled people can do - it's real sport, real competition. It was incredible.

Try to imagine the day to day lives of these people - David Weir trying to negotiate office furniture, Johnny Peacock on stairs, or David Stone cooking dinner. Me, I'm thwarted by awkward doors. That's the bigger picture. These guy's don't just perform while being disabled, they perform despite the difficultly of just living. But, did you hear any of them moan about it?

That's a snapshot into some of my issues around running, but I'm always mindful that plenty of others have greater challenges than me. Has the Paralympics had a positive affect for disabled people? Well it's early days, but I can only say that the positive response I've always had continues from those I know already and increasingly from those I don't.

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  • Very interesting read! Its all the little stuff that just doesnt enter my mind but most frustrating I imagine Inspired :) Keep at it and keep blogging :)
  • hmmmmm .... my after 'imagine' seems to have vanished! lol
  • ahhhhhh Fetch doesnt like 'question marks' ''
  • Great article thanks for writing it. I have some kind of mental break-down whenever I deal with safety pins and race numbers so god knows what it must be like for you ;-) I am interested in how the fell race went as I slip and stumble around on XC races as it is.
  • Eyes watering at the shoulder-dislocation thing! Great article it's so good to read such an insightful unsentimental account of disability and its effect on running. Inspiring stuff. And thanks for being brave enough to put that picture online. Can you take it down now Please
  • Thanks for this - insightful
  • Have you tried one of these for a subluxating shoulder Mine does it all the time bit awkward when racing a MTB or cyclocross so I got myself a shoulder brace which seems to tuck the arm in nicely:
  • Ah indeed no question marks...
  • Thanks and Good luck.
  • Nice article fella :-)
  • Good article. Most interesting thank you.
  • Fab article. I have never thought about you as having a disability but after reading this article I realise it's quite impressive being able to dress in lycra one handed - let alone putting on those shexy tights you're wearing in the photo... ;)
  • anyone who competes with an disability has the utmost respect from me. I went to watch Paralympics and that night the biggest cheer was for the guy who came last in the guided 5000m. The determination needed just to make the start line is awesome! Great article :)
  • Fabulous article. Thank you for writing it.
  • Brilliant
  • Brilliant article Rich. I've FB'd it cos it's ace! :-)G
  • Thank you :-)
  • Thank you for sharing your story simply inspirational :-) keep running x
  • Brilliant article. Thank you so much for taking the time to write it.
  • wow until you are told about those 'little' things you really dont realise. Thank you and happy running :-)
  • Great article fella! :)
  • Rich you kissed me on my actual face with your actual mouth before the start of the Abbey Dash on Sunday even though I was not in my running gear because I was not well enough to run. It's that kind of devil-may-care (or devil-may-get-ill) attitude that appeals to me. Although please don't complain if you get ill - I did make it clear I was feeling a bit under the weather :)
  • Excellent. You kept me positive & helped put my shoulder injury into perspective. Go get em in Rio ;-)
  • Inspiring read:)
  • Rich - like Tigs I've never really thought of you as having a disability - and that was a pretty eye-opening article really laying out all the 'little' difficulties that I'd never think of! If I didn't already have utter respect for you I'd have it now... Oh and I lol'd at Shazam...
  • What a great article Rich. I hadn't ever thought about how you manage to get into the lycra though I've long admired your running ability and determination (running TR24 with broken bones mad man). Good luck with Rio :)
  • Thank you for sharing :)
    And just how do you get into your Lycra then! ;)
  • Humbling read. Thank you and WOW at your impressive collection of PB's for this year :):). congrats :)
  • What they all said I would not consider you disabled. Fab article thanks.
  • My Dad lost his left arm in an industrial accident but like you he simply got on with life and never complained sometimes acheiving more than others with two arms despite much pain and discomfort. Your positive spirit reminds me very much of him. You are massively inspirational Rich and I admire your determination immensely
  • One-handed ponytails are a challenge too... Thanks for a good article. I've never considered myself disabled either just unable to do some things the same way as other people (or at all)!
  • Lovely article. Thank you got sharing :)
  • Great article
  • Sandbagger. ;-)
  • Nice legs btw.
  • Have to admit that when i saw pics of you i thought it was a broken arm too youre really quite amazing and very fast :) great atricle thank you. Youre right we dont think of anything outside running/sports after watching these events. keep up the great workm inspiring
  • Interesting read :-)
  • Eye opening stuff great article :-)
  • top article :)
  • Brilliant article and nice legs!!
  • Great article Rich. I never see you as disabled but if you' re looking for a label damn fine runner fits the bill!
  • I'm a bit worried that because no-one's mentioned the wig that it may be your real hair ;-) Very interesting read cheers
  • You are totally rocking that look girlfriend!
  • Great read thank you and has reminded me how amazed I was at the paralympians not just the competing but everything that goes with being a professional athlete training injury physio early mornings pain. And then a disability too. Awesome
  • Thanks Rich
  • Great article. Thanks for writing it.
  • Great article. Thanks for writing it.
  • Fantastic achievements love the fancy dress and what a great article we should feel so lucky when we are able to achieve things others can't or won't try. May you have many happy events and keep on running :-)
  • Totally fab article Rich and total respect to you as a runner.

    Loving the comments here too - highly healthy fetchie mix of admiration innuendo and cheekiness.

    Very best of luck for Rio.
  • Great article Rich :)
  • A very enlightening article. Really enjoyed reading.
  • Fantastic article Rich the mind is a very strong force whether in positivity or negativity. Thank you for sharing an insight into living with disability and still doing what you love. A true inspiration (and admirability of getting into Lycra single handed its tricky enough with 2 hands most of the time)
  • Great will and attitude oh and when I dislocated my shoulder while running I wimped out and went to the hozzie.

    You are the Man! (is that ok)
  • Great article - a guy at my running club does not have the full use of one of his arms and he never says it but I realise now how difficult this makes trail races for him clipping at clipper points folding up the instructions so they are easy to carry/read and I guess opening gates etc too - but like you he has such a positive spirit to it all
  • Fantastic read Rich :-)
  • A great read. I've climbed Snowdon and Tryfan a couple of times with a friend who has a paralysed arm from a motorbike accident - he's a qualified mountain leader and also does the odd 10K despite one of his legs being shorter than the other (it was snapped during the accident). Makes me feel bad when I moan about getting joggers nipple. :-)
  • Regarding shoe laces - get some elastic ones that way you only have to get them tied once we use them in our trainers you just slip them on and off then - I think we are getting to the age where we will be putting them into all our shoes! Good to see you retained your sense of humour. Good luck and have a great Christmasx
  • I've just logged on to Fetch and when the homepage opened up I immediately thought 'I recognise that blonde wig!' Well written Rich - a great article and just like the paralympians I'm convinced you've already inspired a whole load more people to simply get out there and do it! It's always great to see you at Hudds Parkrun & I'll never forget the big smile on the lady's face who was looking for a certain Mr Rich McLeod when I pointed out 'Yes he's the gentleman over there in lycra and the blonde wig!' You're a top man Rich - just a pity you're not a Stainland Lion!!
  • Little late I am I. Reading this but thank you.
  • Well I may have to get this edited now the bit about not winning anything!
  • Rich you're awesome. x
  • I've always wondered you story Rich had it for a while your awesome mate do it all with a smile on your face :-)
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Rich explores the issues he faces with a paralysed right arm, but bravely says nothing about his life long struggle with a questionable fashion sense.

A stalwart of Huddersfield parkrun and a member of the world famous Holmfirth Harriers AC, Rich tackles all types of events with varying degrees of success. He's now focussing on paratriathlon as he thinks he might make the Rio squad. Srsly.

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