Day 9 – The Great Field, Poundbury – June 25, 2020

Another fantastic day as we head to the finale at Bournemouth’s Kings Park next week. Please donate here to the Dorset Blind Association.

In the pack at The Great Field

The Great Field is a newish parkrun that was inaugurated last year and is set to the eastern side of the Duchy of Cornwall’s Poundbury Estate near Dorchester. Apparently this chap wandered along and officially opened the course:

Prince Charles look-a-like opens the The Great Field parkrun in 2021

The run today was somewhat easier than the adventure at Durlston last week. A mainly flat course without too many hazards and a reasonably even hard core surface. There were 230 runners and our time of 32.40 reflected then conditions. We even managed to get a speed up over certain sections of the course. It was great to see Lisa Thomas (another of David’s VI guides) with us today and also Dorset Blind Association’s soon to be Equipment Resource Coordinator, Duncan Lane. Good luck in the new job Duncan.

Overtaking other runners is something John has to really concentrate on

Once again the weather was kind to us and it is now nine weeks on the trot without rain at 09.00 on a Saturday morning. It has always been John’s biggest worry about how to guide me in stormy conditions. It is looking like I will not now be reporting on that particularly challenging experience.

This challenge started off as something of a novelty for me, but over the weeks the stresses of spending 30 plus minutes running in a blindfold has started to take its toll on John and I. The concentration needed, although senses wise, different, is immense for the both of us.

The VI Guide has to navigate and communicate as forcefully as possible every change to the run conditions whether that be alerting other runners and members of the public, dogs, prams, bollards, terrain, direction, weather and all this plus adding encouragement, is mentally sapping. Talking all of the time whilst running is also really physically hard. The Guide is determined to offer his partner as much information as possible and absorbed in the need to keep them safe.

For me as a visually impaired runner, it is the hours immediately after the run that are difficult. The concentration level and fear factor during a run has led to the onset of headaches around the eyes that seem to last for a few hours after the run has finished. I guess it is the brain’s short term confusion adapting to the loss of such an important sense and the other four all having to step up to compensate.

Thanks again to the organisers, volunteers, park runners and members of the public for their fantastic welcome and support during today’s Great Field parkrun.

Volunteers at parkrun are the true heroes

On Friday July 1, David and I will be guests on Karen Wye’s 2pm Hope FM radio show, when we will be chatting and playing some of David’s favourite music. Spencer the guide dog will also be in attendance.

Next Saturday July 2, will be the final run and week’s of ten completely different challenges will come to an end. Please come along to Kings Park in Bournemouth to join John and I on the last lap. Please come along and run with us or if you like, simply cheer us on from the side lines. It will be great to see you.

Day 8: Durlston Country Park parkrun – June 18, 2022

Beauty and the Beast – Day 8 at Durlston was always going to be the toughest parkrun to take on. The second most hilly in the country and a real mental and physical test for John and I. Please donate here to the Dorset Blind Association.

This week John Baker, my brilliant VI Guide, has written this post:

Looking for dolphins with Run Director Katy

Unique & breath-taking

Durlston Country Park parkrun #14 took place in ideal weather conditions – after several days of dry weather, it was bright with a little cloud cover, wind was light, and the temperature was starting to warm up. 

07.30 and arriving much earlier than I normally would for a parkrun, the thermometer was already touching 17°C. It was important for me to have time to walk sections of the course before the run started. Also, Cliffe and I were being interviewed by the local radio station, Purbeck Coast FM, at 8:00am about the Blindfold Challenge that we are undertaking.  More about that later.

The course is like no other parkrun that I have attended.  The run reports logged since the inaugural event in March describe the incredible scenery and challenging course very well, which is why I had looked forward to my visit to Durlston Country Park with a mix of excitement and apprehension.  The views are as breath-taking as the previous run reports describe and the inclines are brutal.

I helped volunteers Nicola and Ingrid for a few minutes with setting up the start of the course, taking the opportunity to see the challenge of the Tilly Whim loop that lay ahead.

John Baker prepping for the challenge that is Durlston Country Park parkrun

Today saw 105 runners plus 2 tail walkers complete the parkrun.  As well as many regular participants at Durlston Country Park parkrun, there were several visiting runners from as far afield as Canada and South Africa.

Ross gave the first timers welcome (“right, left, right, left”), but he had to compete with the noise of the coastguard helicopter that was performing a training exercise on the water below.

The start is straight down (but you know at some point that you have to come back up again)

Once the run was underway, each of the three loops generated slightly different thoughts for me as a first time Durlston Country Park runner. 

Tilly Whim loop is definitely not a gentle introduction to the course, with steep inclines from the start. The magnificent views help to distract the conventional park-runner – but the knowledge that it needs to be tackled twice still prayed on my mind on the first loop.

Downhill for the VI runner is even more difficult to navigate than up hill sections. Steps such as these when running blind are extremely formidable.

Castle loop has equally impressive views on the downhill section, followed by a steep uphill section behind the castle, and (from the runner’s perspective) has the distinct advantage of being shorter than Tilly Whim loop, so the prospect of a second circuit is a little less daunting. 

Isle of Wight loop (once only, out and back) has the benefit of seeing other smiling park-runners passing in the opposite direction, allowing mutual encouragement mid-way through the run, which is much needed for the uphill return half.

Changes underfoot make Durlston especially challenging for the VI runner

The finish tunnel is always a welcome sight on a Saturday morning, but the views from the finish point at Durlston make the finish even more spectacular!

As amazing as the setting is, it would not be parkrun without the superb commitment and friendliness of the regular team of volunteers, and the Durlston Country Park core team and volunteers are first class.  From our first contact with Zodwa in May, the team gave nothing but encouragement to our challenge.  Katy, the RD on the day, could not have been more helpful and the reception that we received before, during and after the run was brilliant.

Congratulations to all the runners and volunteers at event #14 for taking part in such a smooth-running fun parkrun experience. 

Just getting across the finish line presented some problems

To wrap up with this report, the reason for Cliffe and I visiting Durlston Country Park parkrun this week, and being interviewed by Rena from Purbeck Coast FM, is the Blindfold Challenge that we are undertaking to raise awareness of vision impaired (VI) running and to raise money for Dorset Blind Association. 

Cliffe and I are part of a team of regular VI guides for an inspirational VI runner, David Edwards, who is a regular runner and volunteer at Bournemouth (Kings Park) parkrun.  While Cliffe is sighted, he came up with the crazy idea of running blindfolded at ten different parkruns (taking on all nine parkrun venues in Dorset) on consecutive Saturdays, accompanied by me as VI guide.  David has joined us on some of the Blindfold Challenge parkruns, guided by other Blindfold Challenge VI guide team members Julia and James.

Durlston Country Park was the eighth in our challenge, and by some margin, it was definitely the most challenging for VI guide and VI runner.  I had to give constant commentary to Cliffe on the inclines, meandering paths, shallow bends, tight turns, changing terrain underfoot (tarmac, loose gravel, compacted stone, uneven tracks, bark chippings), protruding rocks, tree roots, dry-stone walls, low hanging branches) – and at times I was delivering the commentary while short of breath from coping with the steep uphill sections.  The only hiccup today was when Cliffe took a minor stumble towards the top of the uphill track on the first Tilly Whim loop caused by a rock protruding from the side of the path that I did not notice in time.

The amazing Purbeck coastline and backdrop to the Durlston parkrun

I remain full of admiration for Cliffe covering the 5km totally unsighted.  For anyone who has run Durlston Country Park parkrun, try to imagine doing it with your eyes closed for the whole time?

Please look deeper into this Blog for more information and donate to our fundraising effort by clicking on this link. Thank you for your interest, and to everyone in attendance at Durlston Country Park parkrun event #14, Cliffe and I would like to thank you all for your support and encouragement.

Day 7: Weymouth parkrun – June 11, 2022

35km now run in the Blindfold Challenge following another fantastic day, this time in the lovely Dorset seaside town of Weymouth. Just two more parkruns left now until the finale at Bournemouth’s Kings Park on July 2, 2022

Please support this challenge by donating to The Dorset Blind Association and by clicking here.

Beach fun at the Weymouth parkrun

My indomitable guide, John Baker, has always feared a wet and windy parkrun. Seven now completed and the weather has been exceptionally kind to us so far. Weymouth was glorious and plenty of runners and supporters showed up to the Lodmoor Country Park site to enjoy a 5km Saturday morning run.

Julie was with us today and it was great to see Kirsty running here and who we first met back on Day 2 at Upton.

Kirsty joined us at Weymouth today. We last met up at Upton on Day 2

As with all of our visits, the Run Directors (led today by Mike Askew, many thanks Mike) and volunteers really are a fantastic bunch of people. I know I witter on about the delights of parkrun, but these weekly events are incredible and this concept just has to be the greatest (free) invention of the modern era. Everyone is welcome on a Saturday morning at 9am, from club runners to those who just want to take part, get fit, have fun, run with friends, irrespective of completion times. So much love and encouragement without any judgement at all. Take a bow Paul Sinton-Hewitt and team.

This Weymouth run was probably the trickiest for John so far. Although flat and without too many changes in direction, the mixed terrain and heavy population of runners and members of the public, all congested along narrow paths, meant that he was constantly barking out instructions. Really tiring for him, both mentally and physically.

From tarmac, to grass to gravel, changes underfoot make life very difficult for the VI runner

Our time today of 32,11 was our second fastest of the challenge so far and much was down to John’s expert directing skills. If I could see how close we get to obstacles such as bollards while running, I would definitely freak out. So far during 35km of guiding a completely blind runner, John has not allowed me crash into anything….genius!

How close was that?

At this point I need to make an apology to fellow runners and supporters at parkrun. I can clearly hear all the amazing cheers and good wishes as I stumble about completely in the dark, and I need to excuse my seeming ignorance by not giving thanks as I run. It is crucial for my own safety and that of others, for me to concentrate 100% on the constant commanding from John. This is why I fail to sometimes acknowledge the words of encouragement. I promise you all that we both greatly appreciate all the wonderful support you are giving us during this crazy challenge and it certainly inspires us both to keep going.

Wonderful support and encouragement at Weymouth

Thank you Weymouth. It is off to the cliff tops of Durleston next week. Apparently the views are stunning, sadly I will not be seeing them.

Another glorious parkrun day, this time in Weymouth

Day 6: Blandford parkrun – June 4, 2022

Jubilee weekend and we welcome back to the Blindfold Challenge, David and Julie.

Please donate to The Dorset Blind Association by clicking here.

The http://www.davidsguide.blog Team back together at the Blandford parkrun

It was great to have VI runner David Edwards and his guide Julie Burden back with us at the Blandford parkrun today. Being the occasion of the Queen’s Jubilee it was fitting that we marked the occasion by us all wearing masks, not just me, as is the norm! I personally think that John makes a quite striking Prince Harry.

In celebration of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee

Run Director Charli and the team made us feel exceptionally welcome as the Blandford park-runners were celebrating not only the Jubilee but also their return to the familiar course following changes that had to be made during the Covid pandemic. The start of the run on the track bed of the old Somerset and Dorset Railway was too just too narrow and the limited space did not allow for safe social distancing. For nearly two years the start was at the wide open spaces of the Milldown playing fields. It was great to back…

Run Director Charli and the Team

This old course is now a ‘straight out and back’ along mostly tarmac paths with little in the way of obstacles, sharp turns or undulating surfaces and with only 130 runners present, today proved to be the best track for John and I to run together on. In consequence, we recorded our fastest time so far in the Blindfold Challenge, a pretty impressive 31.37 – well done John.

Running along the old S&D Railway line

I personally suffered no real scares and although it is impossible to ever get used to running completely blind, this parkrun was by far and away my least stressful and therefore my most enjoyable to date. Being an ex-railwayman, running along the old S&D line, was really quite special.

John had time to describe some of the route and was very enthused about the location. As with all 10 runs, we will attend again later in the year, with me blindfold-free, so I can enjoy the courses as a fully sighted runner.

Again, I cannot describe how great it is for us to have such fantastic support for this challenge. The cheering and words of encouragement definitely make a complex and unusual difficult charity fund-raising event easier. Being blind is terrifying, take it from me. David has always remarked how fantastic it is to receive such support – I can now see why.

Fantastic support for David and Julie as they cross the finish line

Next week for Day 7 we are off to the wonderful seaside town of Weymouth.

If you do enjoy reading these blog stories then can we please ask that you acknowledge our efforts by donating to Dorset Blind Association by clicking here.

Thank you.

Brockenhurst parkrun – May 28th 2022

Day 5 of the Blindfold Challenge and our only sortie into the adjoining county of Hampshire. Please support the Dorset Blind Association charity by donating here.

With the famous Brockenhurst pig

John Baker is guiding me, as I attempt to run blindfold across ten different parkruns in ten consecutive weeks. Nine of these are in our home county of Dorset and one in Hampshire – Brockenhurst New Forest the venue today.

John’s wife Jo was with us and it was a trip down memory lane for her as she attended Brockenhurst College.

During the winter months this parkrun is held on a New Forest trail at Wilverley, but due to the increase of holidaymakers at this time of year, our venue was re-staged on the playing fields of Brockenhurst College, four laps of the circuit, running exclusively on grass.

The College course at Brockenhurst

Run Director Mick welcomed us in his pre-run address and as always the response to our attending, from runners and spectators alike, was fantastic. Thank you Brockenhurst parkrun.

RD Mick, John and I ready for the off

Two critical things I learnt today on what was probably John’s easiest guide of the challenge was: (1) After a particularly long and hard week at work, I wasn’t feeling at my best – in consequence my levels of concentration were not what they should have been and (2) The journey around the course was pretty much a silent one – there were none too many runners and less spectators to cheer me on. I am now convinced that the reasonably modest time achieved of 33.57, on what was a pretty flat track, was due to the combination of these two factors.

John did not have to do anywhere near as much work on this parkrun compared with our previous four. If we measured his number of commands given during the run I am sure they would have been well down on the earlier venues? He could also see the whole course laid out in front of him, clearly a significant advantage for a guide-runner.

This was interesting. The course being straightforward over four laps meant that MY memory began to play a part – not a good thing when running blind as there are plenty of unseen hazards, even amongst familiar surroundings, there to trip you up. On a couple of occasions I did unexpectedly find a divot or hole under the grass surface, hidden from John’s view, causing me to stumble slightly.

Also my lack of fitness on this run almost certainly hit my levels of concentration. Very unfavourable for the blind or visually impaired

The loneliness of the long distance VI runner

Two very important lessons were taken from Day 5:

(1) Just the slightest loss of balance is most disconcerting when walking or running. It saps energy and increases stress and anxiety levels. Even the most modest of tasks can be incredibly difficult when your vision is impaired. There is no such thing as an easy run!

(2) I most definitely need to be ‘in the zone’ with my fitness for these challenges. On paper, today should have been by far the easiest of the parkruns. It turned out to be mentally my most difficult one so far.

I will need to get my ‘head on’ for the tougher challenges to come...

Next weekend is the Royal Weekend and the David’s Guide Team will be heading off to North Dorset and the Blandford parkrun, where both David and Julie will be joining John and I for a run around the old Somerset and Dorset railway line. Hopefully see you there?

Note: On Friday 27 May I was a guest on Karen Wye’s Hope FM afternoon radio show. Many thanks to Karen and the team at Hope for allowing me to talk about the Blindfold Challenge and VI guiding in general. You can hear the whole 2pm-4pm show by clicking here to Hope FM and searching for ‘Listen Again’.

Attending the Hope FM studios in Bournemouth

Please remember our cause and help by donating to the Dorset Blind Association by clicking here.

Moors Valley parkrun – May 21, 2022

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

Plenty of Monkey business at Moors Valley

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. 

With Run Director Mandy and below volunteer Loraine

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.

Fantastic encouragement during the parkrun

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.

The crazy Moors Valley parkrunners – What great support they gave us!

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.

The finish line had to be altered in consideration of this new family

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