The first of ten blindfold challenges, over ten weeks at ten different courses…
I have been guiding VI runners for three years. My regular partner, David Edwards and I have completed many runs together, from parkruns, to 10k events, The Great South Run and in a team with John Baker to help David achieve his dream of running a marathon.
While John will be my guide for the blindfold challenge, David is keen to support and we have therefore engaged some help from our friends. Julie Burden will be joining us to guide David on many of the challenges ahead. Julie has good experience as a guide and is based like all of us at the Bournemouth parkrun.
We are all raising much needed funds for the Dorset Blind Association a local charity to us all and one that sees over 100 years of service to blind and partially sighted folk throughout our region and further afield. You can help the DBA by donating on our fundraising page by clicking here. Thank you for your support.
We gathered in Poole Park on a glorious morning, much to the delight of John Baker (as guides we all fear runs in bad weather). The two of us were pretty nervous and although we had practiced together in Bournemouth, the prospect of running a race with maybe 700 other runners, in addition to casual park users, was really daunting. And of course there was the big question of the lake…
I had scheduled the Poole event to be the first in the blindfold challenge as (1) it is my home town and (2) this would be my 50th parkrun.
Ready as we ever were, I blindfolded up at 08.50 and jogged around the start line with John to acclimatise; then at 09.00 we were off. The first thing I noticed was that the noise generated by the 642 runners was astonishingly loud, something not noticed when running fully sighted. I had to ask John to speak up as he gave me his instructions.
Time and experience, when guiding David, has allowed our partnership to mature by us being able to construct methods and tactics for running safely together. A lexicon of words and phrases delivering critical instructions on such things as course geography and terrain, obstacles, shadows, bright sunlight (more later), pacing and finding the right moment to offer words of encouragement. John is adapting the same principals and procedures – this is wonderfully reassuring for me.
The darkness is terrifying and the hullabaloo of a race going on front, back and to the sides is most disconcerting. Even though I have run at Poole twenty plus times, I soon became disoriented. I now know how important it is for a VI guide to not only keep one safe in human traffic, switches in route and over rough terrain, but also to find the right moment to point out landmarks and milestones the further we get into a race.
The lake at Poole is large and we run close to it for about 1.5k. There are narrow sections and John was concentrating so hard to ensure that neither of us got wet. Less wide sections of a course present not only issues of us both fitting, side by side, into said section, but also appreciating the courtesy one wants to offer to other users. Many runners are in their own world, wearing headphones, concentrating on getting a personal best time. Some run with dogs and others with baby-on-board pushchairs. These guys sometimes, despite us being clothed in all the correct PPE, do not appreciate you are blind and running with a guide.
Experiences – Running in sunlight and the shadows
In this blog I want to be able to communicate some of the more unusual experiences running as a blind man.
There have been occasions when running with David when he has been spooked by what he assumes is a runner close in front or to the side, or an obstacle such as a lamppost looming, when actually we have a clear path ahead. He complains of the shadows being there, this is an occurrence difficult to compute as a sighted person.
At Poole I experienced this phenomenon myself when blacked-out and running around the lake. I had to keep asking John if it was safe as I could see shadowy objects in front of me and it was incredibly scary. I am guessing this is the bright sunlight playing tricks as it bounces off the water? Or is it simply my brain working overtime and a little confused, either way it is not a nice experience. John’s reassuring words were of great comfort, but despite those reassurances that the path was clear, it still felt very uncomfortable indeed.
Unbelievably John guided me around the 5k Poole Park circuit in under 33 minutes.
The finish was great as I knew where we were and could clearly hear the crowd gathered on the line cheering, with some patting us on the back. It took a while for my eyes to adjust on removing the blindfold, but luckily enough, just in time for us to cheer David and Julie across the finish line.
I think John Baker and I fully understand the difficulties we face going forward to the next nine parkruns. There are seven that we have never been to. However, this first experience at Poole (when completed) was fantastic. The adrenaline and endorphins kicked in and to be fair, I was pretty pleased with myself.
Later in this blog series I will be discussing the importance to good mental health of running and teamwork. This is such a critical subject for everyone, but especially the blind and visually impaired.
Next week, May 7, 2022, is Upton parkrun and another challenge. My brilliant guide John Baker has run there before, I have not. Please wish us luck and remember you can help our fundraising efforts by donating here