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)
David’s inspiring Marathon Day story in his very own words
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!
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.
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.
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”!
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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!
Why not put your trainers on and come and join us!
Sunday October 3rd2021 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
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)!
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.
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!
Several people have asked how such a good match was made between Spencer and me? Well, here goes!
In April 2013 further to applying for a Guide Dog, I had a Home Visit from a Guide Dog Mobility Trainer who was based in the Southampton Office. He quickly made my wife Jo and I feel at ease. While carrying out his assessment, which considered my height, weight and walking speed, he asked if I had sometimes mistaken trees for people? I was surprised by this question as I had told no-one that I had said “hello” to several trees from time to time! (Could be worse – I recently spoke to a dog-waste bin secured to a post!) We all laughed! I guessed that having a Guide dog might not stop the odd habit of talking to a tree, but it would prevent me from walking into them.
The Trainer and I then walked to my grandchildren’s school, which would be one of the future routes for me and my Guide Dog, if I was to be given one. On the way back home, he attached a guide dog harness and lead to his right hand. I held them in my left hand and was then asked to give the Trainer instructions as if he was the Guide Dog. As he was much taller than me, it must have looked funny to the children and parents who were still lingering around at the end of the school day! I imagine that they looked at us in disbelief! At the end of this excursion the Trainer introduced us to a large black Labrador already matched to another person – my first close encounter with a Guide Dog, or in fact any dog, in our own home. At the time he seemed enormous as he sprawled across the lounge floor, but his lovely gentle nature encouraged and excited me as I looked ahead to the day when I might be matched with a dog of my own.
Two years later I received an invitation from the Southampton Office to meet some other applicants, staff and Guide Dogs in a local hotel. The staff were so understanding, kind and considerate, I soon felt at ease. They emphasised that there were more applicants than Guide Dogs available for matching with us and we were not to view the event as a Matching Day. We were told about the basic dog commands and were then given some practice working with the young Guide Dogs available.
After lunch, one of the Mobility Trainers asked me if I would like to accompany her on a practice walk with one of her trainee dogs. This was my first introduction to a handsome young dog called Spencer! On our return I was shown how to groom Spencer in the correct manner and they also suggested I gently massage his legs. This was a really special moment between us and was the first time that I dared to hope Spencer would be matched to me. After a few days it was confirmed that Spencer and I would be a partnership subject to successfully completing further training in a residential setting and in my home area. I was delighted. The subsequent training was sometimes challenging and tiring but was the beginning of a new adventure and a re-claiming of some independence and confidence when out and about on my own. In a sense, training didn’t really end there as I feel I am still learning new things all the time,
Spencer was 20 months old when he joined our household, and it doesn’t seem possible that he has been with us for 6 years now. He looks at me quizzically when he sees me running on the spot or trying to skip, clearly unsure whether I have “lost the plot” or whether I am failing to include him in some new crazy game! He might feel a bit left out when I resume outdoor running practice with Cliffe, but I will whisper in his ear that it’s all for a good cause and leave him for a while to dream about cats or possibly his next delicious meal. If our running efforts go even a little way towards funding another special dog like him, the aches and pains will not have been in vain…
St.David’s day, 2021. I guess that’s as good a day as any for this insignificant David to re-start his blog!
Is it really a whole year since the dreaded word “Coronovirus” reared its ugly head and life as we knew it ground to a halt? Sadly yes, but no one really needs reminding of the roller coaster ride we’ve had along the way. Everyone has a story to tell, of sadness or joy, strength or vulnerability, hope or despair, boredom or creativity. Our diaries and our lives might seem empty but our hearts are full of admiration and gratitude for inspirational and compassionate people and for the inventive and resourceful nature of our fellow human-beings.
So here we are again! Spring has arrived in all its glory and with it, new hope and promise. Vaccination versus Virus, Liberty versus Lockdown! My running kit hasn’t seen the light of day for a year, but I dare to hope that it might emerge from the wardrobe soon. The closest I’ve got to running is when hearing a passing jogger as we walk along with Spencer. “Jogger coming”, warns my wife, as he/she steams by, exhaling suspect vapours . As I step back out of the way I hear the jogger’s feet pounding by and I feel wistful. As we meander on with Spencer my wife describes the new delights of Spring, catkins, snowdrops and tiny violets. I share her pleasure, but in my minds eye I can still see the jogger and I wish that it was me. Daydreams are allowed sometimes I suppose!
Back to reality! My running shoes are ready and waiting but as yet have nowhere to go. Always ringing in my ears is that pesky phrase, “keep socially distanced. Stay 2 metres apart”. Totally impossible at the best of times for a visually impaired person but also very restrictive when reliant on others for physical support. My trusted, inspirational running guide, Cliffe, opened up a whole new world for me last year, but in order to run safely, I need to be in close proximity to him all the time. All eyes are now on the calendar and the lifting of restrictions! Cliffe is encouraging me to get my creaking limbs moving again in readiness for the resumption of training. My brain and body are protesting a bit and confidence flew out of the window when Covid stormed in, but when the time is right to start running, I want to seize the opportunity with both hands (and feet)!
Will I be fit enough to run a virtual marathon by October? That is the big question! I honestly don’t know, but with Cliffe’s help and inspiration, I do need to try and in order to finish what we started and to continue supporting Guide Dogs, the charity that changed my life by giving me my faithful canine friend, Spencer.
So watch this space and see what happens! If I don’t manage to get a hair-cut soon I will be the old chap running along with hair flowing in the wind. Cliffe will be the fit, well-groomed one keeping me going!
Where do I start? How quickly priorities and perceptions can change! I was disappointed about withdrawing from the Hampton Court Half Marathon of 15th March even though it was the right and sensible thing to do in view of the Covid 19 pandemic sweeping the world. Three months on, the word “disappointment” seems irrelevant in the light of so much heartache and loss in our communities. The words “Marathon” and “Challenge” on the other hand have taken on a whole new meaning.
“Lockdown” was to bring us problems of social isolation, in common with many other people in the population. Suddenly, we were unable to see our children and grandchildren living in different parts of the country or, even more frustratingly, to visit the ones who live just round the corner! Fear of not doing enough running practice was suddenly replaced by unexpected separation anxiety and a deep concern for the welfare of every member of our family. Agonizingly, we were unable to visit our dear Aunt Lydia, in hospital, in Cornwall, before she died alone. Afterwards, it was so distressing not to be able to attend her funeral and say a proper “good-bye”, a pain shared by so many others in similar situations. Our hearts go out to all those people facing unprecedented challenges during these difficult times.
Our Aunt Lydia loved Spencer and after an initial “stand -off” with her three disdainful cats he would always greet her with great excitement and furious tail wagging. She would have showered him with treats if we had allowed her to! Instead she provided us with a regular supply of towels for drying him after his soggy adventures and also his favourite paw print blanket to languish on when dreaming about those adventures (or maybe the treats he missed out on!)
Thinking about it, Spencer loves meeting most people who show that they like him. Over our 5 years together, Spencer has been responsible for opening up numerous interesting and unexpected conversations with many people we have encountered ,often evoking memories of their own faithful, doggy friends. More locally, in the Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch area of Dorset, he has taken part in fundraising events for Guide Dogs at places such as Bournemouth University; quite happy to be the chilled out dog giving the students a chance to de-stress! At other times his gentle manner and patience has allowed nervous children and young folk with learning disabilities to engage with a dog confidently and without fear, perhaps for the first time ever. Inevitably, the recent isolation has impacted on Spencer too, clearly he misses the social interaction but even harder is the change in routine for a working dog who needs to be kept busy and stimulated. How do you explain to a lively “keen – to – go” guide dog that he might be semi – redundant for a while and only go out once a day for a short, restricted walk close to home? Just as well things on that front are now easing. We are running out of ideas on how to keep a large, bored dog amused indoors. You can only play “hide and seek” so many times and stay sane! As for our small back garden, well that was never going to cope with the ravages of a boisterous “stay-at -home” dog .Sadly the so -called “lawn” now more closely resembles the surface of the moon.
Keeping Spencer fit and alert is one thing but keeping his human buddy fit and motivated is another story! Despite all my good intentions back in March it has been a struggle to stay focused on a goal with no specific date in mind, no runs with Cliffe, my inspirational guide and no park runs with all those lovely, kind volunteers. Joe Wicks on Youtube could have been a “ keep fit” alternative but Spencer wasn’t a big fan! Not sure if it was the man himself or my feeble attempts to do star jumps that was the trigger but either way we couldn’t cope with a frenzied dog running round the room barking his head off! Plan “B” was for me to skip or run on the spot in the garage, but with the space now full of junk and the council tips closed, my wife deemed it an unsafe activity for someone with little vision. At least I tried!! Undaunted, I moved on to plan “C”, trying to cram as much energy, vigour and distance as possible into our permitted daily walk. This wasn’t exactly foolproof seeing as Spencer is happy to stride out when he is well motivated but prefers to saunter when he is bored.
This brings me to the next problem. Spencer is a clever, well trained dog but, unsurprisingly, nobody taught him about social distancing and the 2 metre rule! Most people adapted really quickly to this requirement, but it is virtually impossible for a blind person to cope with it. Maybe I had a lucky escape from the initial shock of shelves stripped bare in the supermarkets and battles over loo rolls, but I suddenly realized that almost overnight my independence had gone out of the window. How could I negotiate my way around the shops, even with Spencer, if I couldn’t find where the queue started, where the 2 metre markers were or which way to follow the arrows on the floor? Would any of the harassed and overworked staff be free to help me and would I just get in the way of anxious shoppers who just wanted to grab their items and escape from the shop as quickly as possible? On balance, “stay at home” seemed the only sensible choice: I am lucky, not every blind person would have that option if they lived alone without family support.
Well it’s hard to believe that twelve strange weeks have now passed since the abandoned half -marathon run.
With routines non-existent and diary dates a distant memory we hardly know what day of the week it is sometimes .Who would have thought that the main excitement of the week would be a highly prized delivery slot for supermarket shopping? Thankfully, the lovely weather has been a real blessing too. We are fortunate to live near country lanes and riverside pathways, so daily walks with my wife and Spencer have been a welcome distraction from all the other worries. My wife has described the meadows, radiant with buttercups and daisies; the,soft long grass swaying in the breeze; the delicate pink or white blossom adorning the trees. I can smell fragrant bushes in the hedgerows and hear the baby moorhens cheeping at the river. It has been a daily joy to just stop and listen to an amazing array of birdsong, more striking than we have ever noticed before. The highlight this week was to hear the Cuckoo calling!
As the “ Lockdown” is beginning to ease, dare I start looking forward to running again? Clearly Cliffe and I can’t run together while 2 metres apart so who knows when it will be safe to do so? My muscles are telling me it will take quite a while to get back to full stamina and fitness! Am I “cuckoo” for wanting to persevere with the challenge of running a half marathon? Sometimes I think I am but then I remember the other visually impaired people who may be helped by our efforts and the kind folk who have already sponsored us and that keeps me going.
Thanks Cliffe, for your support and encouragement as my V. I. guide prior to Covid 19. As you once said to me in a previous life, “We don’t do failure do we?”
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.