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20 April 2018

When Brian Reynolds was growing up in Boston, wearing prosthetic legs and watching his hometown marathon from the side of the road, he could hardly have imagined he’d ever become a marathon runner himself, let alone a world record breaker.

At four, Reynolds had both his legs amputated below the knee due to complications after a bout of meningitis. Yet in October last year, 25 years after losing his legs, he finished the Chicago Marathon in a world record for his class of 3 hours 6 minutes 31 seconds, and if all goes to plan at the Virgin Money London Marathon this Sunday he will become the first ever double below-the-knee amputee to smash the three-hour barrier for 26.2 miles.

It’s a dream he has cherished since 2012 when working as a Boston Marathon volunteer, handing out bottles of water to thousands of runners. By then, Reynolds was a keen sportsman himself, and a hiker who had walked up Mount Kilimanjaro.

Running was the next step, although the journey from hiking to jogging to his breaking-three project in London has been a long and arduous one, involving bloody stumps, running blades and hours of impact-defying work-outs on an ‘elliptical’ bike.

“I took up running in November 2013,” explained the 29-year-old today, just 48 hours before his bid for sub-three history. “But I only really started training properly a year and a half ago. I was a recreational runner for a while first, running with ordinary prosthetics. They’re so heavy and inefficient I had lots of skin breakdowns and pools of blood from my legs.”

But that all changed thanks to a move from Boston to New Jersey that led to a chance encounter with specialist prosthetics firm Step Ahead, who supplied him with proper running blades, and equipment company ElliptiGO, who make so-called elliptical bikes that allow runners to put in the miles without enduring the injury-inducing impact on limbs and joints that can be so debilitating to amputee runners.
For Reynolds, the difference has been revolutionary, allowing him to increase his mileage from 40 miles a week to 55 while training for the Chicago marathon last year, to 70 as he’s prepared for London and his US debut in the World Para Athletics Marathon World Cup on Sunday.

“To be honest, this has been the first true marathon training cycle I’ve ever done,” he said. “I’ve done 16 to 18 weeks proper training this time. Even before Chicago I had prosthetic issues so I could only train for about a month.

“The new blades allow me to run so much faster and the bike means I can now do a second run in a day, which makes so much difference. Doing high mileage before was just too much for my legs, but with the bike I can do four or five hours on it.”

The bike has been used by some world-class able-bodied runners, such as the USA’s 2004 Olympic silver medallist and former Boston Marathon winner, Meb Keflezighi. For Reynolds it’s been invaluable for training through New Jersey’s recent, unrelenting winter – that, and daily sauna sessions to get his body used to heat.

“I can even do track intervals on the bike,” he said. “I do sessions like 20x400m, but the biggest benefit is after I’ve done a long 20-miler on a Sunday. My legs are really sore after a run like that but on a bike I can do another five or six miles the next day.”

Reynolds has taken advice on competing in London from Britain’s own double amputee world-record breaker, Richard Whitehead, who set the above-the-leg mark of 3:15:53 here in 2013.

“Richard said to look out for the corners on the London course,” said Reynolds. “Hopefully, I’ll be faster than him, though. I did a half marathon recently in 1:40 so I have to be confident of breaking three hours.

“I’d love to do it here because I love London and I’m very excited to be back here to run. I am confident my training has gone really well but the marathon humbles you. I should be capable of it but we’ll have to see what London has in store for me.”

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