Guide Running: Can You Make a Difference?

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Most experienced runners will agree that very few things come close to that feeling of exhilaration after a great run. The thrill of getting out there, challenging yourself both physically and mentally, and then reaping the benefits of it really is one of the great joys of life. Yet it’s taken for granted by so many. What if going for a run wasn’t so easy? What if a visual impairment made it impossible for you to get out there and do what you love? Yet this is a reality for so many blind runners. They rely completely on the willingness and dedication of sighted runners to help them get out there and run.

Eager to get involved and help? Here’s everything you need to know about guide running.

DSC03274” by Stuart Grout. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

First of all, what exactly is expected of a guide runner? Well, a guide runner basically acts as the eyes of their visually impaired team mate, and must therefore provide constant feedback and guidance on what is going on around them. The blind runner and guide is usually connected via a short tether rope, and the guide runner provides voice cues to keep the blind runner safe and inform him/her of what’s happening.

According to the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) and Michael Lloyd, blind runner and the driving force behind BlindRunner, a good guide runner will have the following qualities:

  • Be fit enough to conquer the distance at hand and have enough extra energy to pay proper attention to the surrounds
  • Be a slightly stronger runner than his/her visually impaired team mate
  • Be alert
  • Be safety-conscious and have good judgement
  • Constantly think about not only their own running, but also that of their visually impaired team mate
  • Be comfortable with running and talking at the same time
  • Be organised and punctual

Since the blind athlete and guide runner will generally also spend a lot of time together for both training and racing, it’s a good idea to find someone that you get along with really well.

Marseille-Cassis par les collines 2008 (50)” by akunamatata. Licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

And what kind of feedback does the guide runner provide en route? Basically information on the following, among other things:

  • Upcoming changes in direction
  • Upcoming changes in terrain
  • Detail on what is being approached, e.g. traffic lights, groups of people, obstacles, etc.
  • When to run in single file
  • Notes on things of interest along the route

Voice commands should be very specific and given timeously. General commands like “watch out!” or “be careful!” mean absolutely nothing to the blind runner and should be avoided. Remember that he or she is already being extremely careful! Phrases like “curb up”, “curb down” or “the ground is a little rocky here” are much more helpful. Also remember to convey actions before info, e.g. say “move left, water table up ahead” instead of the other way around. Detailed guidelines on how to use voice commands during a guide run can be found here and here.

Always keep in mind that your role will be to keep your running partner safe and out of harm’s way before, during and after a race or run.  It will therefore be a good idea to also sit down before your first outing together to get to know each other and try to work out what will best work for both of you.

Also keep in mind that the pace is usually set by the blind athlete, unless discussed and agreed otherwise.

IMGP1710” by Matt Buck. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Keen to get involved? Do you think you have what it takes to make a good running guide? A good place to start would be to contact your local branch of Achilles International. This non-profit organisation was founded in 1983 and today has chapters and members in more than 65 locations in the USA and abroad. Achilles International basically provides athletes with disabilities a community of support by bringing together able-bodied volunteer athletes and athletes with disabilities to train and race together in a supportive environment. With specialized programs for children, teens, adults and veterans, Achilles International aims to bring hope, inspiration and the joys of achievement to all.

Prospective volunteers can apply to become a part of the Achilles International family here. And even if you don’t initially feel up to or equipped for accompanying a visually impaired team mate during a race, there are plenty of other ways to get involved, including:

  • Helping disabled runners get proficient with special equipment
  • Participating in weekly or bi-weekly workouts
  • Lending a hand with race-day logistics

IMGP1599” by Matt Buck. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

So whether you jump in and act as a running guide during a race, or simply lend a hand with race-day logistics, the feedback from the field is unanimous. Being a part of a visually impaired runner’s journey is extremely rewarding in so many different ways. Apart from being inspired to reach new heights of your own, you will discover a sense of friendship, encouragement and community unlike any other.

So give it some thought and sign up if you meet the criteria. Not only will you help get someone out there to enjoy the thrill and benefits of running, but you are almost guaranteed to also benefit from it in a host of unexpected ways.

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