Human Race: ‘I grew a new foot to run three marathons!’

Ruth Davison overcame a horrific injury to run three marathons. Photo: Ben Knight

‘It was four days after I’d run Paris 2011, and London was a week away,’ says Ruth. ‘I was doing the housework and was putting some rubbish outside.’ As Ruth stepped on to a metal drain cover in the street, it gave way and her right leg went down the hole. She managed to pull herself free before crawling back up to her first-floor flat.

‘My foot was all floppy and I was in total shock. I phoned my mum and all I could say was, “My foot. Please come now.”’

Her mum called an ambulance and Ruth went to hospital. Her foot was completely crushed. She had suffered a total dislocation of her foot from her ankle, and had broken the tibia and fibula bones of her shin, as well as several of the foot’s tarsal and metatarsal bones. ‘My ligaments were badly damaged too,’ says Ruth. ‘Only my skin was keeping my foot attached.’

Ruth, who had pledged to run five marathons that same year, was dosed with heavy-duty painkillers and morphine before surgeons operated. ‘I was later told that the priority in those first few hours was to save my foot from being amputated,’ she says. ‘Although I was out of it, I told the doctor, “I can’t have a damaged foot, I’m running the marathon next week!” He gently said I wouldn’t be able to do that.’

Ruth underwent extensive operations in the next 24 hours, which saved her foot. She spent four weeks in hospital and wore a plaster cast for more than four months. ‘I remember watching the marathon on TV in hospital and crying, thinking I should be there,’ she says.

After a lot of physiotherapy and hydrotherapy, Ruth’s foot was working. But then it began causing her pain again. Ruth’s orthopaedic consultant suggested fusing her foot to her ankle. Although it would stop the pain, it would always leave her struggling to walk, never mind run.

But after seeking a second opinion, a different consultant said a new type of surgery might work. The operation, in June 2012, involved rebuilding Ruth’s foot using six inches of her hip bone, strengthened by surgical steel and titanium. She spent the next 16 weeks in a cast while it healed.

‘It was amazing when I could finally feel my toes for the first time since the accident,’ says Ruth. She then had pioneering Exogen treatment: ultrasound shockwaves sent through her foot helped stimulate the growth of brand new bone. This bone then filled all the gaps in her rebuilt foot.

‘Top sportspeople use Exogen to speed up mending broken bones,’ Ruth says. ‘But for me it was to increase the volume of bone to bridge across the middle of my foot where there wasn’t any – it’s like growing a new foot.’

Through a hole in her plaster cast, Ruth administered 20 minutes of ultrasound herself every day for 12 weeks. Regular x-rays revealed how much the bones had grown.

‘In late 2012, the cast was removed, and my foot looked as if it had been caught in a bear trap – but it worked and didn’t hurt,’ says Ruth. ‘When I saw my surgeon, he said my aim for 2012 should be to build up to running a mile. It was brilliant running again. I went on my first jog with some friends along Newcastle’s Quayside.’

Ruth steadily increased her mileage and ran that September’s Great North Run: ‘It was raining and I ran my slowest ever time, but I’d never been happier finishing a race. The year before I was watching on crutches thinking, “I’ll never be able to do that again.”’

Ruth’s foot was still pain-free. And when Oxfam invited her to join their Brighton and London Marathon charity teams, she jumped at the chance. ‘I was worried at first about damaging my foot, so I was always careful. My first marathon post-accident was Brighton, which was an amazing day. I finished much slower than my PB, but I ran every step. I crossed the line in tears.’ Ruth ran London a week later, and then the Sunderland Marathon a week after that.

‘Only five years ago, when treatment wasn’t so advanced, I could’ve lost my foot,’ she says. ‘But I’m doing marathons, which is incredible. My consultant’s right when he calls it my magic foot!’