He is going to chafe. He is going to get blisters. There is even a chance that experienced runner J. Alain Ferry could cause other damage to his body for attempting such a feat at Monday’s Boston Marathon.
But none of that is going to stop him. After all, he’s a runner. And for Ferry, that means he’s determined, and hardly swayed by a challenge.
For the last week, Ferry has been testing and testing and testing again, several different styles of crutches, hoping one of them will get him — and a very recently fractured fibula — to the finish line.
“[My doctor] thinks I’m nuts. Everyone thinks I’m nuts,” said Ferry. “But I think I can do this.”
The injury is the result of Ferry taking part in what he thought would be a leisurely 5K in Florida in March, one that nearly derailed his streak of more than a decade’s worth of back-to-back appearances in his hometown’s renowned race.
At the last minute, while on vacation, Ferry had joined the Orlando race, which took runners along a path that cut through a golf course.
As Ferry took the lead — he prides himself on being very competitive — he came to a quick left turn on the route. The area was dark and unfamiliar, and the sudden change in direction was “much sharper than I could see,” he wrote in a post on Facebook.
Ferry’s right foot landed halfway off the edge of the path, his ankle rolled, and then “BAM.”
“Game over: broken fibula,” he wrote.
When Ferry returned to Boston, an orthopedic surgeon told him the leg was fractured. He was couch-bound and wearing an air cast, and any lingering hopes of running on Patriots Day seemed to be down the drain.
Then, after a month or so, around April 7, Ferry tried walking, gingerly. He quickly realized that he was fairly nimble when he on his crutches — perhaps even nimble enough to do a marathon.
With renewed determination and energy, Ferry hit the Harvard University track in Allston, sampling every kind of crutch he could get his hands on.
He tried the iWALK2.0 Hands Free Crutch, Ergodynamic Forearm Crutches, Ergotech Lightweight Forearm Crutches, and the Life Crutch by Millennial Medical, he said.
He’s yet to make a definitive choice.
“The hospital-issued axillary crutches were the leading contender until yesterday, when I tried the life crutches, which are a little lighter,” he said in an e-mail Friday. “I’ve got really skinny arms, so the lighter crutches could make a big difference after 26.2 miles. Unfortunately, the chafing is much worse with the lighter crutches, so I don’t know what I’ll do yet.”
Ferry said it’s likely he will mix and match his way to Boylston Street. He’s contemplating using the hospital crutches until the Wellesley mark, where a friend would hand him the lighter crutches to finish.
He’s set up a Google spreadsheet that he posted to the Facebook page of the November Project, a close-knit group of community runners and athletes, seeking volunteers to help him “swap out crutches, shoes, and ankle braces” along the way, he wrote.
Ferry has run the Boston Marathon for 12 consecutive years. To keep his streak alive this year, at least officially, the rules say he must make it to the finish line six hours “from the time the last official starter in the fourth wave crosses the start line.” Because he’s seeded at the front of the second wave, he figures that gives him seven hours to work with.
“If you don’t have the time recorded, you’re not a finisher,” he said. “And your streak is not a streak.”
Seven hours with crutches and a broken fibula is a tall order. But Ferry has what his orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Anne Johnson, who is also running the marathon, called incredible — albeit stubborn — dedication and determination.
“It’s certainly not something I would advise,” she said. “But in my years of practice, I have realized that you can’t tell runners they can’t run.”
She said his fracture is partially healed, so there’s a low risk of re-fracturing it. But there are other concerns that she has.
“The biggest risk for him is the collateral damage that he could do,” she said. “It could potentially wreak havoc on other areas of his body.”
But those are the risks he’s accepting.
Ferry said he’s confident he’ll finish, “even if it takes me 10-plus hours.”
He will rely on his friends peppered along the 26.2-mile path and the courage of other race participants who are facing more extreme challenges.
“Just look at other people in the race — injured soldiers, bombing survivors, people born with disabilities,” Ferry said. “I’ll draw inspiration out on the course.”Steve Annear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.