Kerry talks us through her experience of working with VI runners.
A few years ago, I was emailed by a woman who wanted to learn to run, and she was visually impaired. First thing was to meet up, which proved difficult in itself. We were meant to meet at a athletics stadium and the bus stopped outside the door. I offered to meet her at the bus stop. The bus driver didn’t tell her when they got to the bus stop and the bus just kept going with her on board.
Then the second time we met, I tried to guide her along with leading a group of runners – this didn’t work as I needed eyes in the back of my head and couldn’t give her instructions and the rest of the group at the same time.
We worked it out in the end, and over a period of the next 12 months she went from a zero to hero runner – entering races and loving it!
Since then, I have trained as a Guide Running Tutor for England Athletics and teach groups of runners guiding. So it all worked out ok in the end, but in the beginning there were no other guide runners around that I knew about and no top tips, so I thought I would put together my top tips.
Most important thing is don’t be scared and talk to each other– after all, you are both runners wanting to enjoy your running.
·If you are considering guiding a runner who is blind or visually impaired it is usual to feel apprehensive and doubt that you can do it. Don’t worry! This is understandable and shows that you care and don’t want any accidents or mishaps to happen. It is better to be apprehensive and careful than arrogant and unsafe.
·Be honest with the person and talk to them about any worries or concerns you have about guide running. The guided runner may also have some anxieties.
·It might be helpful to you as a guide runner to ask the person if they have any sight. Most people who are registered blind have some sight, for example, they may be able to see shapes, or might have some light or dark perception.
·Although it is good to observe how other people guide, it is important that you and the guided runner find your own way of working together. Don’t try to guide like someone else – just be yourself.
·Take it easy to start with in terms of time out running, distance and pace.
·Communication is key, keep talking throughout the run.
·Try different methods of ‘connecting’, for example using a running rope with knots at each end, held lightly by each runner. Use ropes of differing materials, lengths and widths until you find the best solution. Don't wrap a tether around your wrist (if either of you fall, you will pull the other person down too).
·Consider the language you use to describe terrain, obstacles or passing other runners for example terrain, bumpy, uneven, rough, obstacles, dog off-lead, over-hanging branch, passing another runner, pass left or pass right, depending on which side you pass the other runner.
·Be consistent with your language for example, distance in meters, angle of a turn, for example, 90 degrees left or 45 degrees right, incline or decline, navigating a curb - 1,2,3 up or 3,2,1 up. Dropped curbs make it much easier to move from the road to the pavement and vice-versa, helpful when running at a fast pace.
·Some runners may find it difficult to direct or be directed, left or right, an alternative is to use ‘my side’ and ‘your side’. When running with a rope, it quickly becomes apparent if a mistake is made as the rope will loosen or tighten.
·Initially, take another runner with you to watch out for traffic, terrain and potential hazards, for example, dogs off-leads and cyclists. Once you are familiar with each other and running routes, the need for another runner may decrease.
·Try to involve other runners in guide running, as the more guide runners available enable visually impaired runners to run while a key guide is unavailable, injured or ill. Encourage potential guide runners to shadow you while you run. This will enable them to observe the techniques and communication between you and the visually impaired runner.
·Try to describe the surroundings when running, this is important when running a new route or during a long race, such as a marathon. Descriptions create a picture for a runner with no or limited eyesight.
·Try running initially on cycle paths, they tend to have smooth surfaces and limited obstacles to navigate. Although you do need to be mindful and observant of hazards such as bollards, pot holes or wet leaves and muddy slip hazards, you also need to be mindful of other cycle path users, cyclists, walkers and dog walkers as they may not expect or anticipate that when they see two runners running side by side that one of them is blind or visually impaired.
·If you are unsure if there is enough space for two runners to run past an obstacle, it is better to stop and walk past rather than risk potential injury.
·If you spot a potential hazard, it is helpful to give the visually impaired runner prior warning, especially if you might have to stop suddenly to avoid for instance, a dog off the leash, cyclists or small children running around.
·All runners fall from time to time. If the guided runner falls or stumbles it goes with the territory! It is always helpful if you both reflect on anything you can or could do to minimise the risk of a fall.
·When running on a hilly route, it is helpful to tell the visually impaired runner that you are approaching a hilly section, approximately how long the hill goes on for. When running up a hill it is helpful to indicate the halfway point and approaching the top of the hill. Windy weather or heavy traffic noise can make communication difficult. In these circumstances, try using short instructions or commands.
·Talk about your running goals for the year and plan in advance the events you would like to participate in. Having a number of runners prepared to guide will enable visually impaired and sighted runners to pursue their goals.
·Although it is easier to run the same few training routes, try to go somewhere completely different on occasion as it is good practice for any race you may wish to enter.
·If possible in a race, try to have run the route on at least one previous occasion. If this is not possible, arrive in plenty of time to practice the first few hundred meters, as the start will be crowded and for this reason, difficult to navigate.
· Prior to racing, try to run with as many people as possible around you from your club, or take part in your club’s 5K time trial to become accustomed to running in crowded conditions, running at a strong pace.
·Be prepared for the unexpected, another runner pulling up short in front of you, or overtaking then slowing down in front of you. Think of quick instructions in these circumstances, agreed between you and the visually impaired runner, for example, stop, slow.
·At the end of the race, the visually impaired runner must cross the finish line in front of the guide runner. If the guide crosses the line first, both runners will be disqualified.
·At the end of the race, you remain in a guiding role. You should guide the visually impaired runner through the finish area.
You can find out more details on the England Athletics website including a guide running workshop - www.englandathletics.org/coaching/development/sight-loss-awareness