This Saturday I took part in a RunThrough 5k race in Victoria Park, as a sighted guide runner for my friend Lynn, who is a visually impaired (VI) runner. This is the third time we have raced together this year, with the first time being the fantastic Adidas 1hr city race back in April. RunThrough had yet again organised a brilliant event, a lively and fun atmosphere on a chilly November morning, with several hundred runners completing anywhere from 5k, 10k or half marathon distance.
I remember first becoming aware of VI athletics and guide running at the 2012 London Paralympic games, after watching some fantastic sprinting events in the Olympic stadium, but it wasn’t until this year that I felt ready to give it a try myself. After some initial research, I got myself set up on a few VI running Facebook groups, and before too long I had some requests coming in, and found a couple of matches!
Guide running always makes me suddenly aware of just how many hazards there are to avoid that sighted runners take for granted! I’m always scanning ahead for every pothole, kerb drop or change in terrain that could cause someone to trip over, and try to gently steer around them if possible. In large races there is the added issue of other runners on the course, and overtaking/being passed can be a bit tricky sometimes when you are running side-by-side and taking up most of the path. Luckily, other runners are always very accomodating when they see a VI runner and guide, and we haven’t had any collisions yet!
I’m also always hugely impressed with the VI runners and the trust they put in their guides. As part of a training exercise, I once tried running whilst blindfolded and being led by a guide, and I found it quite terrifying!
For anyone who is interested in becoming a guide runner, there are some great resources and information on the England Athletics website here. EA run an official guide runner training and licensing programme which I hope to complete next year, and allows people to be registered on the national Find a Guide database, however it is completely fine to be a guide runner in an informal capacity without this. You don’t need any special qualifications to take up guide running, just common sense and awareness of your surroundings, good communication, and an ability to run at a steady pace for the set distance. There are VI runners of all speeds and abilities looking for guides, so you definitely don’t need to be a super fast runner yourself! I had no practical experience of guide running at all the first time I ran with Lynn, but she showed me the ropes (literally – as we run with a short tether rope between us!), and I found it really easy to get the hang of.
I would recommend to anyone starting out, to have a search on Facebook for VI running groups in your local area, as this could be a great way to make connections. Also, you could ask around at your local parkrun, making the run directors aware that you would be willing to help out as a guide runner if they get any enquiries for help. Good luck, and I’d love to hear from anyone else guide running out there or interested in giving it a try!