Anyone who runs can’t deny the incredible sense of freedom and challenge it presents for runners.
But, all these aspects are only amplified for runners with disabilities, because now they have added challenges to face, while running for pleasure or for competition.
Tips from Runners with Disabilities
While we don’t necessarily have a disability ourselves, we can still glean from the wisdom of some proud disabled runners for the encouragement, nuggets of truth, and realities we need to hear about to successfully run as a disabled athlete or with those with disabilities. It takes a lot of mental fortitude for those who are recovering from a disabling car accident, military injury, or some other form of disabling event to get back to competitive or recreational running, and so they deserve a huge amount of awareness and mindfulness from the rest of us.
Tips from Real Iron Men & Women on Running with a Disability
We’ll begin this list of tips with some wisdom from Rob Jones, the Marine double amputee who just ran 31 marathons in 31 days – a feat not likely to be outdone anytime soon.
After being deployed to Iraq in 2008 and Afghanistan in 2010, Jones lost both legs just above the knees to a hidden landmine. He first venture as a disabled athlete was in the 2012 Paralympics, where he received a bronze medal in rowing. In 2014, he cycled from Maine to California to raise $126,000 for wounded vets. It appears marathons are his new form of endurance challenge.
“I believe that when you’re faced with tragedy or bad circumstances, it’s better to use those circumstances to your advantage to make yourself stronger,”
Jones told Runner’s World Magazine.
Jones said the top thing they teach you in the Marines from the very beginning is “your mission is the most important thing, it’s more important than yourself. And, so my mission [now] is to help my brother veterans get back into society . . ..”
- If you are new to the sport, and don’t know where to begin, get in touch with a local track club and seek out a coach you can talk to that is knowledgeable about running with disabities.
- To make yourself a competitive runner, remember you’ll have to training way more than a recreational runner.
- To get the most out of your fitness, find ways to stay active five days a week, including doing cross-over training in swimming, biking, using elliptical machines, and lifting weights.
- Be sure to balance your fitness with the proper amount of nutrition and rest.
Athletes with disabilities should always wear neon yellow shirts for high visibility. This includes the guide or athlete running with a disabled runner.
- Do not touch or tap a disabled runner on the shoulder, even if it’s for congratulatory purposes, because they can lose balance and fall over.
- Respect your distance from those tethered together or if you see someone where a shirt that reads, “GUIDE.” Don’t break the tether or interfere with the pair.
- Wheelchairs tend to pass on the left, so stay to the right if you see a wheelchair coming.
- Make sure if you are wearing headphones that they are turned down enough to hear those around you. This ensures you giving disabled runners the amount of attention they deserve.
- If you re a disabled athlete, check ahead of time for locations for disabled accessible toilets.
- On race day, there are typically separate check-in tents and stations for those athletes with disabilities, where they can feel comfortable about removing and storing prosthetic devices.
- Be aware that you are sharing a course with athletes with just as much drive, enthusiasm, and love of the sport as you, but who may require additional space around themselves and others to complete their intended task.
- Before and after the race, treat the athlete as an athlete. Don’t stare at their injury, but instead focus on the person and the challenge they are about to conquer or just completed.
- When in doubt, ask a disabled athlete a question about their performance to help make them feel more included in the event.
- Note: Push rim and hand-cycles are not typically allowed on most marathon or urban 10 mile courses. It’s always best to call ahead to the race organizers, to see what accommodations they can make for disabled athletes for each race.
Races Designed for Those with Disabilities
According to Disabled Sports USA, the following races have been modified to include divisions for those who use push rim wheelchairs, hand-cycles, those with visual impairment, and mobility impaired.
Los Angeles Marathon
Marine Corps Marathon
San Diego Rock ‘n Roll Marathon
Twin Cities Marathon
United States Air Force Marathon
-by Dawn Balite