Marathon Diary

Marathon Diary

ImageFebruary 1999. I had been trapped on the summit of a French mountain for five days, with temperatures plummeting as low as –30°C, winds in excess of 100km an hour and snow fall of over a metre. No food. No water. No shelter. I had been saved at the very last minute, snatched spectacularly from the jaws of death by a courageous team of French rescuers, their helicopter operating at the limits of possibility. I arrived in hospital hypothermic, frostbitten, more dead than alive. Doctors and surgeons battled to keep me alive and to save my badly frozen hands and feet. Eventually they were faced with the choice: amputate or let me die. I lost both of my hands and both of my feet. It looked like I might never walk again. The outlook seemed pretty grim.
But right from the outset I knew that I was determined to get back on my feet again. I realised how lucky I was to be alive, no matter how bad my injuries, because my climbing partner and close friend Jamie Fisher wasn’t so lucky. Together we had battled to the summit of that mountain and together we had suffered that fearsome five day long storm. But during the final terrible night, only hours before the final rescue, Jamie perished, victim of the merciless cold. So I determined, right from the beginning that I wouldn’t give up, I was going to make the most of the rest of my life, whatever my disabilities, for my sake and for Jamie’s.

14 May 1999. Today I walked out of hospital. It’s been a hell of a struggle, learning to cope without hands, to wash, dress myself, eat, drink, brush my teeth, all the everyday little tasks in life that most people take for granted. My prosthetic legs are amazing. Carbon fibre and epoxy resin sockets, pressure moulded to the exact shape of my stumps. Titanium fittings attach the sockets to the feet, which are made of flexible carbon fibre and absorb the energy of each step, returning up to 95% of it into the next step. Walking was painful and difficult at first. To begin with I could only take a few cautious steps before stopping and having to take the legs off. Now I can walk several hundred yards at a time and can wear the legs for up to two hours at a time. I can’t imagine I’ll ever be able to do anything more active, though, like hill walking or running, although I’d dearly like to.

29 August 1999. I can’t believe I just ran for the first time today! I’ve been getting more and more active on my feet, doing some short, gentle hill walks, and wearing the legs for most of the day. I was invited down to the Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield to meet a group called Just Athletics who provide support and advice for disabled athletes, and while down there I managed my first few wobbly strides of running. I ran for all of about twenty yards before having to stop and have a long rest but it’s a start. I might make it as an athlete yet!

25 September 1999. Edinburgh Marathon. Went along to cheer on my friend John and am totally inspired. The whole atmosphere was fantastic and while the run looked incredibly gruelling the continual cheering and shouting from the crowd must have been a big boost for the runners. Even saw a couple of amputees running which gave me some hope. I can still only run about a hundred yards maximum, but I’m gradually getting fitter and have done some long hill walks. I’d love to run a marathon one day, but I don’t know if it will ever be possible for me. It certainly won’t be this year or the next.

1 December 2001. Too much big talk in the pub and I’ve ended up committing myself to the next London Marathon in April 2002. My friend Geoff said he’d run it if I ran it. That was back in September. The London Marathon is always oversubscribed and I didn’t get a place when I first applied. But when I phoned up The British Red Cross and told them that I wanted to raise money for them, they arranged a place for me. Confirmation finally arrived today. I’m wondering if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. I’m quite fit now, but have still not run further than round my local block, which is about a mile and a quarter. Serious training begins tomorrow.

8 December. Have upped my distance from one to three miles. I’m finding it very hard. It feels like my prosthetic legs are made of lead and I’m running through treacle. To make matters more difficult, the silicon liners, which hold the legs on, quickly begin to fill with sweat and slip off, meaning frequent leg drying stops.

15 December. Am getting used to runs of three to four miles now. I still have to stop every mile and a half or so to dry the legs, but I’m enjoying the running a lot more. Have asked my prosthetist Morag if there is anything she can do about the sweat problem.

22 December. A muscle strain in my lower back has kept me from running for a few days now. Morag says the sweat problem is a common one and there is little that can be done about it apart from trying various anti-perspirants. However as I get fitter, the sweating in my legs should reduce.

3 January. Just as the back pain eased, I developed a nasty pressure sore on my left stump which stopped me from walking for several days, let alone running. Things aren’t going well.

10 January. Much better. Eased gently back into my training programme and managed a six mile run today. Edinburgh is a very hilly city so hopefully London will feel flat in comparison.

24 January. I’m really enjoying the running now. It’s hard work and it can be pretty gruelling running for miles into a chilly headwind, but after each run, once I’m back home, showered and changed, I feel a warm sense of satisfaction and achievement for the rest of the day. I’m starting to believe that I might actually reach my goal.

31 January. Enjoyed a great run in the snow the other day. I was sitting in the flat watching the blizzard whirling past the window and had almost decided to postpone the run, when at the last moment I decided to go for it. Once I was going the snow didn’t feel so bad. It kept me cool and sweat free and the inch thick carpet beneath my feet gave pleasantly soft running. I managed eight miles non-stop.

13 February. First half marathon today. Ran ten. Walked three. Exhausted.

20 February. Ran twelve miles along the canal and felt good. Afterwards I had a strange sharp pain in the end of my right stump.

27 February. Sharp pain still there. Training has been confined to the gym this week. Made appointments to see Morag and my surgeon, Mr Macdonald.

6 March. Pain is no better. Morag and Mr Macdonald both think it is caused by an inflammation of a fluid filled sack protecting the end of my tibia. Bursitis is the technical name. I am continuing to do low impact training in the gym.

13 March. Just over four weeks to go now and my leg is still no better. If it doesn’t improve soon I’m going to have to pull out.

20 March. Went to see Mr Macdonald again. An x-ray has revealed the root cause of the pain to be a spur of bone which has continued to grow from the end of my tibia since it was amputated. Mr Macdonald reassured me that it wasn’t serious and that it’s fine to run on it so long as I can take the pain! He wished me luck.

27 March. Finally my leg is feeling better. With less than three weeks to go I’ve missed out on the most important part of my training programme but at least I’m out running again. Peter Arnott at Just Athletics advised me that I won’t get significantly fitter between now and Marathon Day so I ought to take it easy on the newly recovered leg. Morag has given my prosthetic legs a final service to ensure they are in top condition.

4 April. Only a little light running this week. No pain from the leg but I’m not feeling as fit as I’d hoped I would at this stage. Never mind, I’m just going to have to take the race slowly.

11 April. My last couple of training runs round the hills of Edinburgh. People recognise me when I run past and beep their horns, which is encouraging. I’m getting very nervous about the race now. I don’t care how long it takes. More than anything I just want to finish it.

13 April. Journeyed down to London with Anna and a friend. It was only on going to the registration in the London Arena that I began to get an idea of the scale of this event. There were literally thousands of athletes there, all looking more confident than me. Retired to our friend’s flat to eat large amounts of carbohydrate and get an early night before the big day tomorrow.

14 April. Marathon Day. I woke at 6.30 am with butterflies in my stomach. Forced down a light breakfast, kissed Anna goodbye, and walked out to get the tube. Specially laid on trains took the competitors to the start at Blackheath Park where I met up with Geoff and another friend, also called Jamie and also an amputee missing one foot, with whom I planned to run. Despite leaving plenty of time, by the time I’d got changed, been to the toilet and adjusted my legs, it was already time to go.
There’s nothing to describe the feeling of being one of thirty-two thousand runners, packed into a great big line and ready to run the race of my life. At 9.45 the starting gun boomed.
We were near the back of the field so by the time we finally crossed the start line twenty-one minutes had already gone by.
ImageThe first six or seven miles were fantastic. We jogged along at a nice even pace while all along the streets people clapped and cheered. We chatted to other runners and took plenty of water as we went through the regular drinks stations. Running alongside rhinoceroses, clowns, pram-pushers, supermen, superwomen, twenty year olds, eighty year olds, a man carrying a canoe.
At mile 9 we stopped for the first time so that Jamie and I could make adjustments to our legs. The strain was beginning to show already.
We carried on at our regular pace until we’d clocked up nearly 13 miles at Tower Bridge. There was a big boost for me on the bridge when I spotted some friends in the crowd. A little further on I spotted Anna and rushed over to give her a big sweaty hug before running on.
A little further on we passed the half way mark at 13.1 miles. A major landmark as both Jamie and I were starting to flag now.
Over the next few miles to the Isle of Dogs we walked for long sections. The break in my training plan was starting to show. Jamie left us to run at his own pace for a while.
Down in Docklands, at mile 20, my sister Louise jumped out of the crowd. I was really suffering now and had slowed right down.
Over the next few miles various friends appeared along the route giving much needed support. Overtaken by a camel. The last straw.
I was really struggling by mile 23 when we met Anna and friends again. I knew I could do it then.
The last three miles were hell. Every muscle, every bone, every joint in my body screamed for submission but I wouldn’t relent – not yet.
ImageFinally, after a lifetime of urging ourselves on, Geoff and I came round the bend from Birdcage Walk onto The Mall and there it was – the finish. Still an elusive two hundred yards away. We put on a final spurt of speed and crossed the line with a time of 5 hours and 56 minutes, to collapse with relief into the waiting arms of our friends. It was an emotional reunion, especially with Anna and with Stu, Jamie Fisher’s father, and I wished that Jamie could have been there too.

18 April. Four days have elapsed now since that amazing run. The pain in my muscles has subsided and the bruises on my stumps are beginning to ease off and I’m already beginning to wonder whether I’d do it again. Perhaps. The carnival atmosphere of the London Marathon is incredible and I reckon that next time I could do a much faster time…
I want to thank Geoff and Jamie, and everyone who gave so generously their assistance, support and encouragement. But most of all I’d like to thank my wonderful wife Anna, without whom none of this would have been possible.

Living in the UK my prosthetic treatment is all free and the amazingly advanced legs on which I run haven’t cost me a penny. Elsewhere in the world, thousands of amputees aren’t so lucky, many of them the victims of land mines, war and poverty. Thanks to the enormous generosity of so many supporters my marathon effort raised over £22,000 to help the British Red Cross in its continuing work to support amputees and other people in crisis throughout the world.

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