DISABILITY AND ME:
FROM ROAD RUNNER TO NON RUNNER

Today's post in my Disability and Me guest series is all about my friend Rich's journey from being a very successful marathon runner, to not being able to run any longer due to injuries that lead to his disability. His journey is full of some true struggles and finding a new identity when he could no longer runner due to his Arthritis and Fibromyalgia. His story is very emotional and really shows how disability can change your life forever.



Here is Rich's story in his own words. Grab yourself a cup of tea as his story is a long and interesting one:

My name is Rich and I went from being a road runner to a non runner and I am now disabled. An all encompassing introduction but I shall go into detail regarding my life before and after the initial trauma that led to my current life situation. 

After leaving school I started an engineering apprenticeship until the firm went in to liquidation two years later. I then moved in to the building industry and began working for the RMC group manufacturing roofing boards. This was heavy physical work, but I did enjoy it. Then, at the age of 25 I was persuaded to enter the Wakefield White Rose Half Marathon to run for charity. I decided that if I was going to do this event, then I was going to do it properly. Back in 1986 people simply weren't advised to train on soft ground in an effort to put less impact on joints and muscle. 

I bought myself a training manual by Bruce Tulloh which had many training schedules inside for various distances from 10K to the Marathon. It became my bible and I gradually increased both the workload and distance over a variety of speeds, and followed the regime to the letter in an effort to get the best out of myself come race day. My initial race target was to finish under 1hr 30mins, which I thought for my first event was quite ambitious. Notice the phrase "for my first event". Yes, I was already hooked and thinking of future races. Incredibly I finished in 1hr 21mins, just outside the top 100 athletes in a field of just over 2,000. This really gave me the impetus I needed to increase the level of training for my next race, which I decided would be the Tadcaster 10miles road race. 


I was determined to break the 1 hour barrier, but this meant averaging under 6mins per mile, something I was struggling to achieve over 10K (6.2miles). I changed my training regime doing hill sprint repetitions up the steepest hill in Wakefield and injecting speed bursts in to my longer runs, increasing the length of the bursts and decreasing the slower intervals in between. The result was that I was virtually able to run straight through hills in training like they weren't there, and my speed endurance improved dramatically. On race day I felt like I was running on air and completed the race in 57mins 30secs (an average per mile of 5mins 45secs). I was delighted with this and so kept the same training schedule for my next half marathon, combining it with some longer runs of up to 16 miles to help with distance stamina. 

Photo on left shows Richard with some trophies. Photo on right shows Richard running a marathon

Now all these hard, long training runs and fast race times are all well and good, but I had no idea what damage I was doing to my knees, hips and ankles. Over the next ten years I slowly improved my times for the half marathon, my fastest being 1hr 17mins 20secs, and completed several marathons, my best time being 2hrs 42mins in the Leeds Marathon. I also managed a very respectable 34mins for 10K and was the first man home in the Welwyn Garden city half marathon, which was a building industry event. I ran for the RMC group of companies. For some unknown reason the organisers chose BONNIE LANGFORD that well known sporting icon (not) to present the trophy, something I have always been teased about since.


In 1989 I started work at a firm in Wakefield who manufactured porta cabins, and I started as a Fork lift truck driver which meant I was able to recover after races because I spent much of my working day in a nice comfy seat. Twelve months later I moved in to the "pre paint" section, preparing units for paint spraying. Four years later and I was asked to train as a paint sprayer which I jumped at. This was physically demanding work and involved a lot of climbing ladders and lifting 25 litre paint containers. 

Running wise by about 1997 my times were suffering and I put it down to the age factor. At 36 years of age, I was feeling the aches and pains of training and consequently results were affected. Looking back my body was actually starting to slowly break down, I just didn't see it. The following year I took the decision to stop racing as I was aching all over at work and wanted to feel as good as I could. In 1999 I was asked if I would consider becoming paint supervisor and I accepted the offer. This meant that physically the job became easier, but mentally it was quite stressful. In 2002 I split from my first wife after we simply grew apart. We were both working long hours and we drifted. Around this period I was really struggling to give my all at work. My personal life was sadly affecting my work and I asked if I could go back on the shop floor as a paint sprayer in an effort to relieve some of the pressure I was feeling. This turned out to be a massive mistake in the long term. I agreed to work long term night shifts and spent the next five years working Monday to Thursday night (Four shifts, ten hours each). During this time my aches and pains throughout my body got worse and worse. I had the really strange feeling of my work boots getting heavier and heavier. They were actually lightweight work boots so this was nonsense. I ended up having to teach myself to spray paint with either hand as my shoulders would hurt so much after a few hours work.

Then at the end of a working week on nights, I got home in the morning as usual and had a shower, something to eat and went to bed. When I woke some seven hours later, I tried to turn over and my right knee was so painful that I shouted out in pain. I sat up in bed and my right knee was grotesquely swollen from the knee cap to half way up my thigh. I could barely put weight on it and the leg was so big that I couldn’t even fit my jeans over it so I had to wear shorts to A&E. The doctors took one look at it and sent me for x-Ray’s. There was no break when the results came back but there was virtually no gap between my knee cap and Upper leg bone (femur). Also the protective layer between the femur and tibia (lower leg bone) was extremely thin. This protective layer is called the meniscus and acts as a shock absorber for the joints. 

I was given Anti inflammatories and Paracetamol and sent to the Physio. My time at the Physio turned out to be a disaster. I had to complete various exercises and ride static bikes and rowing machines. But during my visits the pain in my knee not only got worse, but I developed really agonising pain in my shoulders, lower back, hips and ankles. I was released from the Physio and referred to the hospitals Rheumatology department. I had various tests, more X- Ray’s and eventually an MRI scan done. 



The results of the MRI showed that my lower spine was fusing together and that it was degenerative. Furthermore blood tests showed a high CRP level which is an indication of severe inflammation or injury to the body. Basically I had Arthritis of the lower spine (Ankylosing Spondylitis), and Psoriatic arthritis of the joints. I was also tested for Fibromyalgia and my symptoms showed that I had this too.

I tried to go back to work after a few weeks on the sick, but it was impossible, I just could not even complete a full day. By the time I got home I was in agony. My health deteriorated further and I had to be put on long term sick. It was around this time that I had my blood pressure tested and found that it was through the roof. I was immediately put on blood pressure medication, and a further tablet to control an irregular heartbeat. I felt like my life was falling apart and when my work finally decided to let me go in 2007. I fell in to depression quite badly. I was put on anti depressants and built up to a full dose of 45mg. 

By now I couldn’t walk more than a few metres and had to use a walking stick around the home and garden. Any further than this and I needed a wheelchair, something I was devastated about. How could I go from being a fast, fit marathon runner to not being able to run at all and hardly walk?

At the close of 2007 I met the most wonderful, caring, loving woman who accepted me for who I am. By March 2008 we decided to move in together and I sold my house in Wakefield and moved to Harrogate. This was a bold move as I had to change hospitals for my arthritis treatment. I had to go through all the tests, scans, blood tests and MRI all over again and the Arthritis of the spine had worsened. I would wake in the morning in severe pain with my hips, back and knees. This would take at least a couple of hours to ease even slightly, and my whole day would be spent in pain.

The hospital decided to try me out on a drug called Gollimumab. It was very expensive but they were willing to fund it. I had to inject in to my stomach once per month and in conjunction with this drug I also had to inject Methotrexate in to my thigh once per week. This on top of pain killers and anti inflammatories. This has given me some relief but I still get regular flare ups, and if I try to do something ridiculous like mow our small lawns, I suffer for days after. I go to the swimming baths regularly, mainly to perform hydrotherapy exercises and to take some weight off my joints. At present I feel as if I am stuck in a vicious circle. I wake up in pain, I spend the day in pain, I can’t fall asleep at night even with the help of Amitriptyline tablets. So I might get two to three hours sleep so wake up exhausted . This makes my Fibromyalgia symptoms much worse, and the next day brings the same thing. I am trying to come off the anti depressants because I am sick of taking so much medication every day. Not sure if I can handle it though yet as I have now to be assessed by the DWP which means stress and no doubt heartache. 

I always say that I wish I could plug these assessors in to how my physical pain and my mental torture feels. Perhaps then they would begin to understand the day in a life of a non runner.

AUTHOR BIO

My name is Rich, I am 56 years old and live in Harrogate, North Yorkshire. I am married to Lorraine who is my rock, my soul mate and my part time carer. She works as a mental health nurse so has a demanding job. We have a loopy dog called Odi who keeps me smiling despite everything. He is a little Border/Lakeland cross but thinks he is a Great Dane! 

We live together in an adapted bungalow with a concrete ramp and rails to the front, and a walk in shower with hand rails around the bathroom. 

Lorraine has four children from her previous marriage but they are all grown up now and moved out.

If I could have one wish it would be to be able to run again…. Fast! There’s no feeling like it.


Make sure that you go over to Twitter and follow Rich. He is so genuine and kind, and is always there for a chat when you need someone to cheer you up. 



THIS IS A GUEST POST WRITTEN BY RICHARD.
 
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1 comment

  1. Interesting article and thanks to Richard for sharing his experience. Though I understand the government must ensure the welfare system is regulated, the experience of many sick and disadvantaged people through the assessment process is completely unacceptable. Theresa May promised, on becoming PM, to ensure greater social justice in this country - and how those with chronic health conditions are treated is a huge part and she must be held to account if her government do not do better. Good luck for the future.

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