Chris Koch will use a longboard to complete Sunday’s Calgary Marathon.
When talking about marathon training, Chris Koch, 37, says he’s just like any other runner. He logs high mileage (around 120 kilometres per week), builds strength with resistance bands, and does core exercises.
But Koch, who is entered in the Calgary Marathon in Calgary, Alberta isn’t like every other marathoner. The Alberta native was born without arms or legs, and he uses a longboard for transportation. So far, Koch has finished 5Ks, 10Ks, and half marathons on his longboard, but Calgary will be his first full marathon. And it’s no easy one: Seated at the foothills of the Canadian Rockies, Calgary is known for unpredictable weather and rolling hills.
“Going uphill is always challenging,” Koch said in an interview with Runner’s World. “I have a foot on my right side, which I use to push forward. On downhills, I drag my heel on the pavement to slow down, and put my foot on the back wheel to brake.” (He demonstrates his technique in the video at the end of the article.)
Because Koch has no limbs, he’s unable to use hand cycles or wheelchairs, the mobility devices that are allowed in certain running events. Races rarely permit the use of longboards. Koch was denied entry to the L.A. Marathon last February; he was told that his board posed a safety risk.
“My girlfriend, Ally, and I had planned to do the marathon together, to check it off our bucket list,” Koch said. “We chose L.A. because it was on Valentine’s Day, and was also our first anniversary as a couple.”
On what would have been race day, Koch and his girlfriend completed a half marathon on their own. When Koch returned home to Canada, Kirsten Fleming, the race director of the Calgary Marathon, contacted him to invite him to the event.
“Normally, we don’t allow longboards on our course,” Fleming said. “But since we’re a smaller race, we have more flexibility on accommodations. After meeting with Chris and seeing that he was fully capable of finishing a race, we were willing to make an exception.”
“I told Kirsten I had one condition: I want to do a full marathon,” Koch said. He is racing this weekend to raise money for Calgary’s Inn From the Cold, a homeless shelter for children and families.
Fleming has taken precautionary steps to ensure that the race is a smooth one, for Koch and for the 1,100 other full marathoners. The key is visibility: Koch will be wearing a neon yellow shirt, will sport a flag on the back of his board, and will have a cyclist leading him throughout the race.
“People are excited to see Chris on the course,” Fleming said. “His zest for life is infectious. He keeps a pretty quick pace, so he’ll be right in the middle of the pack.”
“My goal time is between four and a half and five hours,” said Koch, who holds a half marathon best time of 1:58. “If I break 4:30, that’d be gravy.”
See Koch prepare for the race in this video: