Thursday, September 24, 2009

Trail Running for Amputees

Trail Running: I get asked OFTEN how it is to run on the trails with my prosthesis... So I'll tell you. This might help some (leg) amputees a little... I hope so.

- You have to concentrate! When I am placing the left 'foot' I really have to watch out for: big, loose rocks, wet roots, oddly angled anything. The concentration is actually exhausting but if my mind wanders even for a second I usually land awkwardly or duff the foot on something. There was a girl running beside me for a few kms at my last trail race who must have added about 10 beats to her heart rate because I kept scaring her by nearly wiping out! (I was getting tired and that's when the concentration fades...)

- Steep, loose downhills are a real challenge. With such a small surface area in contact with the ground you either need to lean forward and let 'er rip or REALLY SLOW DOWN. It is always better to lean in (for speed and less jarring on the legs) but sometimes the trail is too steep or winding.... There is a distinct lack of a middle gear because it is so difficult to control speed with such a miniature contact point on loose ground.

- The extra jarring and abnormal movements that come with a rough trail cause sweat to collect differently and in a less convenient way. For instance one odd step could move the leg in such a way that the whole liner (and thus prosthesis) slips a bit. This is uncomfortable and thus you really want to concentrate to avoid it happening.

- I find that I sweat more during a trail race... I think it is because my heart rate is generally higher and my speed (wind cooling) is lower + they are generally much harder than an equivalent distance road race. This increased sweating does bad things for the fit of my leg. I sometimes use Drysol to minimize sweating inside the liner. It's pretty harsh stuff, but good for race type situations when I don't want to have to stop.

It is interesting to note that the first two are pretty much the same for a runner with both legs - perhaps just comes a bit more naturally with less focus required.

Anyway, the extra concentration does have ONE HUGE PAYOFF.... the race seems to go a lot faster when your mind is consumed by remaining upright!

Have fun on the trails!

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Vincent said...

photo #3 is awesome. I like the lighting

self shot?

rUntoNamAste said...

You are absolutely right about the first two points. I've only done 2 trail races and they required intense focus and concentration. It was mentally taxing but I didn't get bored and time flew by. From running gear to running style you can separate trail runners from road runners. This road runner sticks out like a sore thumb!

Nancy said...

As a L BKA I really appreciate the info. Thanks.

MJ said...

Those shots were taken on a trail run last year with a buddy... I set them up and Rob was the trigger man.

That's true rUn! I should have mentioned the differing gear styles! Would have made the post more fun...

Happy to help and thanks for dropping by Nancy!

Mike said...

Good post! I find walking down steep trails a real challenge because the flex foot doesn't quite flex enough on uneven terrain. My right quad and right foot take a real beating. Any additional tips steep trail walking (downhill) on the non-running prosthesis?

Jo Lynn said...

I have both legs and feet and find your description not that much different for me. Trail running is such a challenge. I guess that's why I love it so much. ;)
But I guess it technically is more challenging for you.

MJ said...

Hey Mike,

Steep downhills on loose terrain are tough no matter what (even for two-legged people if you recall...)

I try to scan for solid ground, solid rocks to plant on etc. If this isn't an option I will experiment walking normally and letting the heel dig in - if it works great.

Third option: if you wind back and forth across the trail (minorly, i'm not trying to make you look like an idiot...) you will be able to place the whole side of your shoe on the trail (like a ski edge sort of) this should provide a lot more traction. I sometime find myself running in a gentle slalom curve to plant with the side/back instead of just the back of the foot.

Did that make any sense???

Missy said...

Trail running for amputees, holy crap, I can hardly manage with two, mostly intact, mostly working legs. You're pictures ALWAYS rock out and the self portraits always make me feel like a giant whiner;)

BTW, the picture you sent me is going up in the house soon. I will send you a picture of your picture;)

swimbikerunryan said...

PAYOFF is totally the same for "trail running for blind guys" although i don't do much of that.....Heck ROAD RUNNING for blind guys is the same... You are concentrating SO hard on where the road is, or what the surface is, that you generally don't feel the pain of the effort..

good advice non the less MJ!!

Mike said...

Makes sense! The slalom idea sounds like a good bet. I've tried walking more bow-legged as well which does help a little depending on the terrain. Just need to design a "downhill" mode for the foot!