Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Jato Sings

On May 15, 2010, race number 15 worn by moi, a below the knee amputee, and wearing his running prosthesis for the first time in a race, finished the Windsor Hill Hawk Trot 5k in 25:51 and was 2nd in my AG.


Having run with Jato for a couple of weeks and getting two decent speed sessions done, I was ready for my first race with my running prosthesis. I've talked about my real concern about falling with the blade, not so much the fear of some scrapes but perhaps a broken wrist or collarbone. This added to my anxiety but by race morning I put it behind me: if I fell I fell, but short of requiring an ambulance being called, I would cross the finish line.

We arrived at the race early enough for me to get in a long warm-up run. I find I need somewhere between 0.5  to 1.5 mi for the socket and blade to feel comfortable and not so awkward. Otherwise I have a sensation not unlike if you clenched your foot in a very tight shoe; this is how my residual feels in the socket. Until this sensation passes, it is disconcerting and makes me think I am working far harder than I should be for the speed I am running. Sometimes I stop to gather myself and then start again, knowing it will be better in a few minutes.

I'm not sure this is the same for others whether newer amputees or old pros, but I thought I would mention it for anyone experiencing the sensation and thinking it would not improve. No doubt your experience could vary from mine; I still have a very strong sensation of my phantom foot.


I warmed up for a mile, then trotted back to the Pilot to dry off my residual. I tried to get the most comfortable sock fit and used a single 3 ply in my plastic socket. We headed over in front of the school; I was calm and ready to go and lined up a few rows back from the starting line. The race was about average size for a minor 5k, I am guessing 150 - 200 runners; I do not have the official results for the details yet.

There is a guy next to me slapping his face, neck, arms, back, chest, and then legs as part of his warmup ritual...kind of hope this isn't proven to make one run faster as I'd rather not knock myself out. :-) We take off right on time, loop around the school drop-off circle and then head out to Windsor Hill subdivision.

I am immediately passed by several runners but maintain my pace, hoping to run even/negative splits. As we make a right turn onto a side street I pass about 3 runners and then I follow a woman runner until we turn out on a main road. I feel good, not worrying about Jato taking me down, and I try to relax while getting into a good rhythm. I can already tell I am feeling much better than at the iFive:k where I knew it was going to be a struggle very early on.

I pass the woman and coming up to mile one I approach what I think was a serviceman (Marine?) wearing a tee with a phrase runners know to be true: "Pain is weakness leaving the body." I run alongside him for a few strides, not needing to say anything. I have forgotten to turn off the autolap of my watch before this race, and my first mile is a couple of seconds before the course mark: 8:16.

We have a short stretch before a 180o turnaround where we can see the runners ahead of us. I recognize a couple of people from past races and use them as focal points to push me further. I pass a few more runners including a couple of kids...I caught myself thinking I hope I didn't scare them with my prosthesis, although I am sure it had to be some distraction to them.

My Garmin beeps about 5s before mile two in 8:12. I know I am having a good race but am feeling the engine heating up from the high humidity even with temps in the lower 70s. My sleeve is not sliding done much as I used Drysol (ugh!) on my leg the day before. God that is nasty stuff but it sure does the job.

As we head out on the main road again I pass another woman who has some supportive comments for me...and yes, they help. Ahead there are three guys and I bear down some, maintain my form and weave through them. I am feeling a lot of weakness leaving the body and hope it leaves some crumbs to finish this race.

Back down the road toward the school and I am running alone. I can't believe it. I catch my mind feeling the gravity of the day and rein in my emotions. Keep the pace. Stay strong. No looking back. Sing Jato. Step tock step tock step tock.

I approach the school and my body is ready to stop running...oh for a few steps of rest. I hear people cheering and do not, cannot slow down. My watch ticks off the third mile but I do not see the split (8:14). Around a smaller parking horseshoe and then up to the finish line.

If I am going to fall it can be now, I think, because I am going to run hard to the line. Each step feels good, no stumbling, no limping, a split second of flight. I see the clock, the time, and feel a crush of pure joy.

We are done.

Jato and I have run our race.

I have come full circle from my amputation to finishing my first race with my running prosthesis.

I walk to the SUV, my hands are on my knees, my breathing constricted, my heart full.

Never quit. 

Nothing is impossible. 

It is a good day to run.


Jennifer finishes her race and manages a smile for the camera; my pic is the classic "stopping-the-watch-at-the-finish-line" pose. We enjoy the kid's race and then attend the awards ceremony where we both get 2nd place in our AGs. Off we go to celebrate with a late breakfast before heading home.

I have replayed the race over and over in my mind, I can still see it as clearly as if I was running it this very moment; I am sure I will remember for as long as I live. It was, for me, as nearly a perfect race as I could have imagined, and faster than I had imagined. I know the PRs will eventually slow, backward steps will be taken. Races like this are rare.

I do know that just being able to run again is a small miracle, and the edge of disappointment is forever dulled. I have earned this concession from pain and loss.

I embrace this day, this gift.

I remember all this. 
How could I possibly be sad when you have the chance to run again? I am with you 100% and I know everything will work out. I love you and am here no matter what you need...You are a very brave man. I'm sure David is celebrating for you. too! God bless you, my incredible brother.
Your sister, Marcia
b. March 18, 1950 d. January 17, 2010


  1. Congrats Richard with your first race on your new running leg. I knew you would do it - run fast that is. You have shown great determination throughout all of this! Keep up the good work and I am very happy for you!

  2. Thanks Rick! It is definitely different as I was more of a heel striker before, but it is becoming the new natural.

    Hope you and your training are going well!

    - Richard

  3. Richard, I loved reading this post!! Congratulations to you and to your wife. What an amazing finish!!! So proud to know you and I hope to see you soon. Have you heard of the Race for the 9 (firefighters) 5K in Charleston? I am thinking about doing it. Congrats again :)))) This is my favorite post yet.

  4. Hi Madeleine, thank you again, I think you would have liked this race.

    We will probably do the Race for the 9, only trouble about summer races is the heat causes severe perspiration problems in my socket. We'll be racing more in the fall when the lowcountry oven is turned down a notch or two. I'm sure we will see you at a race in the near future and I am looking forward to hearing about your progress!

  5. Richard, you are an inspiration to me in all you do. I love reading about your journey and it is amazing what you have accomplished so far. You will go further still, and from here, as you say, NOTHING is impossible. Brilliant!

  6. Joan D'AlonzoMay 19, 2010 at 11:32 PM

    Great post RB! Glad you and Jato are getting along so well. I'm sure this is the first of many PRs!

  7. Hi Ian,

    It has been quite a year and I'm thinking about how it will be to run a marathon again...hard to imagine standing on the starting line, much less crossing the finish.

    Thanks for your support over these months and best of luck to you in your training.

    - Richard

  8. Hi jaydee!

    It is nice you be able to spell PR again. :-) My 5k goal is to beat my old 'hobbled' time of around 22 min with the bad ankle. Maybe by next spring after the marathon.

    Still hope we can have an old S9 get together at some point!

    - Richard

    P.S. To others: "S9" refers to Section 9 on the old Compuserve "Health and Fitness" forum for runners and triathletes, which descended from the defunct Runner's World forum on that service.