A Chair Pusher’s Guide: Training The Team

Santa & His Not-So-Tiny Reindeer Team Reindeer at the Reindeer Dash Buffalo NY - 05-Dec-09

Amanda with Santa and Santa’s Not-So-Tiny Reindeerswaiting for the starting gun at the Buffalo NY Reindeer Run on December 5, 2009.
Note the sound system duct taped to the racer. We were blasting Jingle Cats all the way!

Training The Team: Part I

You don’t have to be a runner before starting to push. It helps, but it’s not an absolute requirement. You can use this as part of an exercise program and use any “learn to run” program to slowly increase your fitness level and aerobic capacity. Most of the beginner running programs involve some variation on the “10 & 1” program (run 10 minutes, walk 1 minute) to build up your abilities.

No matter where you are, there will probably be a running club or running store that will offer free or paid, coach/trainer led clinics. If you don’t have one of these resources available, the Internet is a great way for the beginning runner to find information. There are a lot of online running clubs geared to the beginning runner. Some great places to start looking for a group that suits you are Runners World or Cool Running web sites.

 Training The Team: Part II

Obviously, it’s tougher to push a chair than it is to run solo, but with the right chair, it’s not as hard as you might imagine on the flats. However, hills will be tougher and will require focused training to build up your leg strength and endurance.

Through personal experience, I found that pushing Amanda changed my running form slightly, so that you will have to train specifically for pushing. I found that pushing Amanda used similar muscles as I use while cycling, so this might be a good place to start a training regimen.

You may want to consult with a trainer to include focused weight training in your total fitness program. I can also recommend they should be working on their upper body strength for chair control. I was surprised at the amount of upper body required to keep our chair running in a straight line and pushing a standard chair will be even tougher.

I would suggest that the team starts slowly with shorter distances and increase your time and distance over a four month period, before attempting a 5k road race. This will give the team time to get used to running together with minimal chance for injury.

Training The Team: Part III

Something else to consider is the fitness and comfort of the chair occupant. When possible find ways to include both team members in the running process. Can the seated member help climb hills, can they help with braking, can they help manage the fluids and fueling? Be creative in finding ways of including both members. For us, Amanda pulls me down hills, chooses the music we play during the run and where we eat after our run.

The chair has to be comfortable for the rider. Bumps, potholes and curbs aren’t much fun if you have to sit in an uncomfortable seat, in an unsupported position for long periods. If you are doing hour long training runs, you have to make sure that both the pusher and pushee are putting in their training time in the most efficient way possible. In our case that means a custom seating system to give Amanda the hip and back support she needs.

The other thing to consider especially for the occupant is weather. Sun, wind, rain, heat and cold take their toll on both members. In the excitement of our first marathon I forgot to put sun block on Amanda’s face. Her face was badly burned by the time we finished. I have never forgotten since then. Prior to race start, I make sure that sun block, Vaseline, lip balm and sunglasses are all applied and in place.

Temperature is the major weather factor to consider. The runner will be kept warm by all that physical exertion, but the chair bound member won’t. Amanda’s grandma modified a standard sleeping bag to cover her legs and wrap the upper body to keep her warmer on the winter training runs. Even with the bag we have problems keeping Amanda’s hands and feet warm and have found that the personal chemical hand warmers work really well in connection with the running bag to keep her toasty.

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