Race Running: an increasingly popular sport for people with cerebral palsy

© Janet Paske

I’d seen a RaceRunner in 2007 but didn’t know what it was  – it didn’t have pedals but otherwise looked like an adult’s trike with 3 large wheels. When I volunteered at Cerebral Palsy (CP) Sport’s  National Athletics Championships in Doncaster more recently though, I saw RaceRunners in action. Designed by Connie Hansen, a Danish Paralympian, they first appeared in 1990 (by-conniehansen.com, 2018). CP Sport are leading the development of RaceRunning in England  and here’s their short RaceRunning video in case you’re unfamiliar with it.

RaceRunning can also be suitable for people with balance and mobility challenges resulting from conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis.

The remainder of this blog covers:

  • Exercise, sport or fun?
  • RaceRunning with Orla Conneely
  • The future for RaceRunning
  • Physiotherapist views on using sport and physical activity as therapy
  • What you can do now

Exercise, sport or fun?

Some people don’t like competition but best not to be put off by the name – RaceRunner. It’s possible to gain the benefits of RaceRunning without taking part in races. For people with ataxia, hypertonia and athetosis, it’s a way of increasing heart rate and increasing weight-bearing on lower limbs (van, Jahed, Tennant, & Verheul, 2018).  Based on the chat and laughter I heard at the National Championships, I’d say it’s also sociable and fun, key motivators for maintaining participation. CP Sport research (Sheffield Hallam University Sport Industry Research Centre, 2017) bears this out –  90% of participants do it because it’s fun whilst 50% use it to stay healthy  and 43% for the competition.

The CP Sport research (Sheffield Hallam University Sport Industry Research Centre, 2017) also shows that without RaceRunning some people would be doing no sport.

RaceRunning with Orla Conneely

RaceRunner Orla Conneely

School student Orla Conneely took some time to talk to me about her sporting experiences. She competes in the RR2  class, at the competitive elite level, having been assessed by a panel to ensure she competes against people with a similar level of impairment.

An athlete of this sport for 3 years, she told me that RaceRunning makes her feel free, means she can run without falling over and that she can run fast. The latter is evidenced by her medal haul of 4 golds on Saturday and the achievement of 2 personal bests. She’d also had just returned from the CP World Championships in Barcelona where she won bronze in the 400m.

Orla trains for 2 hours each week, in Chesterfield and at the Sheffield–based English Institute for Sport and has made new friends in her training colleagues. She also goes to the gym once a week with her dad to develop her core and strengthen her leg muscles. Barriers to RaceRunning more often are school and homework.

Orla’s physiotherapist gives leg exercises for her RaceRunner and her occupational therapist has supplied strong wrist grips (see example below) as her usual wrist grips are not strong enough for sport.


Grip mitt (courtesy of Quest88)

The future for RaceRunning

The sport has now been included in the Paralympic programme which means that there is more interest from both participants and coaches. However, as with many adapted sports, there are still barriers in place. Orla’s mum cites a lack of tracks where Orla can train, a lack of coaches for disabled people and an ad hoc infrastructure for the sport (her mum found RaceRunning through Facebook). These echo issues reported in 2014 by the English Federation of Disability Sport (EFDS) (Table 1), based on an online survey of 159 paediatric physiotherapists.  More recent research published by CP Sport (2017) based on 30 participants, highlights barriers such as personal support and transport to attend events and lack of local availability.

Table 1: Barriers to referring a young disabled person on to sport/ physical activity

Lack of available opportunities 41%
Parent support/ cooperation 34%
Location 34%
Financial implications for family 33%
Transport issues 23%
Inadequate facilities 20%
Unaware of opportunities 15%
Lack of motivation 12%
Time available in life 10%
No coaches/ staff who will understand 10%

Source: English Federation of Disability Sport, 2014

Physiotherapist views on sport and physical activity as therapy

85% of paediatric physiotherapists find “a lot of value” in referring young people to sport and physical activity but they’d like some changes to their training to enable them to do so (EFDS, 2014) (Chart 1).


Source: English Federation of Disability Sport, 2014

What could you do now?

Depending on your team’s knowledge of local sport and physical activities and referral pathways, actions could include:

  • Reading CP-Sport’s “An introduction to RaceRunning”  to support the development of the sport across the UK.
  • Seeing if there are any RaceRunner taster events happening near you
  • Finding out if your local authority or clinical commissioning group or voluntary sector has created a resource of sport and physical activity for adults and/ or children.
  • Finding out about any Exercise on Referral schemes running in your area and how to refer to them
  • Feeding this information back to your colleagues at a team meeting
  • Doing some Making Every Contact Count training
  • Encouraging your patients to ask you about lifestyle changes by putting a poster in the waiting room or above your desk saying you are here to answer their questions about for example, stopping smoking/ being more active/ drinking alcohol less.


English Federation of Disability Sport. (2014). Understanding sport and physical activity as a therapy choice for young disabled people. England: Retrieved from http://www.cpsport.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Understanding_sport_as_a_therapy_choice_final_report.pdf

Sheffield Hallam University Sport Industry Research Centre. (2017). Showing the benefits of adapted sports. Cerebral Palsy Sport. Retrieved from http://www.activityalliance.org.uk/assets/000/001/688/CP_Sport_final_adapted_sports_report-web_ready_original.pdf?1509445921

van, D. L., Jahed, S., Tennant, N., & Verheul, M. H. G. (2018). The influence of lower limb impairments on RaceRunning performance in athletes with hypertonia, ataxia or athetosis. Gait & Posture, 61, 362-367. doi:10.1016/j.gaitpost.2018.02.004

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