Why did I get a Guide Dog?

Wind, rain, mud and puddles

March 27, 2020

As Cliffe has written, our running partnership started about a year ago.   For the first 10 weeks of 2020, we enjoyed our running.  The camaraderie with other runners, parkrun volunteers and spectators has been brilliant!

Our running was affected by the wind, rain, mud and puddles making it very challenging!  However, all my VI Guides and I faced the various obstacles in a humorous way.   Sometimes, I was in the mud and puddles before I knew it, laughing as I tried to stay upright!  (At this point, I must spare a thought for all those people who have been affected by the flooding of the last few months – some being flooded out of their homes and work places, making my comments above seem trivial)

On Sunday 8 March, Cliffe and I did our last run, in strong wind, along Bournemouth sea-front, in preparation for the Hampton Court Palace Half Marathon to be held on 15 March.   There was no more training to do!   We had our King Henry VIII hats and clip-on beards, ready for the fun of running with thousands of other runners as well as the spectators looking on

Although we were looking forward to it, we withdrew from it because of the concern about the spread of the Coronavirus, sweeping the world!  Our decision was clearly the right and responsible one to make as its spread would affect us all in so many ways.

Now, when I am out with Spencer, there is an eerie silence, which is only broken by the lovely birdsong coming from the hedges and trees.   I enjoy singing too and belong to a male voice choir.  Sometimes, I try to sing as we are walking along, Spencer being my ‘critic’!  I have taken him to one or two choir practices with various outcomes which usually end up with a laugh!

Believe it or not, the style of breathing seems the same for singing and running.  The choir musical Director asks us to take in deep breaths through our open mouths and then let the air out slowly.  On one occasion, Cliffe said the same.   So, the singing might help my running and my running might help my singing…. “win, win”.

I would like to thank all those who have already donated to Guide Dogs and Dorset Blind Association, even though we didn’t run at Hampton Court Palace. 

When the time is right, Cliffe and I will run an alternative half marathon together.  Maybe we will still be able to wear our King Henry VIII hats and clip-on beards for another laugh!  I hope you have enjoyed reading our blog so far viewing it as a time of reflection like I am.

As I look back, I can think of the many times of fun that my family and I have had with Spencer who has so much character it is hard to describe although I think you will know what I mean,

However, for the time being, we can look forward to the end of the current crisis caused by the Coronavirus.  I hope your families, friends and work colleagues stay safe and well with the hope of normality returning as soon as possible.

The Hampton Court Palace Half Marathon and Coronavirus

March 12, 2020

David and I are very disappointed to report that, after consultation with our respective families, we have decided not to compete in Sunday’s race.

We will however be extending our running partnership for another year and please do wait as we search for another half marathon event as soon as things settle down.

To everyone who have sponsored us, I trust you understand the situation and will continue to support us for the coming year. We will keep you all updated on our continuing running adventures via this blog.

Best wishes and thanks

David and Cliffe

One week to go and Henry VIII is waiting…

Sunday March 08, 2020:

You know, when people say that time seems to fly by these days, well let me tell you, they are not wrong!

I started this guiding journey almost a year ago and cannot believe that we are just one week away from Hampton Court, the pinnacle of our ambitions. Are we ready?

I am writing this blog post just before heading out with David for our last run together before the big day and looking out of the window, I wonder just how the weather will treat us? There is no question that our preparations have been severely hampered by various weekend storms and general wet and windy conditions since October, but yes we are ready.

I have to say, it is hard enough motivating oneself to venture out in foul weather, let alone contemplate the trials and tribulations of keeping a visually impaired runner safe and sound as the streets are pounded in tethered partnership.

I fully intended hanging up my Asics after last year’s London Marathon; how could that experience be topped? Well let me tell you this past year, being David’s eyes while running together has been the most incredibly astonishing, educational and wonderfully humbling experience in this sporting life. The man is a complete inspiration. In his 69th year, a veteran of nearly 200 parkruns and now 10km and 16km road races with Sunday’s 21km to come, David is living proof that anything can be achieved through a strong will and positive mindset. He really is a top top bloke and a Scotsman at that!.

As I alluded to earlier in this piece, guiding for a VI runner is very rewarding, but can be pretty stressful at times too. Running in isolation is all about you, your own fitness, your own stamina, your own organisation. Running for two significantly increases the pre-race, during race and occasionally post-race anxiety. Consideration needs to be given to finding the race location, where to park, where to check in, discovering your starting point or ‘wave’ and countless other aspects within a day shared by up to 25,000 other people, with similar anxieties and lack of knowledge. Combine all that with keeping a VI competitor safe and ‘in the zone’ makes the whole situation doubly demanding.

During the race you are constantly on your guard to the many obstacles; some obvious and some less so that can cause problems. I have had to communicate David passed bollards, around lamp posts, over kerbs, sand, mud and exposed tree roots. Fellow runners stopping right in front of you, spectators walking out from designated bays and don’t whatever you do get me started on raised manhole covers, cobbles and potholes! As a guide I cannot think about my own tiredness or aches and pains. The job is to get your partner back home safely. I am lucky that David is a good listener.

What I can tell you however, is the joy shared with David on completion of a race. His ebullience and his feelings of self satisfaction makes this whole thing so worth while. When we competed in the Great South Run it was an unbelievably fantastic experience and one that we both never tire of talking about. The love and respect we received from spectators and competitors alike was wonderful and to receive your medal, wearing it with pride on your way home, makes everything so very special.

I told David when we began our partnership that he wasn’t going to fall on my watch. Despite a few scares along the way, that particular scenario has never happened. There will be lots of wood-touching in the coming days by this rather superstitious guide that we can also get through Hampton Court unscathed. Maybe good King Henry III with keep a watchful eye on us?

The race itself is the only organised running event of its kind, being staged within the grounds of a royal palace. It will give me the chance to commentate on lots of historical facts as we navigate the many paths and gardens of the Hampton Court Palace Estate. We are both hoping for fair weather and a large, enthusiastic crowd to cheer us on and get us home. If you are coming for the day, you will not be able to miss us as we will be wearing beards and tudor style hats…. Just something else for the guide to think about!

Q&A with Spencer the Guide Dog

February 08, 2020:

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

After The Great South Run

January 3rd, 2020

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.

October – A month of running…

October 29, 2019

Passing Nelson’s Flagship, The Victory whilst running on our own at The Great South Run – See below!

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.

David and Cliffe with their medals after the Bournemouth Marathon Festival 10k on Saturday October 5th 2019

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!

David and Cliffe in the competitors area before the start of The Great South Run

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. 

The elite women prepare to start the Great South Run

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 said the Portsmouth crowds were so noisy, he had to really shout out his instructions.

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.

After a fantastic Great South Run we receive our medals.

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.

Our first competitive race and a prawn quinoa salad for lunch!

October 1st, 2019:

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.

Running with Karen in 2017

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.

At Bournemouth parkrun with Rosemary

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!!!

Our home in Bournemouth

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.

Passing Nelson’s Flagship HMS Victory

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.

You can donate money to either of the charities by clicking here: Guidedogs or Dorset Blind Association