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Jason Richards and an opponent on a racing wheelchair

March 2014

A Different Angle, Thirsk 10 Mile Road Race

By Jason Richards

The first day of spring saw me waking up after losing an hour of sleep with the clocks moving forward and looking at the world from a different angle during my first road race of 2014. 

In 2013 the event was blessed with still air and sunshine and I managed to win the 10 mile race in a time of 49 minutes and 58 seconds. 

Unlike last year I managed to make the time adjustment to summer time without a hitch and only lost one hour of sleep. However, I was looking at my racing from a slightly different angle this year. In fact 10° rather than my familiar 11°. The idea to change the camber angle of my wheels came at the London marathon last year. We always tend to look at the competitors’ chairs over the weekend of the marathon to see what’s new and how the technology on the racing chairs is evolving.

Ernst Van Dyke, multiple winner of the Boston marathon, asked what camber angle I was running. Most people tend to use 12° or higher but I have always struggled to go above 11° due to the physiology of my arm length and shoulder width. Ernst told me he was currently trying 10° and his climbing ability had greatly increased. I didn’t pay too much notice until that night when I was watching the re-run of the final sprint for the line. Ernst showed an incredible turn of pace as the sprint started and the closeness of the wheels to his position seemed to allow a longer, more powerful stroke.

That planted the seed in my mind but it was not until September last year that I got around to ordering a pair of 10° camber inserts from Draft Wheelchairs. When they arrived in February I was keen to get them onto my chair and test them out. Swapping the camber inserts is not the easiest process and requires heat guns, rivets and a great deal of patience in setting up the toe in and out and the camber angle. I waited until I had a clear day and set about swapping them over. The following day when the bonding agent had set I jumped in the chair and went for a push around the block to see if there was any advantage. I instantly felt urgency about each push but my lack of fitness didn’t really let me test them to the full. It was also only 2 days until the Thirsk 10 mile road race so I was saving myself for that.

On the day of the race I was rested and felt good. There were only two racers at the start, myself and long-time friend and competitor Steve Williamson. In the warm up I felt sprightly in the chair and knew if the wind was kind to us it was a good day to race and test out my new set up.

As the whistle sounded we eased forward into a strong head wind. Within the first few hundred meters I had opened up a considerable gap and knew the only thing to do was to grit my teeth and forge on into the gusting wind that tried to hold me back with each push. After around 3 miles the course changed direction and there was some relief from the head wind. As my pace picked up and my stroke lengthened I realised the extra power that the 10° camber provided. The road opened up and I left the winding country roads for the open straights and my pace lifted to 18mph.

The usual marshal led the race on his bike and occasionally looked back telling me I was “clear” and progressing well against the clock. It was hard to reply as, although I was not under threat, I was on the limit of my fitness. Soon we turned off the main road and into the familiar territory on which I sometimes train around my parent’s cottage. The out and back stretch passed quickly and Steve and I headed back down to the main road and the run into the finish at the race course.

I sucked in lung after lung of air to replace the oxygen debt I had run up during the climb over the railway bridge and turned onto the final straight with my heart pounding as I tried to hold my speed to the finish. I glanced at the clock on my chair and saw that I was close to my personal best time of just over 45 minutes.

As I passed the race course car park I knew I was close to the finish. This year I was not greeted by the marshals or the crowd and I shouted to ask if we were finishing in the usual place. “Straight on” came the reply from the marshal and we shot past the turn into the finish. I sharply applied my brakes, turned around and tried to find the energy for a final sprint towards the finish. 

I crossed the line in 46 minutes and 14s. I sighed as they handed me water as I knew if it hadn’t been for the mistake at the end I would have beaten my personal best time for 10 miles.

As I drove home in my Ford S-MAX I was able to reflect on the race and missing the finish. This event made me realise why I train and race. It’s for selfish reasons, for pride, to break away from my disability, for freedom, for respect and because I love to compete and the company of my close friends and fellow athletes. 

Maybe next year my new angle on the race will lead to a sub 45 minute time.