Charlie Lewis was forced to have his leg amputated in 2014, ten years after a severe snowboarding accident. This year he plans to break the world record for a lower leg amputee at the London Marathon. He tells Third Space his incredible story and gives his top tips for marathon training.
I have recently returned to running after an exodus of 10 years. In 2004, I had a nasty snowboarding accident that resulted in a series of reconstructive surgeries coming to an end in 2014 when I had my lower right leg lopped off.
The formative years involved 15 operations and a leg that was able to take my weight but not much else. I kept fit to the best of my ability but the desire to run, move freely and compete was at the nucleus of my choice to go down the amputation route.
Since having the chop I’ve had the bit between my teeth and in many ways have reset the clock to zero, returning to the physicality I had as an 18 year old kid who was obsessed with rugby.
My goal is to use sport as the medium to explore, travel and push, mentally and physically. I would like to race a race in every country in the world – that’s around 196 in total. It’s an achievable goal and a wonderful excuse to be on the move.
Last year I raced marathons in North Korea and Afghanistan and completed an IronMan and various shorter distance triathlons across Europe. This year is looking even more busy and will hopefully see me in far flung places including Somalia, Uganda, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan. However, top of the agenda at the moment, is The Virgin London Marathon, where I’m aiming to break the world record for a lower leg amputee, currently at 2h57m47s.
I started my training for London on the 5th of January 2017, which is a short 15 week training plan. I hope to be racing in the Mallorca IronMan 70.3 three weeks after the Marathon and have the small problem of The Vasaloppet on the 25th of February. (The Vasaloppet is a 90km Nordic Ski race in Sweden – its looking quite possible that the start line will my maiden outing on skis –ever). London, however, takes precedent and has formed the backbone of how I’m approaching the next few months. Read on for my top tips on how to tackle a marathon.
1. PLAN: It may sound obvious, but this is a crucial part of your training. Any big race preparation starts with a plan, a plan that you have absolute trust in and works around your life schedule. I’m pretty strict with myself when it comes to training and know what I need to do in order to achieve my goals but I also have a life. Wine, food and travel are my major passions and my training and sport give me the reason to do more of all of them, in moderation. Finding the right balance is key. Lots of people set goals and feel they need to go to extremes – in my personal experience maintaining a balanced approach to your training and lifestyle needs will lead to better results and more importantly, a greater enjoyment.
2. INTERVAL TRAINING I don’t know many people who enjoy the prospect of interval training but it’s the only way you’re going to increase your pace so you have to learn to love it. Speed work is the time to focus and get your adrenaline pumping. If the set goes well you’ll be as high as kite after. In order to get to my maximum, I like to visualise the race I’m building to. For London, I’ll think about the atmosphere and the cheering crowds. I’ll visualise aspects of the race and most importantly coming round the last bend on The Mall and sprinting towards the finish line. Or, I just find something to get really angry about. That usually works.
3. KIT: Getting the right trainers is an obvious start. Get yourself down to a decent running shop where they can identify your floors or lack of and pair you up with the right shoe or in my case, the left. I like to race in a minimal cushioned racing trainer which is lightweight and designed to run quick. However, for training I use the opposite: Anything with a softer, larger sole is going to offer greater reduction in impact and will help with injuries and comfort.
4. STRETCH: We seem to take a contradictory stance when it comes to stretching. We’re scared of interval work because we know its tough but then we can’t be bothered to stretch because it doesn’t make us ‘work’. Stretching and foam rolling is the key to avoiding injury and general aches and pains. Unfortunately you’ll never really see the benefits of stretching, you’ll only feel the consequences of not. As an amputee I’m particularly prone to injury– I’m putting large uneven forces through my body and getting different reactions from one foot to another. On my complete side, I’m generating most of the power and drive but also taking most of the decelerating forces. On my amputated side, I’m effectively rolling over a spring which is maintaining a running pattern but not generating nearly as much power or leg speed. This leads to a lot of overloading and stress, not to mention the general pain of running on a prosthetic made out of carbon. Generally speaking, I’m balancing a pain threshold with this from about the 20k mark. Without stretching, I’ll last a few weeks in to a marathon plan before the niggles start, the performance drops and I have to stop. Stretching, for me, is vital.
5. CROSS TRAINING: Get one set a week of decent cross training. Cycling or swimming are both good plus a decent weights circuit with lots of lifts and so forth. The stronger you are, the faster you’ll go.
6. FOOD: You can’t do any of the above without the right food. I like to do my shorter, steady run early morning and fasted. Running at an easy pace with no fuel is a great way to teach your body to tap in to fat for energy and not the more readily available glucose. For interval work, you need to be fuelled properly. Do it post breakfast or post lunch and maybe get a banana or snack 45 minutes before. Get protein in your system as quickly as possible after – either a protein shake or Greek yoghurt. Use long runs as the opportunity to get your race food sorted. Try to make these runs on Sunday mornings and treat them like it were the race: Same day of the week, same time, same food, different nerves. For my race day breakfast, I eat two hours before the start. I have two to three slices of wholemeal toast, one with honey and one with peanut butter, a banana, a shot of beetroot juice and a very strong black coffee. I drink a decent amount of water and then look to eat half a banana and a further beetroot shot about 20 mins before the gun. For the run I look to take an energy gel every 10km and then one at 35k with a caffeine supplement. I’ll carry a few spare just in case I’m having a wobble. I supplement my diet through use of protein shakes post workout and take Magnesium and Vitamin D once a day. Magnesium aids recovery and Vitamin D doesn’t exist in the UK and is important in keeping muscles healthy. Everything else is available at no extra cost in real food: try the meat and two veg ‘diet’.
Other than that I’d mix up your running – treadmills are great and forgiving on the joints, the track is a place to earn your stripes and the long runs are great excuse to go and explore different parts of the country. When it hurts you can take refuge in the fact it’s probably hurting me more.
Follow Charlie’s journey on Instagram at @cgblewis