Running Blind – An Eye Opener

There was an abundance of races to choose from today in the race calendar. Something for everyone you might say. If it was distance you wanted, you could have tackled Groomsport Half Marathon. If it was elevation you wanted, you could have got over 3000ft worth at the Seven Sevens in the Mournes. But for me this weekend I went for a different challenge on a scale of its own. Not only testing my abilities to run, it tested the strength of our marriage too.

Good aul parliment buildings at Stormont

So Michael and I set off for Stormont today to take part in the Running Blind 10k. A random name for a race however it is exactly as it seems. Partnered up, you get to experience the challenges faced by both guide runners and those runners who are visually impaired. You spend half the race as a guide for your blindfolded partner and then you swap at half way.  There was a 5k option as well as a 10k, but we are off the opinion that if we are going as far as Belfast, we are going to go for the longer option.

I’ll be honest this is something that I would never do with someone that I didn’t trust. As much as we joked about the potential thoughts of the company who supplied the hundreds of blindfolds to Tony for what they could only assume to be a huge kinky party of some sort, the essence of the race was to fully embrace the inclusive nature of Running as a sport for everyone. Opening opportunities to those who feel that they can’t because of a disability and sharing the experience that both the guides and the visually impaired face in every race.

I wondered why there where so many more pairs opting for the 5k and only 16 pairs going for the 10k. I knew the challenge ahead was going to be tough, the route alone was, let me say…interesting. However I panicked a bit when I realised we where in the minority, did they know something I didn’t?  We were soon off down the Avenue leaving Parliament buildings in the background.

I opted to be the guide for the first half, mostly because I’d know what was coming up when I was blindfolded for the second lap. I know, I know, defeats the whole purpose but still. Lets just say I am a terrible guide. Either that or Michael is a terrible blind person. Of course we run at different speeds but he didn’t get the concept of Siobhan Pace so as he ran I was always behind and unable to effectively navigate so we had a few near misses. I must learn to stop saying “watch” as well, he can’t see anything to watch out for. Amazing how that is your first reaction regardless and you miss the fact it is a pointless command to someone who can’t see.

Michaels cheesey mid race selfie

When we changed over on the flat I knew what lay ahead. The first 500m was grand as it was tarmac but the trail and woodland gravel underfoot would be fun. I found it easier to just run with my eyes closed and that all important 3 mile headblock was lifted and I found my comfortable pace. It did suit this time round that he was faster and his sheer strength meant that I was easily navigated and “dragged along.” We did have a laugh to ourselves when I randomly came out with the words of Irelands newest Olympic medallists , the O’Donovan Brothers “just close your eyes and pull like a dog” as basically that was what was happening; me eyes closed and Michael pulling me along.

It is amazing how your senses come alive when blindfolded. You feel every last bump in the road and when the surfaces changes, its quite unnerving. Kerbs, fences, other people talking, its all amplified. I swear I haven’t held Michael Grants hand that long in my whole life and we’ve been together 16 years with 2 very long labours in the middle so that’s saying something and I wasn’t for ever letting it go either. Hills up and down are a whole new ball game, the downhill that is usually a welcomed break, is more like jumping off a cliff when you can’t see it.

The welcomed voice of the marshall on the final straight that we could remove the blindfolds was lovely. We ran the last 500m side by side and definitely not hand in hand. It was lovely to come across the line to a huge hug from Tony Barclay the lovely gent who organised todays race and the very man who got me around Cookstown Half only 2 weeks ago.

With the medals the kids think have mammy and daddy on them 

I have promised Tony I will run as his guide come the Winter Series in a race or two. However I am sure that Michael will warn him now that that is a terrible idea. I will need to brush up on my guiding skills that’s for sure especially if I am to help him survive the likes of the Castlewellan 10k which I am sure  I definitely can not do blindfolded as I previously thought I could.

Picture of the immense hug at the end with Tony and Michael just interested in the bling

So today I had my eyes opened. Opened to the trust people put in each other, the fact that marriages and friendships can survive a whole array of challenges and that Stormont Estate is a beautiful place to run. Most importantly though I had my eyes opened to the fact that I am very lucky, I am very lucky to only have to look ahead and remember to breathe when it comes to running. The skills required by a guide are those which surpass a normal persons understanding. The language used, the foresight required on route and the ability to read and pace your partner is vital to make it to the finish line. Then of course I had my eyes opened to the challenges that many visually impaired runners face and surpass on a daily basis. Yes I was able to take that blindfold off and return to full sight taking in the sights of the finish line. Many people can’t do that yet they refuse to let that beat them and power on for the same feeling of elation and success as I feel. And to them I take my hat off.

Should you ever think you can’t because you are too slow, can’t run, too old, too heavy, have a disability…Don’t! There is always a way and running is the sort of sport that promotes inclusivity and today proved that at Running Blind. Don’t let the what ifs stop you. Its better to have tried and done than wondering what if.

Thank you Tony for hosting a fantastic event today and we will be back next year again.

 Team MAC ready for the challange ahead





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