It was Global Running Day last week (6th June) so what better time than now to write about being a guide runner at a race for the first time last weekend. I’ve guided before in the UK, but only on recreational runs where the route and terrain was familiar so doing it in a race was a bit nervewracking where there would be thousands of people all trying to run along the same bit of ground.
Being a guide runner is pretty much what it sounds like – guiding someone (with a visual impairment) while running. There’s lots of different types of impairment so the kind of things you need to think about and do can be very different depending on who you’re running with. The basic premise is to keep the runner safe and running, through voice commands, touch and observation. You’ve got to be on the ball at spotting potential hazards, being aware of everything that’s around and what you need to be advising the runner about, and able to give clear instructions about directions, terrain, obstacles and dangers as well as making sure the pace and distance is OK.
It’s a huge amount of faith and trust that someone puts in you, and a bit (a lot!) nervewracking to have that responsibility, but massively rewarding knowing that you’re helping people get out running who couldn’t do it by themselves. Being able to get out and run, whenever I want, is something I don’t have to think about, so it’s the least I can do to give something back and help others. I reckon I’ve got the easy job, they’ve got the tough job; I’ve got top respect for them.
Over here, I guide through the New Zealand branch of the charity Achilles International which has the aim of providing New Zealanders with disabilities the opportunity to participate alongside able-bodied athletes in local, national and international events. The charity enables people to participate in mainstream athletics, promote personal achievement, enhance self-esteem and lower barriers.
In the UK, I guided through a volunteer group after becoming a licensed guide runner. Anyone can support a visually impaired person by guiding them, however England Athletics have a specific Guide Runner Licencing scheme supported by British Blind Sport. This means they can support visually impaired runners by identifying and contacting guides who have the relevant training and welfare checks through the national online database (Find a Guide). Basically, giving you the skills and knowledge and a background check.
Guiding someone through the Christchurch Half Marathon a couple of weeks ago with nearly 4,000 other people was pretty challenging. So many obstacles, different road and weather conditions and lots of people meant some pretty quick thinking was needed on my part and lots of observational skills, as well as hoping that my legs would actually get me round the course in a decent time given I’d not done any ‘training’ as such.
Luckily, they did (despite my best efforts to thwart that by falling off my bike half an hour before the start) and the weather held out for us. I had to channel my inner loud forceful voice to get us both past some of the slower crowds on the tight paths through the park and we stormed over the line in 2:02. Mike A (below) was absolutely awesome, let me off when I got my left and right mixed up a couple of times and the whole run was an absolute pleasure.