Rutland Water Special Visual Impairment (VI) parkrun – 24th March 2018

Rutland Water parkrun is known to many for being a very VI friendly course, being that it is straight out and back, there are no challenging twisty paths, the surface is all tarmac, with very few uneven areas, and we are very welcoming to everyone who wants to get involved.

On Saturday, we held an event to try and raise the profile of how accessible parkrun is for those visually impaired, and to reach out to those who may be interested in being a guide for a VI participant. The day started with meeting those interested at 8am, for a speedy 30 minute introduction to guiding, and some health & safety advice delivered by experienced guide Paul Davidson alongside a couple of VI runners who Paul has been guiding for some years, Netty (Jeanette STEVENS) and Mark (Mark Ellis).
Our expectation and hopes were exceeded by the numbers that turned up, we could barely all fit into the meeting room at the Waterside Café we had booked!!!

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Some volunteered to be blindfolded, to give learners a chance to guide, whilst some VI runners volunteered to be guided by the newbies. After the event, we went back to the café for more talking, guidance, and training with Paul, Netty, Mark and chat with other VI Guides who came to support the day!

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parkrun HQ and the local paper, (The Stamford Mercury) also visited us to do a bit of filming and photography, and also do interviews with some parkrunners.
We have at least FOUR parkrunners who have declared straight after the event, “I want to guide, let me know if anyone needs a guide and I’ll be there to support”………now that’s amazing! If every parkrun had 4 guides on hand, how incredible that would be!

One of the learning guides who came on the day, Tony Hoare, has written a review of the day from his perspective, which he would love to share with you all.
I think you will agree it is a fantastic read, and we at Rutland Water parkrun are extremely proud of our event, our volunteers and parkrunners.  This review is testament to the hard work everyone put in to make the day a success.

A huge thank you to all our volunteers including VI guides and thank you to our VI runners who came to give our parkrun a go and be brave enough to allow our learning guides to guide them!

Thank you to Paul Davidson for delivering the information in an informative and fun way, and thank you to all you guys for taking an interest and coming along.

Review from Tony:-

"Guiding Mark is a bit like driving an HGV",  says Paul to a roomful of parkrunners at Rutland Water's Waterside Cafe.
Paul is an experienced guide for visually impaired runners - VIs for short - and he's at Rutland Water to help recruit volunteers to do the same for VIs who'd like to run here in the future.
The dozen or so of us listening to Paul are all willing and the idea is that by the time he's finished with us we'll also be able.

Mark and Netty are two of the VIs who've come along to help us learn the ropes. They explain the techniques of holding a tether to guide them and keeping verbal communication going as we tell them about looming obstacles. "Just keep talking," says Netty.

Paul regularly guides both Mark and Netty in parkruns, races and on training runs. That's where his comparison with the HGV comes from - he says that while Netty requires the light touch of driving a Mini, guiding Mark requires the input of a truck.

I've always fancied being an HGV driver so I put my hand up when Paul asks for volunteers to have a go at guiding Mark. I'm one of four to do so, along with Alison, Andy and Kate.  "You can do a kilometre each", says Paul as it gradually dawns on me that a group of us are going to guide Mark on a live parkrun, not a quick spin around the car park in advance of the event.

After being coaxed right to the front of the starting pack for a pre-run photograph, we're off. Kate has the first, hardest stint as we negotiate the early cluster of runners, dogs and buggies, and it's quickly clear that Mark only needs our guidance on where to put his feet. The man has the running strength of a charging bull.

Our group of five hits the 1km mark in a shade over five minutes - my fastest ever start to a parkrun. It's clear this isn't going to be a walk in the park.
We stop and I take over the tether for the second kilometre, surging through the gates that lead us on to the dam section of the Rutland Water course.
It's a fun experience to guide Mark, even if it's a struggle to maintain the pace and retain the power of speech!

Then the call goes out that Alison, who's doing her first parkrun in three years, is finding the pace a little too hot. Mark happily slows down to keep us all together and I summon the lung capacity to breathe a sigh of relief.

I learn a lot in one kilometre - the awareness needed to spot potential hazards and explain them in a helpful way in plenty of time for the VI to react appropriately. There's also the need to be clear with fellow parkrunners as we overtake them two abreast, while also taking into account runners who may be overtaking us.
It feels a little like driving two cars at once - the extra width is a big factor, but there's the huge bonus of having two engines!

We hit 2km in good time and Alison has recovered well to take her turn as Mark's guide. She slickly steers our group around the turn at Rutland's halfway point and takes us back towards the start. Running back along Rutland Water's dam we cross with the other VIs - Netty, Vicky and Leigh - with their guide runners. Other potential guides are paired up and taking it in turns to run with a blindfold on and guiding their blindfolded partner.

At 3km it's Andy's stint, guiding Mark back through the gate from the dam and on to the homeward stretch. At 4km I get the honour of the final kilometre, taking over Mark's tether in a rolling handover. We're all raw, but we're getting the hang of it. We might be aiding Mark visually, but he is guiding us in every other sense.

As the finish line comes into view I trip over the urge to tell Mark it's within sight, worrying about offending him. I avoid the reference, preferring to talk in distances. As we're 100 metres from the finish we kick for home, crossing the line in 26min 18sec.
After guiding Mark to the barcode readers and back to the Waterside Cafe there's a debrief, where Mark tells me I shouldn't have been worried about saying the finish line was within sight. He suggests we should just speak as we normally would.

Paul, Mark's regular guide, talks to our group again and both Netty and Mark explain how the ability to run with sight loss has changed their lives. They point out that without willing guides they would be unable to run at all. That's why the recruitment drive is on to attract more folks to join in. We're now on a register and VIs can get in touch to see if we're able to guide them at future parkruns.

Taking part in this event has been a privilege. parkrun always makes me feel just a little better at the start of a weekend, but today I feel that bit better again. My first taste of HGV driving has left me wanting more.

If you'd like to find out more about guiding visually impaired runners, please make contact via email to rutlandwateroffice@parkrun.com or contact your local parkrun core volunteer team.


Thanks for that write up Tony, and hope you come and visit again soon.

update 27/03/2018

We've had a call from from the Stamford Mercury to say their write up will be in their Friday issue this week, so keep an eye out

The other good news is that the registration form is still available for those that want to make their services as a VI Guide available. Don't forget, even if you do go on the database you still aren't under any obligation to guide if it's not convenient, click here to register......

VI Guide Survey

See you soon,

Rutland Water core team