Back in April, we were honoured to meet Richard Whitehead - the marathoner turned men's 100m and 200m T42 sprinter. He told us about his blades, training regime and the power of the Paralympic Games.
Catch up with this inspriring interview and remember to follow his Twitter feed (@Marathonchamp) as he prepares for this week's competition.
Richard Whitehead is the double leg amputee world record holder over the half-marathon [1:14:59 in Reading] and marathon [2:42:52 in Chicago]. He took up sport at an early age and competed at a high level in gymnastics, swimming and sledge hockey, which took him to the Turin 2006 Winter Paralympic Games. Then with the help of his Ossur prosthetic blades, Richard discovered running.
He signed up for the New York Marathon in 2004 and completed it in 5:18:00. Then he set himself the challenge to smash that time – which he did with aplomb, eventually becoming the double amputee world record holder in 2009.
Then came a career conundrum. It appeared Richard’s London 2012 Paralympic medal dreams were over when the International Paralympic Committee ruled he couldn't compete in the marathon (not available for T42 leg amputees; he wasn't allowed to compete in T46 arm amputee category). Refusing to give up his ambitions, he switched to the 200m, where hard work once again helped him smash world records in the T42 category.
Richard has qualified to run in the 100m and the 200m at the London Games, and judging by his recent great form, it looks like he could bag quite the medal stash from this summer’s Games.
Find out how we fared at the sprinting masterclass with Richard Whitehead and read on to discover his thoughts as the Paralympics approach.
I’ll always be a marathon runner. I think the marathon as an event is quite pure - anyone can access it as a sport, whether you’re running, walking, pushing somebody, spectating or marshaling. The marathon inspires hundreds and thousands of people at every event.
There’s a huge difference between training for the marathon and for the 200m. In marathon training I would rack up 90 miles plus a week, whereas for the track I train for 35 hours a week, with a focus on explosive exercises and strength and conditioning, not just running.
My skills in marathon running were in pacing and cadence. We had to go back to basics to train me a sprinter.
I was so disappointed that I couldn’t run the marathon in London 2012. The 200m gave me an option and a platform for success and I’ve embraced it.
It frustrates me that I wasn’t able to compete in the Paralympic marathon. It seems certain Paralympic events are more about catergorisation and being exclusive rather than inclusive events. Sport in the 21st century needs to move towards choice, opportunities and opening up doors for diverse groups of people to take part.
I still do about 35-40 miles a week, which is mostly easy runs to ease my legs from the lactic track sessions. My work ethic comes from my marathon background.
I don’t plan my running career too far ahead – I try to take it day-by-day. I will always return to marathon training to get down to my target time of 2:35. I aim to do that in the next 3-5 years.
People always ask me if the blades are springy - they’re not.
Some people think anyone who’s a double leg amputee can just put them on and run quick times, when that’s not the case at all. Hopefully the Paralympics can raise awareness – the blades are just like a pair of trainers, they just facilitate your sporting performance.
Technology hasn’t made me a faster runner. The running blades I run on now are the same ones I ran the marathon in 5:19 on back in 2004. The harder I train, the faster I run.
The disadvantages with blades is that it’s hard to generate the same amount of power if the ground is wet. Running on snow is also a big no no.
The benefits of blades? They give me a platform for success, which every athlete wants, whether you have an impairment or not.
There are several career highlights so far: becoming the world record holder over the 200m, breaking three hours for the first time with the road marathon and finishing my first marathon in 2004, are just a few. Hopefully London 2012 will be the highlight of my career so far.
The Olympic moment I remember most was Kelly Holmes in Athens taking double gold. That showed me how to construct a race and I try to run in a similar way - I put in a lot of hard work setting up a race, then I try to finish it off in the last 80m. I’ve worked with Kelly Holmes on the Olympic Legacy Trust and she’s a great role model for determination and courage.
I hope the Paralympics will make people more aware of what people with impairment or a disability can achieve in society. Sport can be a powerful tool to promote inclusion. My parents always thought sport could be a way to bridge and break down barriers in society.
There’s a lot of talk about the legacy of the Games and athletes need to realise that the legacy is all about them. They need to accept responsibility on and off the track and appreciate that they can inspire people if they want to. Athletes themselves have a bigger role than the media or any corporate brand. Just getting access to athletes can inspire everyone in their local community from the age of 6 to 65.
When I was in marathon training I’d probably have two pasta based meals a day; I have two a week now. I’ve switched from carb-heavy meals to protein-heavy meals – so lots of red meat, including steak, lamb and chicken – which is great. I hated having to shovel down that amount of pasta.
I remember crossing the finish line of my first London Marathon and thinking, “I’m never doing that again”. Then it hits you how the London Marathon is one of the best events in the world.
When you come onto the Mall after 25.5 miles of pain and pushing your body to its limits and you see hundreds of thousands of people on the road supporting you it’s simply amazing. The last few miles of the London marathon make all the training worthwhile.
Find out how to sprint like Richard Whitehead.
Coach: Keith Anton, Liz Yelling
August 2011 - 200m T42 World Record Holder, Diamond League Crystal Palace 2011 (25.69)
May 2011 - 400m World Record at Paralympic World Cup 2011 (57.06)
January 2011 - 200m gold in the T42 race at the IPC World Championships (25.88)
October 2010 - Double leg amputee world record at the Chicago Marathon in 2:42:52
March 2010 - Double amputee world record at the Reading Half Marathon in 1:14:59
November 2004 - Completed first marathon (New York) in 5:18:00
May 2012 - Paralympic Test Event, Paralympic World Cup
June 2012 - World Cup, Germany, European Championships
July 2012 - London Grand Prix
August 2012 - Paralympic Games
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To be in with a chance of winning this fantastic experience, people just need to tweet a photo of themselves in their best “On Your Marks” pose to @PoweradeGB, including the hashtag #onyourmarks.