I am Spencer the guide dog and during my two or three walks a day with David, people regularly stop us to say hello and ask me questions. My answers are generally communicated by a furious wagging of the tail, but I thought it maybe helpful if we conduct a Questions and Answers session to try and cover the many topics brought up in conversation. David wanted Jeremy Paxman to conduct the interview, but unfortunately the budget would only extend to Cliffe, David’s friend and running partner!
Cliffe: So Spencer, thank you for staying awake long enough to answer some questions.
Spencer: I am only doing it because you said there was a treat at the end of it!
Cliffe: Well let’s start on the treat question then. What are your favourites?
Spencer: I really enjoy an occasional carrot, David says they are good for me, whatever!
Cliffe: What are your main meals like?
Spencer: Fantastic. I have two meals a day, breakfast and dinner, usually enjoying chicken and carrot kibble. I don’t do lunch.
Cliffe: When you are out for a walk with David, what are the most common questions people ask you?
Spencer: The kids ask me if I bite and also if they can stroke me. Of course I am trained not to bite and they can pet me with David’s permission. I do like that. They also ask what breed I am and I tell them, I’m a cross between a Black Labrador and a Flat Coat Golden Retriever.
Cliffe: So, when you are working, how do you help David across a busy road?
Spencer: Well this is the cool bit. David will ask me to find the push button at a traffic light crossing and when it is safe to cross he asks me to move forward. However, I have been trained not to cross the road if a vehicle is coming. I will sit down and await the next instruction.
Cliffe: Wow that is great, are you allowed in supermarkets? I know my little dog Lady isn’t.
Spencer: Yes I am allowed in and regularly take David to the shops at Castle Point. He usually asks staff to help him find the goods he wants and then they give me loads of attention. I like shopping. I am permitted pretty much everywhere that the general public go. The exception being wildlife parks where the sight of me can startle the animals a little.
Cliffe: Are you allowed to use escalators?
Spencer: No I don’t use escalators and therefore we look for a lift or take the stairs. I think its hilarious when guiding David to a lift button, he accidentally presses the alarm by mistake. He usually asks for assistance from the store guys now.
Cliffe: I understand that you are permitted to use taxis?
Spencer: Yes, I am quite well known by cabbies around Bournemouth and they are very helpful. I am not sure they are overly enthused when I only tip them with a couple of pieces of kibble!
Cliffe: One last question, David is a runner, are you allowed to run with him?
Spencer: No I cannot run with David, he has Cliffe for that. Can I have my treat now?
Cliffe: Yep! Carrot on the way…
There are lots of kind adults that take care of me while David and Cliffe are running
Running in the Great South Run was exhilarating and was like being in a good dream. Since then I have met other runners that were competing there and spectators also who offered us such amazing support! I have spoken to neighbours and friends who saw Cliffe and I on Channel 5 TV – Brilliant!
Since then, I have had many interesting conversations with people I have met when out with Spencer, several saying that he has reminded them of their own dogs, past and present. Some of the conversations have been sad but many have been delightful and humorous, with lots of laughs and uplifts. If you are reading this blog, I want you to know that it has been lovely talking to you, as you have shared your stories.
I have continued running at Bournemouth parkrun with Cliffe and three other VI Guides assisting me on different Saturdays. The results have been variable due to the wind, rain, mud and puddles as well as general aches and pains and less exercise over the Christmas period. The running has not been easier but the encouragement and support from others remains fantastic.
Now that 2020 is with us, the training for the Hampton Court half marathon on 15 March will need to be stepped up! The challenge is just as real as it was but what motivates me is the feeling that I can help raise funds to help other people with visual impairment as they face their daily challenges. It would be extremely helpful and kind if you would give this blog address to your friends. Thank you.
The Bournemouth Marathon Festival – 10k on Saturday October 5th 2019
The Bournemouth Marathon Festival 10k was a success due to a great deal of preparation that included training at home by using both rowing machine and skipping rope, items bought specifically to bolster my training. I had not skipped since I was a child and had forgotten just how tough it was!
We arrived at Bournemouth Pier some 30 minutes before the start. The weather was set fair as we joined a crowd of runners waiting expectantly for the race to start. The atmosphere was exciting and carnival-like. Cliffe (my VI Guide) and I were tethered together as we had practised at Bournemouth and Poole parkruns. It was our first running event together.
Cliffe acted as my eyes and guided me safely through the bunched up runners at the beginning of the race. He guided me over piles of sand on the promenade, through bollards as well as on and off kerbs. I had complete confidence in Cliffe as my VI Guide, giving me the chance to enjoy the run without worrying about bumping into other runners or stumbling and hurting myself.
We managed to keep to a steady 11 minute-mile pace throughout the race and our finish time of 1 hour 10 minutes fitted perfectly with the training regime set these past six months. It was great to have the support of friends and members of the public who shouted out our names as we ran past. The applause coming up to the finish line was brilliant. Thanks to everyone who came to support us.
The Great South Run – 10 miles on Sunday October 20th 2019
Cliffe and I walked in fantastic weather conditions from Portsmouth Harbour train station, soaking in the atmosphere of the occasion as we joined thousands of other runners making their way to the Southsea Pyramids baggage point. After carefully storing our bags we were directed to the front of the race assembly to join another visually impaired entrant and her guide. Behind us were the elite men runners, club runners and fun runners, 20,000 in total. In front were just Eilish McColgan and about 20 other elite women runners, the TV cameras from Channel 5, special guests Timmy Mallet and Jet from Gladiators, the Mayor of Portsmouth and many, many spectators. There was motivational music blaring out and the loudspeakers were providing information all the time. A camera helicopter was hovering close-by. What followed then was totally unexpected!
About four minutes after the elite women set off, we were told by the race starters to get ready. Our VI pal, her guide and Cliffe and I had the course to ourselves for the first three miles or so. An expectant crowd had only us to cheer and boy did they cheer! Enthusiastically screaming out our names as we ran past; race numbers on the front of our running vests helpfully included our names in big bold letters.
We passed various musicians along the way and to my surprise as we headed past the dockyard, a Scottish pipe-band struck up. Wow! My thoughts immediately returned to my childhood home and being at the Selkirk Common Riding. The crowds would cheer the Standard Bearer leading a cavalcade of about 400 to 500 horses at the end of the Riding. However, today and in Portsmouth, it was us four being cheered on. I felt overwhelmed, thinking that I had never experienced anything quite like this!
Cliffe continued to give me a “running” commentary as we were passing the different historical landmarks and still the people cheered.
The elite men caught us up around the four mile mark and soon after the club runners. It was time to really concentrate as we tried to keep out of their way when as they sped past us. Many of these runners tapped me on the shoulder as they passed saying “Well done” and some said “Well done, Guide Dogs” which was written on the back of my running shirt.
The last couple of miles were draining, but the encouragement from the crowd was brilliant, keeping me going to the end of the longest run I have ever done! It was a wonderful experience and I am so proud of our 1 hour 50 minute time. Thank you the people of Portsmouth for your wonderful support. Next stop and it’s my first half marathon at Hampton Court Palace on 15 March 2020.
On Saturday, Cliffe and I will be running for the first time in an official race. The Bournemouth Marathon Festival is now a major event for the town and I will be tackling my first 10k on Saturday since 2017 when I ran the same race with Karen.
If you are about on Saturday (5th) please come along to the seafront and give us both a cheer as we begin the first step of a running program that extends all the way to the Hampton Court Palace Half Marathon in March 2020. The Bournemouth race starts at 4pm and the weather forecast looks pretty good.
My VI Guides are naturally really important to me. They don’t just offer course guidance, but also describe the route for me, pick out special attractions and provide motivation and encouragement.
I am really looking forward to visiting new places during this running season and of course considering the longer distances we intend to run. As we have trained in the summer, Cliffe has been continually banging on about the importance of pacing. He is convinced that to achieve a comfortable run, no matter what the distance, you really do need to organise your pace correctly and wisely. It is so easy to get carried away at the start of a race when all around you is setting off at different speeds. He firmly believes that his success at the London Marathon this year was down to metronomic miles, discipline, belief and a sensible considered diet. He tells me what a wonderful experience it was and the magical endorphin kick at the end lasted for days afterwards.
I am extremely confident for the Bournemouth 10k and of course I am familiar with the route we take. Heading off from Harry Ramsdens’ at Bournemouth Pier towards Boscombe and Southbourne, returning via both piers to the finish back at Bournemouth Gardens. It is all along the promenade and Cliffe says, if the wind is not too strong then it should be considered a sprint! I will be happy with a well paced 11 minutes per mile to see us home in around 1 hour 10 minutes. I will definitely be reminding my guide of his pace-mantra and looking forward to my very first prawn quinoa salad at lunchtime!!!
There will be little rest after Bournemouth as we both attempt The Great South Run in Portsmouth on October 20th. This is a 10 mile course and will be the the furthest I have ever run before. It’s going to be an enormous challenge, but I am really looking forward to the race and achieving something very special. Cliffe wants us to consider a constant 12 minute mile pace which will be tough… To be honest I will be happy just to get that medal around my neck.
You will all know how important Guide Dogs and The Dorset Blind Association are to me, so if you can consider sponsorship, as Cliffe and I set off on our ambitious 6-month running project I would be so very grateful.
In September 2013, I ran in my first ever parkrun which was at Kings Park Bournemouth. I thought I would be able to keep up with the other runners, but unfortunately I found myself running alone and with no idea where I was going. This incident did not daunt me though so I wrote a letter to the Bournemouth parkrun office to request the future help of a VI Guide.
From that point on I have been provided with a variety of Volunteer VI Guides who have given me much encouragement and guidance. We also have lots of fun and laughs along the way. I have heard many of their stories, what makes them “tick” and how they keep themselves motivated to carry on running. Without their fantastic help and support I could not have completed over 170 parkruns. Cliffe and I are big fans of the parkrun and we will be attending many different venues over the coming weeks.
I must tell you though, there have been some pretty scary moments…
My VI Guides have had to watch out for marker posts, trees and their roots, holes in the ground, puddles, runners who have stopped for a rest, members of the public coming the other way on bikes or with children or dogs. Some have told me that they have not realised how much they are unconsciously taking in when they are running, being unaware of the pitfalls for a person with a visual impairment. Some of the other runners have said that they have benefitted from the commentaries of my VI Guides, inspiring their own running.
Once, when I was with one of my VI Guides, I walked into a lamppost near the start line. The other runners, around me, laughed and joked saying “and that is before the run has started!” I have stumbled over tree roots or in mud. I’ve been soaked in puddles and had 2 falls on uneven ground just before the finish line. Whatever the obstacle or fall, others have been able to laugh with me! Several of my VI Guides have jokingly encouraged me to complete the 3 mile run without stopping to walk, allowing me to feel a sense of achievement at the end of the run. How is my VI Guide going to get me to run 26 miles?
My parkrun experiences don’t end here. I have marshalled over 50 times and since Spencer arrive in 2015, he has also accompanied me on many occasions. He has helped open up many conversations with other runners and volunteers. On one occasion a runner shouted out thanks to the marshals and to “marshdog” which illustrates the fondness the other runners have for him. He obviously loves the attention which he demonstrates by the furious wagging of his tail.
Cliffe, my running partner, asked me why I applied for a Guide Dog when I did? Some of my former work colleagues would say: “David doesn’t make a long story short but does make a short story long!” Well, here goes!
When I retired in 2013, I was aware of the limitations caused by my visual impairment. I would mistake people’s identity which was immediately noticeable when I said “Hello” to a life-size replica of Father Christmas sitting by the reception window in a day centre. The staff behind the window laughed and I did see the funny side of it too. I had a similar response from my colleagues after I told them that I greeted a very realistic-looking manikin in a local superstore.
On a more serious note, I did have a few mishaps bumping into obstacles on the pavement and stumbling on and off high kerbs. I found that shopping was becoming increasingly upsetting and humiliating as I couldn’t see the items on the shelves and had to keep asking staff or other customers for help to locate them. I felt that I was increasingly losing my self-confidence and independence.
When I realised how Guide Dogs were helping some of my newly found friends at Dorset Blind Association (DBA), I thought this might be the answer for me too. It would help me focus on the things I could do rather than on the things I couldn’t. With my wife, Jo’s support, I decided to apply for a Guide Dog and two years later, my Spencer arrived!
David and I will be running the Hampton Court Palace Half Marathon in March 2020. You can donate to our nominated charities by clicking ‘Guide Dogs’ or ‘Dorset Blind Association’.Thank you so much for your wonderful support.
June 3, 2019
David Edwards – The Runner:
I was born and raised in the Scottish Borders town of Selkirk a place surrounded by beautiful countryside. At school I enjoyed cross country running and playing rugby. I left school at 15 to take up an apprenticeship in the printing industry. In 1973 I moved to Maidstone in Kent, where I continued to work in printing.
I married in 1975 and in 1977 embarked on a path which led to a career in Social Work. In 1979 I experienced severe headaches and blurred vision which turned out to be as a result of inflamed retinas. After treatment my vision stabilised for a while but I was told to expect gradual deterioration. In 1983 I moved to Bournemouth with my wife and two children, which soon became three. I had to stop driving at the end of 1992, but was still able to work for another 20 years at which point I retired on medical grounds.
My working life was over! With encouragement from my wife I joined Dorset Blind Association (DBA) and subsequently took part in various sports such as Visually Impaired (VI) Tennis, Indoor Bowls and Cricket. I feared I was getting on a bit for VI Cricket but felt moved to appreciate just how many young people were facing a life-time of vision impairment.
Simultaneously, I started running at Bournemouth parkrun. I have been provided with a VI Guide each week to look out for the various obstacles on the route and to make sure I didn’t get lost! In 2015 my life took a new turn as I became the proud owner of a Guide Dog called Spencer. Although I had given up the other sports I continued running at Bournemouth parkrun, where many people have encouraged and inspired me to do my best. With the inevitable increase in aches and pains associated with running I was thinking about giving up that sport too.
However, in May this year I was contacted by Cliffe through (DBA) to ask if I was interested in a running partnership with the eventual aim of running the London Marathon in 2021. What an opportunity to raise money to help other people with vision impairment! Prior to this possibility, the furthest I have ever run is 10k and that was a good while ago.
There is no doubt that this won’t be an easy challenge but if it was easy, it wouldn’t be a challenge, would it?
Cliffe Tribe – The Guide
I started running in June 2018 with a crazy dream to compete in the London Marathon of 2019 and in my 60th year on the planet…. It was supposed to be a one-off with me hanging up my trainers after London. Needless to say, there is always another adventure in everyone!
Anybody who knows me will be well aware of my penchant for chatting all the way through sports; football, cricket and now running. I am continually barking orders, shouting encouragement or prattling on about something or other. I was approached by a runner after the Marathon who said they enjoyed my interaction with the crowd during the race and had I thought about being a guide for a visually impaired runner?
This certainly got me thinking and a couple of days after London I wrote to the Dorset Blind Association (my brother-in-law used to work there). The response was instant and before I knew where I was an invitation to meet David had arrived. Astonishingly, David lived just a mile from me.
From that meeting on it became clear that we both had something to offer each other. Me to continue running for a purpose and David a means to expand his running horizons and set himself new targets. Together we will go as far as we can and the journey will be fantastic. David is an inspiration and if I can be his eyes to good advantage then I am sure we will achieve our mutual goals.
Who knows, there may well be another running commentary of the London Marathon in 2021!
Spencer – The Dog
I am Spencer, David’s Guide Dog and I am a cross Black Labrador and Golden Retriever. I was born on 23 August 2013 and on completing my training was matched with David in April 2015. From the start our partnership has been one of work and play. David says I am big softy with bundles of character and I have to say I do enjoy making his family and friends laugh. I adore my doggy toys including a panda which has been with me since I was a 6 month old puppy. I must admit, I do carry it around quite a lot; he is my baby and I do expect a favourable reaction when I show him off to whoever is in the house!
There is nothing I love more than the freedom of regular exercise and my free-running time when I can tear around like a puppy again, rolling in the long grass and dashing along the beach!
During my work I need to keep David safe giving him the opportunity to get out and about to meet different people with interesting stories to tell. I know this helps David to reduce his feelings of isolation, to keep him active and motivated. David has very little useful central vision so I need to help him to negotiate obstacles on the pavement, avoid bollards, lamp-posts, discarded shopping trolleys, wheelie bins or branches blown down by the wind. I try to keep him out of puddles and always stop at kerbs before waiting for an instruction. If there are people coming towards us, I will stop to let them pass.
When we go shopping together we work as a team, I look adorable and shoppers or staff members seem pleased to help us find the items we are looking for. If we are shopping with Nana, David’s wife, he often instructs me to “go find her” and of course I always do.
David tells everyone I am a star but in truth we are a team. I love giving him some independence, a sense of purpose and fulfilment every day and it’s my job to cheer him up when he is feeling down. David knew nothing about dogs when we first met, now he cant imagine life without me.
I am delighted Cliffe is to be his running guide. I will be in the crowd to cheer them both on in their future races together.