DECEMBER 2019: Dewi Richards is a phenomenal athlete.
He used to run as a way of keeping fit for his main sport, motocross, in which he competed at international level.
Despite running being a secondary sport, he still ran a marathon in 2hrs25.
After breaking his back during motocross, he decided to ignore medical advice that he would never return to sport; instead, he applied his knowledge, as a mechanical engineer, to learn about human physiology and figured out how to fix himself.
He has subsequently run a 3hr30 marathon and secured the course record for the South Downs Way 100 miles on a mountain bike.
He set up a business called Backfit, specialising in core stability and functional fitness, and is passionate about getting runners to adopt good posture, to run more efficiently and reduce the risk of injury.
I was delighted when Dewi agreed to present at our recent RunBrighton seminar, at the start of our winter training.
Dewi, I understand you were brought up on a sheep farm in Wales. Tell us about your early life and interest in sport as a child.
I lived on a farm near Llanwrtyd Wells… where they hold the Man vs Horse, 22-mile, off-road race! Working on the farm, with my dad, I developed what’s known as `farm strength` from an early age.
When I was 10, we moved from the farm to the local market town of Builth Wells.
I attended the local high school, where my PE teacher put me in the school rugby team as a prop because I was stocky and strong. I hated running then, and when I started schoolboy motocross, aged 12, I found my passion and was soon winning races and I became Welsh National Champion, at the age of 14.
I then broke my left leg in a motocross accident.
During my recovery, my PE teacher forced me into doing cross-country, as I wasn`t allowed to do contact in rugby; that’s when I started to enjoy running. I went on to represent the school in the National Cross-Country Championships. The running really helped my fitness for motocross.
Didn’t you do quite well in the Man v Horse?
Yes, I actually held the fastest time for a local runner, when I was in my early 20s.
And I seem to recall you have a story about an arm-wrestling competition?
Yes, when I was at my peak in motocross, I had really strong grip strength.
I was on a social weekend, with some friends who worked for the local quarry, at Pontins in North Wales, where the British Arm-Wrestling Championships were taking place. After a few beers, my mates entered me in the middle-weight section, for a laugh.
I won all my heats, then went on to win the final.
What about training and competing in motocross? Where did that take you and what level did you reach?
Running became my go-to training for motocross, along with strength and muscular endurance training, like circuits. I also played rugby in the off-season.
I was Welsh Senior Motocross Champion during the early 1980s and went on to represent Great Britain in the European Championships in ‘85/’86, when I raced for the Honda UK team.
For someone so active, breaking your back would have been devastating. What do you recall of the incident and your road to recovery?
I don’t remember much of the accident itself. It was at the start of a race and it happened off a big, double jump, at high speed. I was knocked unconscious and just remember waking up in hospital.
During my recovery, I suffered depression, as my sport had been my life and it was taken from me as a result of the accident. It was a very difficult time for me, so I had to learn to rehabilitate my mind, as well as my body.
That’s when my Backfit system of exercise started to develop.
Is your injury totally fixed now, or is it more a case of constantly having to manage a permanent injury?
I still have some residual effects in my nervous system, which I manage with Backfit, but I feel healthy and strong and really enjoy helping others who might be going through a tough time with injuries, etc.
The focus of your presentation at our seminar, and practical demonstration after the run, was about releasing the psoas muscle. Why do you place so much emphasis on that?
The psoas is probably the most important muscle in the body, because of its connections to the spine, nervous system and brain. It is also our ‘fight or flight’ muscle and is massively affected by emotion. When it is out of balance, it affects the function of the whole person/body.
What would be your number-one tip, based on your area of expertise, for anyone starting to prepare for their first half or full marathon?
Compliment your running with quality core-training and cross-training techniques, to balance out the loads and stresses on the body. We only become stronger when we are recovering correctly!
And what about your own goals? Do you have any specific performance targets, or is sport and exercise done simply to keep a level of fitness now?
Well, in the short term, since meeting up with your RunBrighton group, I’ve entered Brighton Half in February. I’d also like to run London Marathon, once in my life, just to say I’ve done it… maybe with my eldest son, Sean, who was a great distance runner at school and is built for marathon running, unlike me!
Dewi, you’ve achieved some amazing things, and your positive mindset after such a major accident is quite remarkable. Thanks again for being involved with our seminar. And good luck with your build-up to the Grand Brighton Half Marathon!
By Mike Bannister