I didn’t used to know anyone who was blind.
Or even anyone with any kind of what you would call a ‘visual impairment’. But I still remember my first Run Director meeting when Brian (our original Event Director) raised the topic of ‘PROVE’ (parkrun; Running or Volunteering for Everyone) and whether anyone wanted to help investigate some training as a Visually Impaired (VI) Guide.
I’ve thought about it and I don’t really know why guiding a blind or visually impaired runner interested me, but it did. Perhaps it was fascination. Perhaps it was admiration. Perhaps it was because I was used to pacing and this seemed something else new to try? It certainly wasn’t any thought that it could be such a rewarding activity.
Roll forward around 15 months and this weekend I was guiding for the 10th time. In that time I’ve guided 4 different VI parkrunners, some completely blind and others with different visual impairments. Three of these are now regulars at MH (Wiki, Vanessa and Jan) and the other was Haseeb, the blindfold ironman triathlon world record holder (thankfully he was coming back after an injury when we ran together as Haseeb is quiiiiick!). 2 of those 10 guiding experiences have been with First Timers (Haseeb and Jan) and I’ve hopefully had a hand in 4 PBs (Wiki x 2, Vanessa and Jan) – certainly more PBs than I’ve achieved on my own of late!!
Now pacing is rewarding and the thanks that those who finish just before or just after you is wonderful – all I’ve usually done is shouted at people (maybe not at them!) all the way around the course, but VI guiding is something else…
Guiding has delivered probably my most emotional parkrun experience: I was guiding young Jan for her first parkrun experience. Jan is in the ‘VW 65-69’ age category and following her instructions, we were fast-walking around the course. It was our last lap and on the return from the Turnaround Trees I asked if she fancied a little jog. We jogged for around 50 metres above the river stretch. We returned to a walking pace before saying ‘hi’ to Austin again and Jan said to me: “That’s the first time I’ve run … since school.” !!! Wow! It makes me well-up every time I tell the story. We also jogged down the finish straight that day on our way to a time of 56:38.
Today should have been Jan’s 10th parkrun, but she had forgotten her barcode! After a little period of illness Jan had once again given me the instruction to only walk, but this time we probably managed 6 or 7 jogs before finishing in 55:25. A way off Jan’s current PB of 46:21, but she was delighted to still be quicker than her first outing – even if she won’t receive the run credit for today. (#DFYB!)
Since our first VI guiding trials with blindfolded parkrunners, we have now welcomed 8 different VI runners and have a wonderful team of VI Guides. Some have attended official training events (there’s an excellent ‘Sight Loss Awareness and Guide Running Workshop’ run by England Athletics) or we have trained many of our own local parkrunners. Essentially once you have donned a blindfold yourself and run a few laps around Welland Park with a VI Guide, you are very well prepared to be a VI Guide yourself. A number of our regular RDs are also trained VI guides so can answer any queries people may have and the VI Guide team is currently led by Jo Raine.
VI Guiding now, compared to my first time at MH is a wonderful thing. Not only for all of the stuff I’ve mentioned above, but also because you wonderful parkrunners know only to overtake us on the right-hand side and it’s great when we hear a shout out of ‘passing on the right’ or something similar when you’re overtaking (we’re often too busy nattering to hear you coming otherwise!). Market Harborough parkrun has truly embraced VI running and we thank all of you for helping make this happen.
My VI workshop was also attended by a blind runner called Netty. She told us that she used to be casual runner and when she lost her sight, the biggest thing she missed was running. So finding some people with whom she could run and act as VI Guides was life-changing for her. I’d add it can not only be so rewarding for VI runners, but also for the VI Guides.
If you’re interested in joining our team of VI Guides, we’d love to hear from you – just pop us a note on Facebook, an email or come and chat to us at parkrun one day.
I now know several blind people and others who are visually impaired. My life is warmer and fuller as a result.