This is the tale of one very grateful Visually Impaired Runner who, after reading something he had penned on Facebook, I approached and asked if he would be prepared to tell his story, recounting the amazingly positive experiences he has had running with Black Pear Jogger (BPJ) Guide Runners. These are Dave’s words and I can only thank him for his honesty and fabulous humour. He asked me to proof read it for him, but essentially that is ALL I did. There was no need to change anything else. It would have detracted from what is a lovely, naturally written story that proves we are basically, and very refreshingly, all the same when it comes to exercise.
Tracy Kennish-Ward, Marcomms and Media Liaison
Black Pear Jogger Guide Runners Went the Extra Mile to Get Me Running
Dave Williams, 29th Oct 2018
This is a running redemption story of sorts. It’s also about the generosity of spirit that I have discovered amongst the BPJ. What a remarkable group you are.
It’s a familiar tale. I hated PE. Freezing showers, smelly changing rooms, ill-fitting kit. I dreaded those rainy Monday afternoons trudging around a track whilst some frustrated teacher barked orders that we must “dig in”. Running, if you can call it that, gave me a stitch and made me feel sick. I told myself that anyone good at running was probably on drugs and a bit of a prat. For decades I refused point blank to even run for a bus. The phrase “fun run” sounded like an oxymoron. My philosophy was life’s too short for running around like an idiot.
One day in July I found myself procrastinating on the Web – like you do when you’ve got too much work on. I was half searching for a tandem pilot. I’d enjoyed some cycling in recent years, but was struggling to find people to go on the front of the bike. Deep down, I had a sense of foreboding as my weight was inexorably approaching 100 kg. I was aware, playing sport with my active 9-year-old son, was becoming problematic due to my lack of fitness and, whilst I represent Worcestershire in a blind cricket development league, it’s not the most physically demanding game as totally blind batsmen have a sighted person running on our behalf.
I stumbled across the guide runner database. The page claimed my postcode would find sighted guide runners in my area. I knew blind people ran – wasn’t there that blind girl with asthma I knew from school who ran the London Marathon? As a freelance IT consultant touting for work, I decided to test the database in the hope it would fail spectacularly so I could pitch to improve it. Thus I entered my postcode.
The following week, a bloke called Steve turned up at my house in St. Peters, apparently expecting to take me out for a run! What, this was actually going to happen now? What if this guy dumped me in a ditch? Or what if I had to hold his hand? Yet here he stood in his running gear. It would be rude to shut the door in his face. He’d driven across town, volunteered his evening because he was willing to take a blind guy out for a run. Didn’t he realise I wasn’t a former Paralympian? Hopefully it wouldn’t last too long and I’d never see him again. I had no choice but to pull on my trainers.
We started at the river bridge at Diglis. After a 5 minute warm up walk, Steve said “come on then” and without a moment’s hesitation Steve linked my arm through his and off we went toward the cricket ground. About 200 yards later we staggered to a stop. I was gasping for breath, my chest was heaving, my stomach hurt and I felt like a d*ckhead. Who was I kidding? Running? Get real.
We walked for a bit. Eventually I regained my breath enough to start talking again. Steve suggested we have another try, so we did. It was extremely hard work, but by running and walking and running again we somehow managed to get round the river loop in about 50 mins. I hung my head in shame. What was I playing at? Before I could apologise for wasting Steve‘s time, he asked about my availability for another run. I couldn’t believe it. We were going out again?
Next time out, I still needed to walk lots, but I ran more. Steve gave me GPS-style announcements about distance and direction. He told me about changes in surface and about other runners, walkers and cyclists on our path. He described the sky, the trees and those giraffes that had started to pop up around Worcester. I relaxed slightly. Guiding is about trust and Steve was starting to earn mine.
After our third or fourth run, I began to feel lifted and more alive than I had in ages. We ran around the race course. We ran round the woods at the countryside centre. Suddenly, anything was possible. Maybe, with enough time and effort, I could run even further and I did. On August bank holiday I ran my first unbroken mile. This was a huge turning point. I reckoned if I could run 1 mile, then maybe with enough effort in the future I could run 2 miles and possibly further.
The Couch to 5K programme recommends 3 runs per week. I would need more guides. Steve put the call out on the BPJ Facebook group. Thanks to that introduction I met Bex Jones and Ann Hewlett from The BPJs and Paul Barlow from the Pershore Plum Plodders (PPP). What’s with the fruit thing anyway?
In just a few short weeks of regular runs, the brilliant Bex got me from my first mile with Steve to my first Park Run at Pitchcroft at the end of October. To say I was nervous would be a massive understatement.
About three quarters of the way round my worst fears were realised. I was struggling to carry on. I thought I was going to throw up. I felt so weak I could have cried. We slowed to a walk. I felt I was letting everyone down. My son was making his debut the same day running with Paul Barlow from the PPS’s. Bex and Paul had teamed up so dad and lad could share our first Park Run together. I knew my boy was already waiting to see me finish. I scraped together my remaining strength and as we made the final turn on to the grass, Tsu Law bellowing encouragement across the field, Bex and I somehow sprinted to the end in a time of 31:34. Not a complete disgrace. There were 60 people behind me. But I know I can do much better.
I’ve asked all my guide runners why they do it. Some say that they want to give something back in return for the people who encouraged them to run. Guide running boosts miles for those of you with weekly and monthly distance goals. Many guide runners enjoy the social aspect of having someone else to run with regularly. You also get satisfaction from helping another runner progress. Lots of sighted people say describing the world makes them view it differently. Whatever the reason, it works. I know one blind girl who has completed over 250 Park Runs. Many blind people across the country run every week thanks to the amazing support of guide runners.
How does it work? Every partnership is slightly different. I tend to hold the guide’s elbow, other people use a short tether. The most important thing is you both feel comfortable. Like everyone else, blind runners come in a range of speeds and sizes, so you can pick one that suits you.
Some of your most rewarding runs are when you push outside your comfort zone. As we always need more guides, why not give it a try? You may just surprise yourself. Come and observe guide running in action to see if it’s for you. Talk with Cliff Wood and our other club guide runners to find out why they guide. Ask on a club night or on our Facebook group.
If you see me out pounding the streets of Worcester running like an idiot, please say “hi”. If I’ve got enough breath, I’ll reply.
Finally, I want to extend my sincerest gratitude to all the people who have guided me and the other blind runners in Worcester. Especially Steve Bradley and Bex Jones who have given me so much encouragement. You’ve made such a massive impact on my life in such a short space of time. You are fantastic ambassadors for this club of which I am now a proud member.
We also have a few other regular blind runners who always need guides. Ann Hewlett and Tsu Law have been guiding with AJ for a while now and Lee Greatbatch is now a super fast, speed demon who I believe is a second claim BPJ and has run with and continues to train with a number of both BPJ’s and PPP’s, Steve Bradley in particular.
For more information on who is a qualified guide runner at the club scroll to the LIRF leader section of this page for a list of LIRF leaders and guide runners.
Please note that other runners lead without having had any formal training and, as described above, do so brilliantly. If you are interested in trying guide running, watch this space for an induction session led by AJ.
As Dave also mentions, the guide running team are always looking for new volunteers to help out at the local Blind college on a Wednesday evening, set up by Jo Evans. Speak with her, Cliff or any of the names above for more information.
The following video is a great introduction to Guide Running:
And this link takes you to guide runners’ database: