Blind faith

Louise Simpson loves to run. She challenges herself over 5K, 10K and half marathon distances and completed her first marathon in London this year. Louise races most weekends, often on consecutive days and is happy to travel hundreds of miles to an event. She doesn’t do this for PBs or to fulfil a charity challenge. She does it because she’s blind: and guided races are the only way she can run regularly.

I met Louise in March when she applied to run the Croydon Half Marathon, organised by my club Striders of Croydon.

I’m a firm believer that running is about the time you have rather than the time you do, so I thought this would be an interesting experience – I wasn’t wrong!

TRIAL RUN
I met Louise for a trial run a couple of weeks before the Croydon Half. I was nervous before meeting her as we had only exchanged a few emails and texts and spoken just the once. I needn’t have worried: she was pretty relaxed and why wouldn’t she be? This was my first time as a guide runner but she runs with new guides every week.

Louise, 30, has a condition called Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP, believed to be caused by being given too much oxygen at birth. Louise started playing sport at an early age, taking part in swimming and athletics competitions when she attended New College Worcester, where she also started the sport of Goalball. She played in her first international Goalball tournament in Denmark in 1996 and then competed for Team GB many more times. ‘I discovered my love of running in 2008 when a

friend training for the British 10K in aid of Guide Dogs for the Blind asked me to join him,’ says Louise. ‘It was the first time I’d considered running but I caught the bug and haven’t stopped since.’

Louise runs with Southend AC
and is a big fan of parkrun – having completed 73 of them. While Southend is closer to home, she finds it easier to get to London – as with all of her running, public transport can make or break Louise’s race plans.

‘I usually have different guides for each parkrun, but sometimes have the same guide, which means I’ve got more chance of a quick time, as they’re used to guiding,’ says Louise who set a 24:05 minute parkrun PB in April at Mile End. ‘When it comes to races further afield I will have a different guide for each event. My most recent half marathons have been as far apart as Croydon and Blackpool, Berkhamsted and South Yorkshire so it’s unrealistic to think any guides will be happy to travel halfway across the country each weekend to accompany me!’

SETTING OUT
I was anxious on the morning of the Croydon Half. Having made the decision to guide Louise I felt a certain responsibility to ensure her race plan came together. We lined up at the back – her preferred start point away from the crush – and fell into step easily with Louise linking her left arm through my right.

We took it steadily and let the bulk of the runners stream ahead. My usual race position is somewhere in the middle of it all, so it felt odd to let them go. But I reminded myself this was not my race, this was Louise’s.

I found out early on how much information Louise wanted. Obviously she wanted to know about ‘steps down’ and ‘steps up’ as we navigated kerbs. To prepare for a corner I would say ‘left left’ or ‘right right’ so she knew we were turning. She also wanted to know if there were any dogs nearby. But she didn’t want to know our time, pace or distance – although I couldn’t resist telling her when we reached halfway, the final mile and the 200m.

I had to anticipate everything much earlier than when running alone from navigating trees to warning other runners and pedestrians of our approach running two abreast. I was acutely aware of everything around me and didn’t manage to ‘switch off’ or hit a state of flow as I would normally expect to do on a longer road run.

NO QUITTER
Louise was carrying an injury for the Croydon Half and at halfway I asked if she wanted to stop. ‘I’ve never
had DNF against my name and I’m not going to start today,’ was her response. Fair enough. She dug deep and we carried on. At the end she admitted the temptation was strong to cut the run short but she is no quitter. We finished to great applause and with great relief. I felt proud to have guided Louise safely. It’s not easy adapting your running style to suit another’s, but it is a rewarding experience.

GUIDE TO BEING A GUIDE

  • Establish your partner’s goals in advance.
  • Be sure you can run the distance and their race pace comfortably.
    Have a trial run – it takes just a few miles to establish a rapport for race day.
  • Don’t be shy – ask them what they want.
  • Ensure you’re fit and not injured – guide running can exacerbate your own problems.
    Find out more about being a guide runner at www. runengland.org or contact Louise at goalballer@gmail.com

 

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