Day 4 of the Blindfold Challenge and on the occasion of his 100th parkrun it is over to John Baker to write this latest post. You can donate directly to The Dorset Blind Association by clicking here
Cliffe invited me to write this blog for our fourth run together as part of the Blindfold Challenge, giving me an opportunity to comment on the challenge from the perspective of the sighted guide runner.
Cliffe makes contact with the core team for the following week’s parkrun each Saturday, and the response from Sal from Moors Valley parkrun was swift and very positive. On the morning we received a warm welcome from Mandy, the Run Director for the day, ably assisted by Loraine Konsbruk and over 25 other volunteers.
Remarkably, for the fourth consecutive Saturday morning, we were fortunate to have dry fine weather for our parkrun, so I was glad that the trail surfaces were largely dry and puddle-free. Saturday was the fourth time at Moors Valley parkrun for Cliffe, and my third, so we had some knowledge of the route and the terrain, which is a help for guide runs because identifying familiar features and landmarks is a significant comfort to the vision-impaired runner.
Mandy’s parkrun briefing opened with welcoming Cliffe and I, explaining the Blindfold Challenge to the 400+ assembled runners, followed by an announcement that it was also my 100th parkrun – this was a great way to mark my parkrun milestone. I was also pleased that my wife, Jo, joined us for the second time on the challenge.
The Moors Valley parkrun starts on one of the trails close to the car park, and from our previous experience we knew that the start is a little congested, so we positioned ourselves to towards the rear of the pack by the 35 minute marker. As expected, the run began slowly but picked up gradually as the field of runners spread out after a few hundred metres.
Although the field spread out as the run developed, there were lots of small groups of runners who tended to take up the width of the trail path, so I found myself instructing Cliffe to ease our pace until the line of runners in front realised that we were behind, or until the path became wide enough for us to pass safely on either side.
Apart from the need to adjust our pace on several occasions, the first 3km were refreshingly straightforward to guide. The long, straight wide paths had consistently sound surfaces, which was a stark contrast to the changes of terrain, inclines, bollards, narrow paths and two-way traffic that we had to contend with the previous week at Bridport.
Cliffe told me that at one point around 3km in, he briefly found himself so comfortable with conditions that he momentarily forgot that he was tethered to me and felt that he was running independently. That feeling ended abruptly with the only point of the run where he tripped slightly as we came across a 90 degree right turn from trail onto grass with a sharp narrowing of the path.
The final 1½ km was a little more challenging, requiring almost constant guide-instructions, because the route follows a narrower tarmac surfaced path that meanders around the lake, so there were frequent turns to contend with.
The finish point for the run was slightly different to normal, diverted over grass rather than continuing on the path, thanks to a swan deciding to take an extended rest with her several cygnets on the edge of the path next to the lake.
The support and encouragement that we received from volunteer marshals and from runners around the entire course was fantastic – the parkrun community really is amazing, and I highly recommend the Moors Valley parkrun to anyone who has not tried it.
Moors Valley felt comfortable for Cliffe and I, so much so that we beat our Poole parkrun time by 4 seconds, giving us a new Blindfold Challenge PB (32:44), but that is due to a combination of factors including a straightforward course, a familiar course for both of us and, thankfully, good weather (again).
Our next five parkruns are all new courses for both of us, so I am under no illusion that we face plenty of fresh challenges throughout the rest of May and the whole of June.
I feel that as we continue the challenge, we are both continuing to learn and improve in our respective roles as vision-impaired runner and guide – but I remain of the firm opinion that Cliffe has by far the toughest role of the two of us. When I attended a workshop earlier this year as part of qualifying as a licensed guide runner with England Athletics, I had some mini sessions running with goggles that replicated vision impairments, including tunnel vision and macular degeneration, but these experiences fell well short of running 5km with a total blackout blindfold.
All in all, we had a great visit to Moors Valley – I look forward to our trip across the county boundary next week to run at Brockenhurst. Please keep up the support, and the sponsorship for Dorset Blind Association.