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Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Running Blind

Blind Runner and Guide Speeding Past the Sage
(photo courtesy of Steve Garrett / SportyPix)

My Dad started running marathons and half-marathons 32 years ago. As a child, I remember standing shivering on pavements around Tyne and Wear trying to spot him as he sped past en route from Morpeth to Newcastle (in the  New Year's Day road race) or from Newcastle to South Shields (in the now world-famous Great North Run). Little did I know that years later he would be running alongside me as my guide runner.

I took up running a couple of years ago but have only recently started running with a guide runner during races. Races are crowded and frantic affairs. I find it bewildering trying to run amongst thousands of runners who are constantly jostling for a clear piece of road. But with a guide runner by my side, I feel much more confident. Dad described the route to me as we went along, pointing out kilometre markers, water stations and, most movingly, the seven famous Newcastle-Gateshead bridges that I grew up with. It felt amazing to run past the Sage with the man who first took me to concerts there (and who now takes my children).

This is the first race I've done wearing my very bright RNIB tabbard. At first Dad and I were both worried about feeling self-conscious: it feels odd to advertise your disability in such a public way. But my travels with my white cane have shown me that announcing my blindness is only ever a positive experience. And so it was during the race. Runners were without exception courteous and mindful of our presence. And marshals and spectators along the route were enthusiastic in their applause and encouragement. And on a hilly course like the Great North 10k, every little helps.

In May I ran the Oxford Town and Gown 10k with another guide runner, my colleague and friend Cathy Thorin. She was a brilliant guide on a course that was narrow and very busy in places. But we were not wearing anything which told runners who we were. My recent run with my Dad suggests that fellow runners and spectators alike respond better to more obvious signs of blindness. 

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