What’s it like guiding a blind runner?

Originally published at https://serpentimes.co.uk/running-blind-what-is-it-like-guiding-a-blind-runner/

“I don’t know which route to run.”

“I can’t be bothered going out.”

“Maybe I should have a rest day.”

All of us have had those thoughts at some point. Occasionally, the sloth in us wins the argument against the super-keen-but-sometimes-reluctant runner that lives in all of us. Now, imagine you really want to run, but you need an extra pair of eyes just so that you can enjoy what you love so much.

I know a great blind runner called Louise who I guided on part of a 24 hour ultra relay (!). Maria wanted to find out more about this often hidden side of running so I brought them both together.

Testing out

My first challenge was meeting up with Louise, our blind running muse for the evening. Yes – it was my bright idea to meet at a very busy Liverpool Street Station during rush-hour. Fortunately, I spotted Louise straight away as she had a bright running shirt on. Maria came along a few seconds later.

Louise, as with many visually impaired and blind runners, is just like you and me. They are runners, first and foremost. They love running and occasionally they don’t, but most of all they just want to run, and meet someone who will run with them.

From Liverpool Street Station we headed to Spitalfields market via the busiest route possible. Finding a nice stretch of super flat pavement, devoid of market traders and tired commuters, we set down our bags. Louise and I left Maria with the bags and did a 400 metre out and back run to show Maria how easy it was. Louise held the inside of my right arm lightly, and she reminded me not to squeeze her arm against my ribs. We made it back without any problems at all.

Now it was Maria’s turn. Louise tried to take Maria’s arm and missed, instead grabbing her shoulder. Thankfully Maria saw the funny side and the two of them managed to link up. The two of them headed off tentatively at first but soon picked up speed. Louise is actually quite the speed merchant, and both of us had the feeling she often likes to go faster.

Urban obstacle course

First test run over, we headed off, Louise once more running with me. It felt natural. As we ran I described some of the views, the sights, and gave a few instructions along the way (high kerb and high step were quite common ones). At one point Louise piped up – “I can smell a Starbucks”. Maria and I couldn’t even see one. It was only on the second lap that we noticed it.

It wasn’t long before the witty quips started to flow. Not from me, but from Louise. Her sense of humour is dry, cutting, and takes no prisoners. She teased me several times; most of the time about my poor sense of direction and tendency to get lost.

We ran for a couple of miles, zigzagging around pedestrians, bollards, across roads, past crowded pubs and Maria and I each took an opportunity to guide while the other ran on ahead to scout out a path of least resistance through the crowds. Louise confided that “urban” running isn’t really her thing, she much prefers quieter parks. But, she said that she enjoyed it all the same. I suspect, given what I know about her pace (which she is very modest about) Louise just wanted to put her foot to the floor in a big way.

“We ran for a couple of miles, zigzagging around pedestrians, bollards, across roads, past crowded pubs”

According to Louise, the biggest fear of a guiderunner is that they will do something wrong. They will trip over the other runner. They will misjudge a gap and run their guidee into a lamp-post. They will get them run over by the number 88 bus. You should know that none of these terrible things happened the night that we met for a run. We didn’t even get lost.

Getting a new perspective

So, what’s hard about guiderunning? Nothing. It is easy to do, and like most things, the more practice you get, the better you become. Everyone has their special preferences – whether they run like Louise with her hand on your arm, or with a tether, or simply using the guide as a, well, visual guide. The other tip, is don’t talk too much. As a guide, I only mention the things that actually make a difference (e.g. tree roots, but not a barely perceptible undulation in a completely flat piece of tarmac).

At the end of the evening as we were enjoying a coffee before heading off our different ways, Maria said she would be happy to guide Louise in future – if she will have her – which was a brilliant result. It was lovely to see runners helping each other. If you get the opportunity to guide for someone, take it. It is a great experience and will give you a new perspective on running. If you are a blind or visually impaired runner or indeed a runner who would like to get involved in guiding then take a look at http://guiderunning.uk/, have a chat with Maria and I about our experiences.

Phil Bradburn started running in 2009 after losing 35kg and at first could barely manage 2 miles. He is now part way through his project to run the entire UK coastline in 200 mile stages.


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