Real Run­ners

Ben Mur­phy was not ex­pected to walk again af­ter an ac­ci­dent. He does, and he also runs – fast

Runner's World (UK) - - Con­tents -

It’s 7am on a Scot­tish win­ter’s morn­ing and Ben Mur­phy is warm­ing up with fel­low run­ners from Ed­in­burgh Univer­sity’s Hare and Hounds club. Drag­ging your­self out to train in the icy gloom can be tough, but Ben, 20, loves ev­ery mo­ment of his run­ning: ‘I’m just ap­pre­cia­tive of be­ing able to use my legs fully ev­ery day,’ he says.

In May 2009, Ben, then a sport-mad 12-year-old, was moun­tain bik­ing on some trails with his fa­ther when his wheel hit a rock and he was thrown off, sus­tain­ing a brain in­jury. ‘I was in a coma for nearly three weeks,’ says Ben, from Cri­eff, Perthshire. ‘My par­ents were warned I had less than a 10 per cent chance of sur­vival, and was not ex­pected to be able to walk again, let alone run.’

When Ben fi­nally woke up, he couldn’t speak, walk or per­form any ba­sic move­ments. His left side and both legs were paral­ysed as a re­sult of the brain in­jury (‘They told me the bike hel­met saved my life’), and his col­lar­bone and left arm were bro­ken.

Many months of in­tense daily oc­cu­pa­tional, phys­i­cal and speech ther­apy fol­lowed, with Ben us­ing a wheel­chair most of the time. ‘The lack of in­de­pen­dence was frus­trat­ing but I had al­most no bal­ance and an ex­tremely weak neck and core,’ he says. ‘I just hated not be­ing ac­tive. I’d done so much sport be­fore the ac­ci­dent [Ben was in two foot­ball teams, a bas­ket­ball team and the re­gional swim­ming team] and I just wanted to get back to it.’ It took al­most a year be­fore he could walk with any de­gree of in­de­pen­dence and con­fi­dence. ‘Nei­ther I nor my fam­ily could en­vis­age a day when I wouldn’t need the wheel­chair,’ he says.

The ac­ci­dent didn’t just take a phys­i­cal toll – Ben also suf­fered from post-trau­matic stress and un­der­went ther­apy to help him come to terms with what had hap­pened. ‘It was dif­fi­cult ac­cept­ing that I’d never get those years of my life back,’ he ex­plains. ‘My con­fi­dence was shat­tered and ther­apy helped me re­gain it. It also helped me deal with not hav­ing any­one or any­thing to blame for what hap­pened, and the guilt and sad­ness I felt about the or­deal my fam­ily had been through.’

Two years af­ter the ac­ci­dent, Ben had made enough progress to re­turn to some of his beloved sports. ‘Ini­tially it was within dis­abil­ity sports, but even­tu­ally I re­turned to my old foot­ball team,’ he says. ‘It was such a great feel­ing to get back to a bit of nor­mal­ity.’

Hav­ing put on weight dur­ing his in­ca­pac­i­ta­tion, Ben was keen to lose a few pounds and re­gain some fit­ness. Run­ning seemed the per­fect ac­tiv­ity. ‘At first it was a big strug­gle even to fin­ish a lo­cal mile-long loop, but I kept at it, and a year later I was up to 10K and be­came hooked! Hav­ing been con­stantly sur­rounded by ther­a­pists, wor­ried fam­ily and friends, the me-time run­ning pro­vided was a big ap­peal,’ he ad­mits. ‘It of­fered me some peace and time to re­flect.’

But progress wasn’t easy. ‘There were a lot of biome­chan­i­cal is­sues to deal with at first,’ Ben ex­plains. ‘Struc­turally, I was in a bad way, but I worked hard to cor­rect some of the weak­nesses and im­bal­ances through strength train­ing, stretch­ing and foam rolling. It takes time but it pays off in the long term.’

In 2013, a friend en­cour­aged him to try a ses­sion with the lo­cal club, Strat­hearn Har­ri­ers. ‘It was a 10K fartlek run – se­ri­ously bru­tal on the hills – but I found I liked push­ing my­self and wanted to try to im­prove and hang on to the guys at the front.’

Run­ning reg­u­larly with a club and fol­low­ing a more struc­tured train­ing pro­gramme paid div­i­dends for Ben. Over the next three years, his 10K time dropped from 48 min­utes to un­der 38, and in June he ran his first marathon, on home turf, in an in­cred­i­ble 3:15. ‘To run the Strat­hearn Marathon – or­gan­ised by my lo­cal club, mar­shalled by peo­ple who have known me since I first started run­ning – was amaz­ing,’ he says. ‘It was just over six years since the ac­ci­dent and cross­ing the fin­ish line felt like com­plet­ing the jour­ney to where I wanted to be as a per­son.’

Ben’s life is ‘pretty much nor­mal’ these days, though he con­tin­ues to suf­fer from day-to-day fa­tigue as a re­sult of the ac­ci­dent. He started at Ed­in­burgh Univer­sity in Septem­ber 2015, study­ing ge­og­ra­phy, and joined the Hare and Hounds, where he is now so­cial sec­re­tary.

His next ma­jor goal is to achieve a sub-three-hour marathon, but he’s learned over the last few years that rac­ing is just a small part of what run­ning is about. ‘There’s train­ing, rac­ing, even spec­tat­ing and cheer­ing oth­ers on – I just bloody love it all!’ he says. ‘For me, be­ing in both clubs is like be­ing part of a mas­sive fam­ily where ev­ery­one en­cour­ages and helps each other. Run­ning isn’t about beat­ing oth­ers – it’s about set­ting per­sonal goals and striv­ing to achieve them. That’s one of the main rea­sons I love the sport – it’s just you ver­sus you.’

‘I’d done so much sport and I just wanted to get back to it’

NEVER GIVE UP (top to bot­tom) Ben dur­ing his long re­cov­ery; and back on the road

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.