Parkrun is all about inclusivity and fun. With this in mind, we would like to encourage people to learn more about visually impaired (VI) running and guiding, in a fun way...
So, on 24th November, you are invited to take part in our Blindfold Challenge! After finishing your parkrun, you will be offered the chance to pair up and don blindfolds and leashes before heading back out onto the end of the course to learn more about what a VI runner might experience and might need from their guide.
The first finishers will be heading out while others are finishing so you can support each other. Please do come and have a go!
For more information about VI running, and to learn more about VI guiding, please see these videos:
And read on; VI runners and guides describe their experiences in the following pieces of writing:
"I have been parkrunning for just under 2 years now. I was born with what is currently an undiagnosed eye condition plus another eye condition which means my eyes are constantly moving. I am also colourblind and I have some minor problems with my hearing, which only becomes a problem when there’s other noise.
I started my parkrun journey off at Mount Edgcumbe. I started volunteering as it didn’t quite fit with my other running plans. I was not warned (although, the name is a give away!) that ME is one of the most challenging parkruns in the UK. As a visually impaired runner, the hills, mud and uneven ground do make the run a bit of a challenge!
I never really enjoyed running at school, partly because we only ever ran when the weather was horrible! I’ve been running for the last 7 years or so. For the first 3 years, I was able to run unaided. However, my constant habit of falling made me realise that maybe I would benefit from having a guide runner. I now run all my races guided because the amount of people around makes it so much harder to run safely.
I have met some wonderful people over the last 4 years who have helped guide me. Some of whom have got me a PB or two and at least one has told me she’s now a qualified guide because of me. (her actual words were that I have a lot to answer for!)
I have run with various people at ME over the last 20 months or so. 3 of whom have managed to get me PBs along the way. (and no, there is no requirement that you do get me a PB!)
I also like to tour and have run some 23 different parkruns so far. Some parkruns will provide me with someone who is a qualified guide (which is lovely; but not a requirement) or someone who has never done it before but has an interest in guide running.
I do have some useful vision, thankfully. But do find running downhill difficult as my lack of depth perception means I have no idea where the hill ends. Uneven ground can be a problem, as can things like twigs (as these blend in with the colour of the tarmac) and if the ground is wet, which can make it look somewhat uneven."
Sofie H, VI runner
"I think running as a VI guide is one of the best roles at parkrun. Not only do you get to volunteer and run at the same time, you get to help someone do something quite amazing. As anyone who runs at Mount Edgcumbe will know, getting around the course is no mean feat. Now picture trying to get around it with a blindfold on, let alone to do any running, and you realise just how inspiring the VI runners are!
When running with Sofie we each hold one end of a blue rope, and make sure we’re running on the smoothest part of the path, avoiding any obstacles such as trees and roots.
As someone who gets (very) cranky when I can’t run, the things I enjoy most about being a VI guide are helping someone get involved in a sport I love, and the social side of running with a partner. I would definitely recommend giving VI guiding a go, it’s great fun and one of the lovely social ways to get involved in parkrun."
Jack W, volunteer guide
"Recently, a call had been put out, Sofie, a visually impaired runner at Mount Edgcumbe, was struggling to find a guide runner. A shame, I thought, particularly since I'd clocked the many times Sofie had volunteered for us. I felt compelled to have a little read up on it. What's all this guide running about then? Not for me, I immediately rationalised. That sounds far too responsible a position. What if she fell? What if I couldn't keep up? What if... lots of what ifs! Still, I read on, towards something that awakened me, rather a lightning bolt moment. I came across a parkrun project article citing 'there are around 1.49 million visually impaired people in the UK, less than 10% of them are regularly active'. Wow, I found this alarming. I think you will join me in my realising this is a pretty bleak statistic. For those whom sight being the only impairment, it became apparent that house bound isolation must be endemic in parts of the VI community, but most importantly and sadly, in many cases, unnecessarily so. Time, I concluded, for the well sighted people in our community to heed the rally cry and step up! Oh crikey...thats me, time to bury my fears and give it a go. So onwards. Here's my experience.
A lot of worries and concerns I had were surprisingly, quickly alleviated once I'd had a chat with my VI runner. Asking questions like, what are the variables of their visual impairment? Their pace? What verbal cues work best for them? What do they intend to achieve with this particular run? What are their expectations of you? Do they have any particular needs/concerns?
Essentially, I found, you must arrive with a willingness to learn, to improve and respond to feedback. A steady, comfortable pace kept alongside your VI runner, with an alertness and punctual communication of the terrain and potential obstacles. Okay...no problem!
It was important to realise that it was more than acceptable to feel nervous of this task. Nerves, I must endeavour to remember are simply a sign that you want to perform at your best. That it is your implicit intention not to let your VI runner down. Nerves, I came to realise, were an important and necessary safety component of any first time VI Guide runners experience.
And off we went... a short wrist tether connecting us. I communicated as best I could, calling out often the nuances of this well trodden ground, of the furrows, distances, dips, the twigs, elevations, crevices, the mud, the puddles, stones, those pesky sideways branches and the conkers...oh the conkers!
Then, somewhere across the deer park, I was struck with the easing sense this no longer felt such a nerve wrecking task. Sofie was running well, my confidence was slowly growing. Sofie was giving me necessary feedback, our collaboration grew. We were working out better cues. Somehow the challenge I so feared was beginning to feel dare I say it, wholly gratifying.
On a side note, it was also dawning on me that I had been given the chance to experience more of the little details within the scenery, the 'art of looking' intensely at my surroundings. Details I would otherwise overlook on those past quests for speedy PB's. It's fair to say my relationship with the landscape and nature was certainly heightened that day, in fact, I was finding it quite therapeutically joyous .
In good time we made it over the finish line.
Sofie had remained upright throughout, astonishing, I'd achieved my task! Plenty of laughs had been had along the way, all was well, how wonderful!
I must say, I was left that day in sheer awe and with complete respect for all VI runners, particularly Sofie and her ability to master such complex terrain. I was also most thoroughly humbled by the trust she and other VI runners place in their guide runners in order to achieve their goals.
In retrospect, I was left pondering a question we guide runners need to ask 'who, exactly, is helping who here?' Ultimately we get to transmute our passion for running into a much deeper, more wholly rewarding purpose for running. To offer our eyes to another, for a short time, once in a while and in return, well, we get to connect to something greater than our own self's needs and reap the benefits of connection to another, connection to the landscape and possibly receive that neurobiological reward for kindness psychologists have dubbed the 'helpers high'. Blimey, I feel like I've been totally selfish
Nothing will give you more satisfaction in life, than helping other people. VI guide running is one of the most rewarding roles at parkrun, give it a try! Mostly, I hope those with visual impairment in our communities, particularly those that make up the 90% of non regularly active, are inspired, encouraged and welcomed to come forward and experience the many benefits parkrun has to offer.
Lets all try to live in a happier healthier more connected way.
Claire C, volunteer guide