Guest Blog Post – Dr Richard Howey, Virtual Treadmill Runs

I got to speak to the man himself one Saturday morning during lockdown.

Thank you for giving up part of your Saturday morning to speak to me!  What would you normally be doing on a Saturday morning?   Not much during lockdown!

So I’m not going to ask you about running and performance, as that’s not my speciality.

My own Blog (this Blog) started as an idea to enthuse myself whilst trying to lose weight and get fitter.  Over the 8 years of my journey, my mobility has gone from nothing to what it is now.  I don’t have proper hips, so it’s pretty amazing that I’m able to walk at all.  I have two sisters, both of whom are very active.  I started my journey when I was 49 and have achieved something I wasn’t initially aiming for.  I’m seen a huge increase in my confidence in my ability to walk and improved independence – which is especially important because of my disability.

Following a bad head on car crash in France, I sustained leg injuries which meant that my already limited mobility was reduced further.  So in 2013 I went gradually from virtually no activity – to swimming once a week – to moving a bit more – to finding a personal trainer to work with me and between us we came up with some ideas for suitable exercise. 

 As my fitness and mobility have improved, I began incorporating sessions on an anti-gravity treadmill – the Alter-G, which is used to rehabilitate people who have  had hip and knee replacements, stroke and other injuries.  The treadmill enables them to maintain and regain their fitness.  It works by supporting a percentage of ones body weight.  So for the first time in my life I was able to experience running.  And more recently I’ve been “running” alongside some of your virtual treadmill runs.  By that I mean vigorously bouncing and swinging my arms whilst seated on a fit ball for about an hour each day. 

How should I refer to you? Richard is fine.  Ah, not “The Doctor” then?

Where in the country are you?  You might have guessed from the films that I live in Morpeth.

My husband’s childhood home was in Northumberland and he recognises many of the places that you run – they’ve provided him with some happy childhood memories.

When did you take up running?  2012.  Oh – that’s around the same time as I started my journey!

Do you run on a regular basis?  Yes, I’ve run pretty regularly since 2012, but had to take a break of a year or more when I injured my foot.

What gave you the idea of filming your runs?  I’ve been asked this before and I’m not sure to be honest.  I guess it was to provide some sort of record so that I can look back at them and see what I was capable of.

The way you film is very much filmed for an audience and to make them an enjoyable experience.  I do try and film for an audience and try to keep my head still – that’s sometimes difficult when I’m a bit tired.

So making your films into virtual treadmill runs – a great idea – how did you come up with it?  So I had the idea for turning my runs into virtual treadmill runs and I figured that someone would already have tried to do this (and they had).

I’m very impressed with the quality as they are nice and steady and not too wobbly.  The first one I became aware of was your Dublin run – which I enjoyed as I’ve been to Dublin a couple of times.

What camera do you use?  It’s a GoPro 7 which I wear attached to my forehead with a strap. I initially had a really cheap one at the start but up-grading to the GoPro has given me built in camera stability which makes it far steadier.

So now that all important question – how tall are you?  I’m 6ft 2.  Wow, that’s a height I can only ever dream of!  I think I give the impression of being taller as the camera is located above my eye line.

Your height provides an excellent view, as looking over peoples head rather than at the back of heads.  Better view than I get from my height (4ft 8”) – people’s backsides and armpits.

You do appear to have the constant ability to take in the nice viewpoints for the sake of your viewers.  I appreciate that as I am enjoying the visual side of it.  Yes, I try to take In some views along the way.  Some people have complained about that, saying it unbalances them on the treadmill.

The Sunset Cliff in the US was a bit scary – you were getting quite close to the cliff edge at times!  It probably wasn’t as close as it appeared on the film.

Over how many days did you film Hadrian’s Wall Trail? – 12 days, as I tried to pick days that were sunny.  I noticed one very wet day with lots of puddles?  Yes, that was getting late in the year and I was running out of days.

I love seeing other people that you come across during your runs – for example, the school party straggling up the stairs on part of the Hadrian’s Wall who had to  move aside to let you race past.

How do you describe you running – fell running, distance running, steeple chasing  (or is that horses??) Yes, I think steeple chasing is for horses!

You don’t stick to tarmac or level runs.  I like the way it’s a bit of a mix, so some fun runs, some races, runs on beaches and along rivers, through woods and in sunshine and snow even.  I don’t really describe it as any particular style but I do enjoy a variety of terrains.

You seem quite nimble and have amazing stamina.  I loved the part where you were running through the forest at Kielder – the second part, where you burst out of the toilet door!  Yes, I was half way through the race – needs must!

Screenshot 2020-06-07 at 18.17.11
Welcome sight – refreshment stop and break, Kielder Half Marathon

How importantly does running feature in your life?  It’s pretty important, it’s my main hobby alongside putting the videos together afterwards.

How had lockdown affected your running?  I’ve only been able to run locally and all places I’ve run before.  I’ve missed out on a couple of opportunities to run abroad.  I’ve missed opportunities to run in Switzerland alongside Lake Geneva and I had a trip coming up to South Korea.  That isn’t going to happen.

Do you run when you go abroad for work or do you travel to run?  I’m lucky – I travel for work.  So I incorporate some of my runs whilst I am away.

Your runs in Germany – I’m fascinated that you seem to find these grassy trails that go a bit off the beaten track.  Do you get lost often?  Yes, I have got lost a few times.  Thank goodness for mobile phones!   I don’t take a mobile phone with me.  I tend to research my route beforehand, try and plan it on a map and memorise it.

That must have been difficult on the Hadrian’s Wall path – there are signs, but they’re not always that obvious?  I did take a couple of wrong turnings along the way.  On one part of the Hadrian’s Wall path – there is a public footpath which runs parallel to the pathway which I accidentally took.  I re-joined the Hadrian’s Wall path and realised I’d taken the wrong route.  I went back and re-filmed that section

How competitive are you?  I’m not really competitive.  But you always seem to be somewhere near the front in races?  I deliberately start at the back and start off slowly and speed up later on – it helps to make me appear faster than I am!

On the Cragside Trail film, a few competitors steam pass you at the end really going for it.  Yes!  There is a steep decline before the finish and I was saving my knees for that.  I didn’t realise the finish line was so imminent, as it is a 10 mile race and my watch was telling me I’d reached nine and a half miles.  So I reached the end half a mile before I expected to!

How did you start off running?  I just built up my fitness and stamina gradually.

What’s the furthest you’ve run?  A half marathon.  I’ve not done a full marathon.

Is that on your list of things to do?  No, not really because of the injuries I’ve sustained.  I’d rather play safe to will stick with the half marathons.

Have you ever injured yourself running?  I injured my foot, but not sure I did it running.  I could barely walk, let alone run and that put me out of action for almost a year.  Something went I my foot when I was walking and it took a long time to recover from that.  I’m just happy that I’m able to run at all – so I’m not really competitive.  I don’t want to push myself and injure myself again.  I’m happy to take things a bit more slowly now.

I loved your Prague film and the fact you visited parts of the old town – it enabled me to see parts of Prague that I didn’t get to see when we were there.  It was lovely to see parts that aren’t the usual touristy places and that would have been inaccessible to me as a wheelchair user.

You’ve not got an aim to stop when you reach 500 videos or something?  No, I’ll still enjoy making the films as long as I’m able to.

Once again, thank you for allowing me to enjoy your films.  I probably don’t use them in the way that most viewers do.  I mentioned what I am doing to others – both disabled and non disabled folk, who have really appreciated them.  It’s enabled me to enjoy a little trip out of the house each day.  You’ve also inspired me to come and visit the north east of England at some point in the future to see for myself those lovely beaches and countryside. 

To enjoy Richard Howey’s virtual treadmill runs, visit his YouTube channel

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