Sisters tackle trail run to raise funds

Hip sisters, Ruth Clarke and Nicci Annette, in training.

When Ruth Clarke started running four- and-a-half years ago, she had no idea that she would complete the 12 kilometre Two Oceans Trail Run on Friday, and that her run would contribute significantly to the Joint Care Trust, a Western Cape NGO which funds arthroplasty surgical procedures – the surgical reconstruction or replacement of a joint – for people who have no private medical aid and cannot afford the surgery.

“I feel fantastic,” Stellenbosch-born Ruth told Bolander on Sunday afternoon. “I trained really hard, because I wanted to do the race in a respectable time.”

She completed the race in 1:34:35, six and-a-half years after undergoing hip replacement surgery at age 38.

Husband Trent, who has supported Ruth tirelessly, ran the half-marathon on Saturday. “I compared the routes of the two races, and I see that I actually gained slightly more altitude than Trent did in his half marathon,” she said with a chuckle.

For Ruth, who was born with developmental dysplasia of the hip, the surgery she had in 2010 was a virtual lifesaver.

“I’d had three operations before – aged two, 12 and 13 – in order to buy time, because a hip replacement has a limited lifespan, but it got to the point where the pain was debilitating. My life was sunken in the logistics of planning simple tasks, like how far I could walk to buy milk each day.”

With the only relief from chronic pain being the use of painkillers, she had to make a choice. “It was either roasting my liver and kidneys with painkillers or enduring constant pain, so I knew I had to have the operation.”

After the surgery, the road to recovery was long and hard. “I spent six weeks on crutches, and during that time, my mobility was even more restricted than before the operation,” she said, “because there were all sorts of movements I couldn’t do for fear of dislocating the new hip joint.”

She was not allowed to drive and she had to, as part of her rehabilitation, walk for 10 minutes a day on crutches, and she underwent a great deal of physiotherapy. “I had a complete sense of humour failure,” she says, “because there were so many simple tasks that I could not do unaided while recuperating.”

But her determination paid off, and she gradually regained her strength. “My surgeon explained to me that the surgery amounted to major trauma, because all of the many muscles around the hip joint had to be literally detached then re-attached. About two years after the operation I found that I was able to walk fast and pain-free, and I was so joyful, I started running.”

She didn’t run far, and she didn’t run fast, but she kept at it. “Nicci (Ruth’s younger sister, who ran with her) is a natural runner, but I didn’t really consider myself a runner when I started, but I persevered.”

Ruth took to trail running, because it is less damaging to joints than road running.

“When trail running, your steps are varied, whereas with road running the steps are repetitive and the pounding is damaging, especially to a prosthetic joint.”

“I also love the mountains, so it made sense to trail run,” she said. “I ran short distances initially and built up slowly.”

When she decided to enter a race, the Two Oceans was a logical choice. “I thought that if I was going to do this, I wanted it to be an iconic race, and I’m fortunate enough to have access to Two Oceans,” she said. “Since I was going to do it, I decided to raise funds for somebody who might have been sitting on a waiting list for years in the state medical care sector, for a joint replacement that is not considered to be life-saving surgery.”

And that’s where Nicci comes in to the picture. “I’m just the one who had the hip replacement,” Ruth quips, “but Nicci, with her tremendous fund-raising experience, got us out there and generated tremendous publicity.”

When Bolander spoke to Ruth on Sunday, the fund stood at R35 000. “Our target is to raise R50 000, and the initiative closes at midnight on Sunday April 30.”

A stickler for attention to detail, according to Nicci, Ruth planned and prepared meticulously for the race. “She is remarkably responsible in taking care of her new hip,” Nicci said.

“She taught herself to run with a forefoot strike, landing on the ball of her foot, because it is 60% to 70% less impacting on the hip joint. She managed her diet carefully to get to the appropriate weight for her height. She has really taken full advantage of this new lease on life.

“Running with her on Friday, was a celebration of life with her as a big sister,” Nicci said. “She wasn’t able to be physically active because of her limitation until now, but seeing her stride ahead of me was just inspirational. She is a trailblazer. She blows my mind.”

To contribute to Ruth and Nicci’s fund-raising initiative, visit