Poor mental health and how it impacts the visually impaired…

#mentalhealthawareness – The difficulties faced by the visually impaired.

Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week and I wanted to interrupt my weekend flow of blog posts on the Blindfold Challenge to talk about some of the difficult issues facing the blind and visually impaired in today’s society.

There are more than 2 million people in the UK living with sight loss, 35,000 in Dorset alone. Of these, around 340,000 are registered as blind or partially sighted, 5000 in Dorset.

Just imagine being told you have a visual impairment, that can’t be treated, how extremely difficult this must be to come to terms with. How on Earth do you process the fact? There is a fair amount of information out there to indicate that rates of depression and anxiety are heavily elevated among those who experience sight loss.

I am a guide to visually impaired runners and my contact through travelling to, from and during a race is one where generally I do not want, or need to explore, the finite details of said runner’s private life. I am their eyes while I take charge and my one and only responsibility is to guide them carefully with both of us acknowledging, through a mutually designed and understood language of commands, encouragement and physical gestures. This catalogue of words, phrases or by a tug on a 600mm tether that links us, needs to be pitch perfect and highly accurate whether walking to a race, during a race or walking back from a race. I have to keep them safe and return them back to their homes in one piece. It is therefore unusual for me to know what goes on in their lives once my responsibility ends.

David Edwards and I competing in the Great South Run in 2019

I do not believe there is enough resource and time offered to an ever growing section of a physically healthy society that struggles with mental illness.

Consider then if you will, those impacted by sight loss, the significant emotional and psychological impact on their lives and the lives of those associated. The fear of being blind and the isolation, loss of self-esteem, earning potential and loneliness.

The Royal Blind and Scottish War Blinded have joined forces with the Mental Health Foundation Scotland to publish new research that examines the impact of depression and anxiety in the visually impaired.

Nearly 400 people with sight loss took part in the research which found that 85% of those who took part had experienced challenges to their mental health as a result of their visual impairment. However, two thirds (63%) indicated they had not been offered mental health support such as social prescribing, counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help them manage their long-term condition.

No one in this country should be left alone to cope with mental illness.

Most definitely, the visually impaired, as a small cross section of society, shouldn’t be left to cope alone with the emotional turmoil of going blind and neither should their partners and families. More one-on-one support is badly needed and there has to be an increase in counselling facilities to cope with the impactful emotional distress the disability causes. Peer and support groups for round table discussions on shared experiences and methods for overcoming fears and anxieties will help our visually impaired friends to combat such inclusive depression and to feel more in control of their lives.

Why cannot more of these facilities become available and easily accessible? The Dorset Blind Association (DBA) has been offering the most excellent service it can to the blind and partially blind for over 100 years. It is a charity and it is doing its very best, but it has to compete with 1000s of other charities and NGOs all with great stories to tell. The British public are generous as a nation, but there are so many demands placed on private income these days. There has to be more central Government support specifically aimed at better mental health for everyone struggling in their daily lives.

Leah Cross is Community Support Manager for The Dorset Blind Association:

“When someone is given a diagnosis that their sight is failing, their immediate thoughts turn to what they will not be able to do any longer. How will I manage? How will I get from A to B? What about my family, my income etc? 

So many deeply worrying thoughts will come to the fore pretty soon after a diagnosis. 

Later on, as people start to ask for help, that feeling of being useless becomes the issue. The feeling that they are becoming a burden. Not being able to independently make decisions and just get on with the task in hand. The feelings of worthlessness affect people more than the physical issue. 

If you are in a relationship and you are feeling low or depressed, then that will be hard for your partner to deal with too. 

Nearly all visually impaired people will suffer from poor mental health at some stage after diagnosis. 

At DBA we have a counselling service which can help our members to process some of these thoughts and find ways to communicate what they are really feeling. Peer support is very useful to give our members ideas on how to regain not only their independence but also their dignity.”

And then of course there is sport and in particular running.

London 2012 Paralympics

We all know that healthy exercise is good for our mental health.

As a nation we must do more to encourage everyone to do more exercise and partake in healthier activities, not just for their physical well-being, but also for good mental health.

Dave Privett is Social Inclusion Officer at The Dorset Mental Health Forum:

“The blind and partially sighted share many of the same struggles that face those with poor mental health. Isolation, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression to name a few. Disadvantaged when attempting to find employment which then can make people feel like outcasts.

Too much time alone can give rise to negative thoughts both past and present. This inevitably leads to each and every day becoming more of a struggle. However, an activity of any kind, a little or a lot enables people to reconnect. It takes courage to do something new, meet new people but the benefits are huge.  When active you forget your usual worries and focus on the now, a moment in time. You will meet people, build friendships, experience new environments, enjoy the fresh air and the sounds around you. No longer will you be counting the hours alone but looking forward to what is ahead of you in the future. Your general physical and mental health will greatly improve which bodes well for your life ahead. Involvement in activities with others enables you to be recognised, feel valued and you will feel more at ease with yourself. You will begin to create new positive memories and most importantly you will feel alive”.

The days will no longer drag on until family or friends return from work. Being active can provide you with the life you want to live.  

Parkrun:

Parkrun UK every Saturday throughout the year, at 09.00 with 100s of venues to pick from, has to be one of the greatest of inventions of all time. It promotes healthy exercise for all without any judging whatsoever, it is all about encouragement. Every entrant completes the 5k course in any time they wish and you get to record your personal achievements each week.

Senior citizens to kids, over-weight and under-weight, any nationality and of course the running speedsters are all attracted. Everyone can take part and the brilliant thing is, that it is completely free. The family that is parkrun offer so much to help people’s mental health and let me tell you, the feeling afterwards can be quite euphoric. David Edwards whom I regularly guide has completed over 200 parkruns, made many friends and fully appreciates what a boost he gets to his mental health from competing each week.

DBA used their networking skills to put us together: As part of their counselling and support facilities they were worried that at the age of 67, David could no longer run regularly. His vision was deteriorating further and with it his confidence. There were few guides to regularly assist him and travelling to running events was pretty much impossible. David did not want to stop running as he recognised the enormous benefits. He fully appreciated it was contributing significantly to his well being. At 71, David still regularly runs with a team of guides that help him and they in turn draw inspiration from his efforts

The Blindfold Challenge – 10 different parkruns over 10 weeks

I am currently experiencing a challenge which is playing havoc with my senses and fuelling my anxieties – what it is like to be completely blind? To run at a half decent pace, in locations I have never been acquainted with and to truly feel, deep inside, what it is like not to be able to see anything at all.

Its only for a maximum of 35 minutes and then I have full vision once again. I feel quite privileged to just get into my car and drive home. The stress and anxiety I felt during that time is bewildering and bloody scary. 30 minutes or so after parkrun ends and the endorphins kick-in, the adrenaline begins to flow and suddenly my Saturday is made.

My guide John Baker at the Upton parkrun in May 2022

I am not a councillor or a health practitioner, I very often say the wrong things, but I do believe that for 30+ minutes on a Saturday, I most definitely say the right things and for that small amount of time I can make a blind person believe they are very much part of society and can begin to understand the importance of self-esteem.

If you enjoy these blog posts and want to help The Dorset Blind Association then please do donate some money here. Thank you.

St Mary’s Bridport parkrun – May 14, 2022

Day 3 of the Challenge and what a welcome!

Please help The Dorset Blind Association by donating here:

A fantastic welcome from the St Mary’s parkrun organisers

Another beautiful day for running and this time John Baker and I headed to the most western parkrun in Dorset. A 100-mile round trip to the lovely market town of Bridport, home to Broadchurch and the eccentric but fantastic Hat Festival. As you can see, in an homage to the quirky September event, we arrived wearing our own head gear to mark today’s third parkrun in the Blindfold Challenge raising funds for The Dorset Blind Association. Run Director Luke and his colleague Sarah joined in the fun and an astonishing 25 volunteers, marshalling 100 runners, were present to wish us well.

VI runner David Edwards did not join us today as it is too far to travel and too long a time to leave Spencer, his guide dog.

The run itself:

John and I left Christchurch early to give us time to have a good look at the course. It was a new venue for both of us and John was both concerned and keen to log potential hazards. It is a good job we did…

A local volunteer steered us around some of the more tricky parts of the three-lap course. There were plenty of narrow sections, steep inclines and descensions, 90 degree sharp corners, bollards and small pathways to navigate. There was also the small matter of faster runners passing us in both directions and members of the public enjoying the park on a lovely May day. I could tell John was worried…

The St Mary’s Bridport course

As normal we started at the back of the field and the first part of the course was relatively easy, flat and straight. Up past Bridport football ground and a 360 degree switch back to re-enter the park and head towards a small housing estate where John’s work really began.

In the wooded section

A guide to a VI runner involves being 100% aware of everything around you. He or she needs to be able to constantly communicate with his/her blind partner. First and foremost they need to be heard. Unlike when running with David, who started to lose his vision over 35 years ago and in consequence, his other senses have developed, my own senses such as hearing, have not and therefore will not compensate for my temporary loss of sight. John is acutely aware of this.

John has to guide a fully sighted person who is unaccustomedly completely blind, but also running, for up to 35 minutes, in a race and in a location completely alien to him.

I am in my own world trying to forget about the blackness and the anxieties of being in the dark, in a strange place and running at a reasonable speed. I concentrate completely on his voice and try to shut out the other noises around me. I have to ignore words of encouragement from spectators and other runners. I do feel like I am being rude by not acknowledging their support, but I really cannot afford to miss a command from John. I know he would be mortified if I fell or clattered into lamppost, tree or heaven forbid, hurt a casual park user or fellow runner.

One of the wider sections of the course

John had to work exceptionally hard at St Mary’s. The northern section of the course (which needed to be navigated three times) was complete with narrow, paths, tree routes, violent changes in direction, hills and descents. I did stumble a couple of times which winded me, but luckily did not fall.

We had a wonderful reception on completing the run in 34 minutes and 22 seconds. John and I sincerely thank everyone at St Mary’s for their super support of a crazy challenge.

Day 3 of the Challenge complete

Please, you can help our cause by donating here to The Dorset Blind Association.

Next week it is back nearer to home and a short drive to Moors Valley.

Upton House parkrun – May 7, 2022

The second Blindfold run and the first at this venue

Welcome James McCafferey to the team at Upton House

After all the excitement of running at Poole last week and seven days worth of great feedback for succeeding with the first of the ten challenges, it was a rather daunting prospect to consider the run at Upton House today. This was a first for me at this venue, although I took some comfort from the fact that John has run here before.

The team in front of Upton House – Hope it isn’t going to rain!

The Upton House parkrun organisers and volunteers led by Race Director Kirsty, gave John Baker, James McCafferey, David and I a truly fabulous reception and offered super support throughout the parkrun itself. James was guiding David for the first time in this challenge, but had guided him twice before.

Race Director for Upton parkrun with the team

Fear of the new

Last week at Poole although completely blind, I was aware of landmarks and obstacles, due to the fact I had many times run there as a fully sighted person. Although John needed to consider his orienteering skills, he could warn me of bends, bollards, sleeping policeman and general changes in terrain and I would immediately remember the severity of said obstacle or the sharpness of the bend. There are also no hills or trail ways at Poole or, as I learnt today, violent changes from dark to bright sunlight as you leave wooded areas for open spaces.

I was thinking about David who like me, had not run at Upton before. James was experienced with the course and that relaxed me a little.

James and David in full flow

I did not feel comfortable from the beginning. Although there were only 300 or so runners in today’s field, it was quite narrow and congested at the start. I urged John to take it easy in the beginning, but as the run developed it was clear from John’s soothing words that the route was opening up and we were soon confident enough to pass other runners. It wasn’t long though before the instructions from John were coming thick and fast as we switch-backed along the route, negotiated hills, violent changes in direction and different terrain underfoot. I was finding the experience quite stressful and my breathing became heavy (I told John it was hay-fever but in truth I knew it was anxiety). I needed to slow down, my confidence at what I assume was about halfway round was ebbing.

Feeling the stress of running in a totally new environment

I think I tripped once at Poole, but it was here that I had my first brush with an obstacle. we crossed a narrow bridge which I scraped against to my right. No damage done but it was certainly a harsh reminder of how difficult this challenge is and the enormous responsibility on John’s shoulders, not by his guiding a blind person at walking pace (which I am sure is stressful enough), but by guiding a blind person whilst running.

The Finish

We finished in a time of 35 minutes and 22 seconds which was considerably down on last week, but clearly shows the difficulties of the unknown and the anxieties faced when being blind.

Once again, I am completely indebted to John Baker for getting me home safely. Next week the challenge gets greater as neither of us have run at Bridport.

Near the finish

The people of Upton House parkrun cheered us on right to the end and on behalf of John, can I thank you again all for the fantastic support.

Taking the blindfold off into bright sunlight was surreal. It took a couple of minutes for me to see anything properly. I appreciate that for after 35 minutes of darkness, I was able to then see perfectly again; how lucky I am to be able to do that!

The Dorset Blind Association is a fantastic local charity that has supported blind and visually impaired people for over 100 years. If you can donate to them via this challenge report http://www.davidsguide.blog or directly on our fundraising page here, we would all be extremely grateful.

Poole parkrun – April 30, 2022

The first of ten blindfold challenges, over ten weeks at ten different courses…

The http://www.davidsguide.blog team before the first blindfold challenge at Poole – April 30, 2022

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.

Julie Burden doing a fair impression of Usain Bolt at Poole parkrun on April 30, 2022

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.

Running with others, dogs and pushchairs can be pretty tough

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.

The finish:

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.

Seeing David and Julie safely crossing 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.

At the finish

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

The 2022 Blindfold Challenge at 10 Dorset parkruns.

John Baker and I, supported by David Edwards and Julie Burden will this summer be raising funds (Please click here to donate) for The Dorset Blind Association in their 102nd year of supporting the blind and partially sighted community. John will be guiding me over 10 different parkrun courses in Dorset and Hampshire, but here is the twist…I will be blindfolded!

During practice runs, with blindfold in place, I am trying to experience what life is like for many without sight and contemplating how I can perform in races with sometimes over 500 runners, new venues (John and I have not run at seven of the parkruns before) and difficult terrain. It is a very scary experience, but also highly educational, putting my complete faith and trust in my guide.

Our story begins here:

April 30 – Poole (Which will also be my 50th parkrun)

May 07 – Upton House

May 14 – Bridport (Which will also be John’s 100th parkrun)

May 21 – Moors Valley Country Park

May 28 – New Forest Brockenhurst

June 04 – Blandford Forum

June 11 – Weymouth 

June 18 – Durlston Country Park Swanage

June 25 – Poundbury Dorchester

July 02 – Kings Park Bournemouth

#Weruntogether

David’s inspiring Marathon Day story in his very own words

David, John and Spencer proudly showing off their medals

Saturday 2nd October, 2021

One day to go until the London Marathon! Gloomy grey skies, unrelenting rain and howling winds. Not exactly the kind of weather to allay last minute nerves about the Big Day! I pictured our “Dream Team’s” well planned running route quickly degenerating into muddy towpaths, branch-strewn pavements and wind-swept, sandy promenades. “Has the Marathon ever been cancelled due to bad weather?” ventured my wife, with a decided lack of optimism. “I don’t think so”, I replied [feeling just a touch worried!]

Sunday 3rd October, 2021

Long awaited Virtual Marathon Day. Very breezy but wow! Blue skies and sunshine! The apprehension of the previous day melted away and fortified by a hearty bowl of porridge, I felt ready for anything.  I brushed away fleeting thoughts of what if I can’t do this, and tried to stay focused and positive. After all the ups and downs and stop/starts of previous months it seemed unreal that this day had finally arrived. It was humbling to think that my own individual running challenge was about to become part of something much bigger, an event in which thousands of people would run in London whilst thousands more would run simultaneous virtual London Marathons along chosen routes in other towns and cities. After a year and a half of the Coronavirus keeping everyone apart, the Marathon motto “We Run Together” couldn’t be more poignant. Thousands of runners, each with a different story, united in their sense of purpose. Perhaps determined to run in memory of a loved one, to support a good cause, to overcome personal challenges, or even to run for the sheer joy of running. The sense of togetherness in such an event can be totally inspiring and uplifting!

Along the paths at the start of the race

8.45 a.m. The Marathon clock was ticking! John, my Running Guide, had arrived and excitement was mounting. We assembled at what might be loosely described as our Start Line i.e. the path outside my front door. Despite the lack of grandeur it was really heartening to realize that a few kind friends and neighbours had gathered in the front garden to wave us off. John and I linked our wrists together with our trusty, bright orange tether, a simple aid that takes the notion of “We Run Together” to a whole new level! With adrenalin now pumping, John took one last look at his watch and on the dot of 9 o’clock we were off!! A cheer from our small group of well-wishers rang in our ears as we jogged out of the cul-de -sac. The adventure had begun !

It is difficult to describe the next few hours. In some ways they were exhilarating, in other ways they passed in a kind of blur. As expected we encountered mud, puddles and numerous obstacles along the way. I am in complete admiration of my Guide Runners, Cliffe, John and Stuart who have safely guided me with complete focus, concentration and dedication over many different kinds of terrain during months of training. I have trusted them all completely and know that it is no small undertaking to assume responsibility for a blind person’s safety, as well as their own, when  running together in partnership.

Six miles in and passing Bournemouth Airport

As we progressed along our route, the support we experienced was amazing. A Park Run friend ran with us for the first 5 miles or so and fellow guides, Cliffe and Stuart, joined us at different places en-route. John’s wife followed our progress brilliantly and kept us well-fuelled with drinks and energy snacks, while friends and family members gathered at designated spots to clap and cheer the Dynamic [or weary!] Duo as they passed by.

John’s wife and supporters at St Catherine’s Hill – 8 miles in

Spencer, my Guide Dog, unsure of what all the fuss was about, put in a couple of star appearances too, greeting us with his usual, enthusiastic, tail wagging  onslaught before we shot off into the distance again. Random car drivers tooted their horns in encouragement as they drove by and groups of strangers apparently waiting for other runners, generously applauded us as well. All in all, we were absolutely “buzzing”!

David’s wife, Spencer and supporters at The Littledown Centre – 10 miles in

I guess it wouldn’t be realistic to say it was all plain sailing, even the hardiest runners wouldn’t have enjoyed the heavy rain shower and cold wind that left us drenched, freezing and fervently hoping that the sun would reappear pretty quickly.

Wick Harbour Christchurch – 16 miles in

Luckily, it did! Running westward along the clifftop and promenade with that same cold wind in or faces also proved to be a bit of a challenge but the welcome landmark of Bournemouth Pier was looming ever closer.

Into the wind on Bournemouth Promenade – 22 miles in

The arrival of Cliffe and Stuart to run the final stretch with us was brilliant and really boosted our spirits! [My wife told me afterwards that the sight of the four of us finally coming into view, running all together, side by side, was a moving and inspirational moment]. For me, that final push to the Finishing Line by the pier was a bit of a surreal experience. It’s a bit tricky if you can’t even see the pier, let alone the finish tape! I was aware of a hubbub of noise and activity as we approached and knew that somewhere in the usual Bournemouth crowds some friendly faces would be waiting. Suddenly I heard a shout of excitement “They’re coming!!” and the voices of my grandchildren shouting with all their might “Come on Grandad, come on Grandad!”

The finish line at Bournemouth Pier

Overcome with relief and exhilaration I had absolutely no idea which way to go but John, Cliffe and Stuart gently steered me to the London Marathon Tape and I was through! We had finally done it!! It had taken 6 hours and 5 minutes to complete the 26.2 miles . After a moment of shared exhilaration  with family and friends my legs suddenly turned to jelly and I felt decidedly unsteady on my feet. Strange how legs can keep  you going until your brain tells you that they no longer need to!

So……Mission accomplished! I won’t be relegating my trainers to the depths of the wardrobe just yet but I don’t think Marathons will continue to be on my agenda!

My heartfelt thanks to everyone who supported the marathon effort and gave us “magic moments” along the actual route and “thank you” to every kind friend, family member or complete stranger who encouraged us over many months and helped us raise funds for the life changing Guide Dog organization.

It goes without saying that I could not have attempted or completed a run of any sort, let alone a marathon, without my inspirational Guides…Cliffe, John and Stuart. I have learned alot from them and gained three new friends. I would also like to thank kind people at the weekly Bournemouth Park Run who volunteer to run with me on Saturdays so I can continue running for fitness and pure enjoyment.

Team David

What more can I say as this Blog comes to an end [at last!] and normal life resumes?  Just one more thing – “Thank you Team Guide Dogs and thank you Spencer, my four-legged friend who has changed my life”………….We Walk Together!

David’s Big Day and Marathon Route…

Why not put your trainers on and come and join us!

Sunday October 3rd 2021 and David Edwards, VI runner extrordinaire, will be pounding the roads, paths and promenades around his Bournemouth home to raise money for The Guide Dogs for The Blind Association. John Baker will be the official guide for the 26.2 miles of the Virtual London Marathon, but mid week training partner Stuart Lindsey and myself (Cliffe Tribe) will be assisting at various points along the route. Please come along and join us if you can and bring drinks and snacks with you if possible. Here is the route and timings for the run. We all look forward to seeing you in just one week’s time.

Start from David’s house – 09:00

Stage 1 – River Stour / New Road / Parley Cross roads / Airport / Hurn roundabout / Blackwater junction / St Catherine’s Hill – 14.3km (9 miles)

Fuel stop 1 – St Catherines Hill – about 10:45

Stage 2 – St Catherine’s Hill / River Way / Iford Bridge / Castle Lane East / Littledown – 17.8km (11 miles)

Meeting point – Steps at entrance to Littledown Centre – about 11:15

Stage 3 – Littledown / Kings Park including circuit around cricket pitch / Parkrun start line – 21.1km (13 miles)

Meeting point and fuel stop 2 – halfway point – Parkrun start line – about 11:45

Stage 4 – Kings Park Parkrun circuit / Gloucester Road / Woodland Walk / Boscombe Overcliffe Drive heading east / Cafe Riva (Firshermans Walk) – 25.2 km (16 miles)

Meeting point – Cafe Riva (Firshermans Walk) – about 12:15/12:30

Stage 5 – Cafe Riva (Firshermans Walk) / Overcliffe Drive / Harbour Road / Broadway / Thornbury Road / Promenade heading west / bottom of Fisherman’s Walk zigzag – 33.1km (21 miles)

Meeting point and fuel stop – bottom of Fisherman’s Walk zigzag – about13:13/13:45

Stage 6 – bottom of Fisherman’s Walk zigzag / Boscombe Pier / Bournemouth Pier entrance – 37.3km (23 miles)

Meeting point, fuel stop and last leg for any runners joining us – Bournemouth Pier entrance – about 14:15/14:30

Stage 7 – Bournemouth pier entrance / promenade heading west for half of remaining distance (about 2km?), turn around and return to Bournemouth Pier entrance – 42.195km (26 miles 385 yards!)

Finish line – about 15:00 / 15:30

One week to go!

So here we are, with one week to go and I’ve done as much training as I could.

It was brilliant to do my very first half marathon with John last weekend. Training was VERY patchy due to the pandemic and in 2020, it seemed almost impossible to think that we could run the London marathon in 2021. Cliffe, Stewart and John have rallied round to give me as much training as possible in the past few months.

They all have different techniques. When stepping up curves, Cliffe says “1.2.3. Jump!” and then “1.2.3. Off!”, John says “3.2.1. On!” and “3.2.1. Off!” and Stewart is a mixture of both! However, I have had complete confidence in all three VI guides. We have done a lot of talking, we have had a few laughs together and a couple of near tumbles! But now I’m rearing to go!

Thanks to everyone who has donated already, by name or anomalously.

I am hoping my faithful, canine friend Spencer will be waiting for me at the finish line! He’ll be hoping we’ll be back in time for his tea!

I’m glad to be doing what I can for Guide Dogs, ultimately helping other people with visual impairment.

What more can I say? I started it so I’ll finish it (hopefully)!

The mid-week running guide:

Welcome to Stuart Lindsay

What type of running have you done already?

I am definitely what you would call a social runner. I began running in 2004 when I responded to a request from Guide Dogs for London Marathon runners. I have since run the London Marathon again, the Great South (four times), the Great North and the Great Manchester, all for Guide Dogs.  Plus 2 more Marathons, over 15 halves and lots of 10ks and 5ks.  My favourite race is the Great South; I love running through the Naval dockyard and old Portsmouth before finishing along the windy seafront in Southsea.

How long have you been a Volunteer for Guide Dogs?

I have sponsored the puppies for over 10 years, but only became a full volunteer around 2016 (although I  am not entirely sure of the date, my volunteering card says it expires in 2022). 

How did you become my midweek running Guide?

I have been looking to run as a Guide for many years. In lockdown I reached out to Guide Dogs to see if there was anyone who needed a Guide. I am a very consistent pace runner so felt sure I could help someone. I am also hoping to be trained as a MyGuide when allowed. 

What do you hope the benefits will be as a result of supporting me?

I hope to learn how to be a good Guide from David and Cliffe so I could help someone else. It is also a great midweek work out for me. 

School Sports 1958 (known as Selkirk Common Riding Sports

In July 1958, having just reached the age of 7, I ran in Selkirk Schools Sports which was held as part of the Common Riding celebrations. Little did I know, when I was sprinting towards the finish line, that when reaching 70, I would be the owner of a Guide Dog, Spencer, and would  be a aiming to run for Guide Dogs, in a  Virtual London Marathon.

Although my mother was a Londoner, London seemed very far away and I could not have imagined living anywhere but Selkirk! I did not do very well in primary school but I excelled in running.  At secondary school, I enjoyed rugby (in the second row) and cross-country running, up the hills and down again through wet, muddy paths and soggy fields.

When I was in the third year of secondary school, my younger brother was in his first year for our first cross- country run together. Thinking that I must be a better runner than he was, I suggested that I should run ahead and he should go at his own pace. At the end of the run, one of our teachers said “shame on you David, you let your younger brother beat you”. How could that have happened I asked myself and why did he not say hello when passing?   Maybe, I was looking the other way!

The next photo shows me in one of the Selkirk scout troupes when I enjoyed camping and taking part in the scouts County flag competition, which included walking and running around in the hillside as part of a team. Although I appear to be cooking, my ability to cook never improved ha, ha!

Later in 1981 when I was working in a children’s centre in Dumfries, Scotland, I felt that I needed to keep myself fit for running so that I could keep up with the teenagers in my care.  I could not do that now – being 40 years later! The running challenge currently feels immense but it is worth doing my best to benefit others experiencing visual impairment!