Category: Running Blind

I didn’t sign up to guide oversized Hippos

I didn’t sign up to guide oversized Hippos

So you are going to run Newry 10k dressed as Henry the Hippo…this I’ve got to see.

It’s not like Michael to have a random idea involving dressing up and let’s face it I married him in the hope he would balance out my crazy. Always the sensible one in the marriage even the suggestion of this to raise money for Cash 4 Kids caught me off guard.
As always I’m such a supportive wife and collected the suit and took the pictures however it was 24hrs before the event that the bombshell was landed on me.

“I can’t see out it”

So there was me on Saturday, getting my head around the fact I’d to guide run with him dressed as a hippo. When I completed my guide running training in the view of raising awareness of inclusion and getting visually impaired runners out there, I didn’t think inclusion would extend to oversized hippos, especially my husband dressed up as one. We don’t run well together…ever. My first 10k I told him at 7k to bog off and leave me alone as his form of encouragement enraged me. At Running Blind I nearly killed him more than once you can read about it here: Running Blind – An Eye Opener. So my confidence wasn’t high that the marriage would make it through this latest challange.

So here we are before hand. Happily ignorant to the 6.2 mile ahead of us. I donned the tutu as if he was going to look an eejit, I might as well join him.

I had so many worries. Primarily the fact he could easily over heat in that outfit was at the forefront of my mind. Usually a 50min 10ker he knew he had a big drop in pace required and when it comes to slow and steady, I’m your woman. I told him it would be more near 1.15 factoring in some breaks to let him breathe and drink.

As we set off the kids in the street loved it. Who doesn’t want to high five a huge Hippo. The adults too just loved seeing the familiar face of a childhood icon again. On the lap of the town we had our first and ONLY mishap where I told him to wave right and he turned right instead and went straight into a cone but didn’t fall.  As we entered into the second mile, we were going strong and hit the Tow Path where we knew the only people we would see where the other runners.

Even the Psni where going to lock him up for his random idea.

It was warm, although the sun was firmly behind the clouds, I was feeling the heat. Yet I was tied to Michael in the Hippo suit, tied together by the strap of the child’s Trunki skilfully looped so he could be guided safely. I kept checking was he ok and reminding him to slow down. The leaders in the 10k race passed, with local NAC member David O’Flaherty in 1st and the main man himself Dermot Mathers in second. We got the look of “what the hell are you two at” from him as he cruised down the familiar tow path that he runs a few times a week. I don’t think anything I do now, surprises him.

With the leaders coming our way it wasn’t long until the rest of the 10k runners came past. Shouts of support, high fives, laughs and giggles from the runners made what could have been a lonely part of the race more fun. Michael did offer them at times to swap but there was no takers. At 3.5 mile we had the well needed water stop. I knew I was making good time in general and when Michael took the head off for a drink, the sweat was running off him, he had to take his glasses off as it was steaming up inside and the buff he was using as a sweat band was wringing.

The next 2.5 mile was going to be hot but we were homeward bound. By now we had a steady stream of half marathoners passing us. Many familiar faces and continued support. On the return leg we met Peter for a selfie, wouldn’t be a race for me if I didn’t get the craic with him!

As we came off the towpath with under a mile to go, Michael took a breather as we walked for a minute. After all the rest of the race was going to be amongst the eyes of the public so we had to at least let on we were loving life!  The fact of the matter was, I was feeling great as he melted to death in the hippo suit. We came into the final half mile with Michael waving and giving thumbs up to everyone about. Turning onto Hill Street, the announcer had spotted us and the cheers where mighty. Not only from the spectators but the fellow runners who had finished and had passed us on the way.

We clocked 1.11.24 – lets face it, not to shabby for me and a hippo.

With Gillian Fitzpatrick Chair of the Council, Fiona Valentine from Newry Branch Ulster Bank and my side kick always willing to support the Grant madness without question…Caitriona. 

After a quick breather and meeting up with Caitriona and Fiona who had been shaking buckets for change and showing flawless support of Michaels endeavour, the head was put back on and Michael kindly posed for photos with runners and children. I have to admit I was taken back by the way he interacted with the crowd, I knew he couldn’t see who he was shaking hands with or who was in front of him, high fiving little babies, talking to the toddlers and letting wee kids kick him. Though what stood out for me was the fact there was a family with a child with special needs and he didn’t think twice when the girl asked for a hug. He then had to hug the whole family including the dad. Admirable and made that families day.  I guess that there are a lot of things that the money he has raised will go to help and support within the Cash for Kids charity however sometimes its just the simple things like a hug or taking time to listen a child that is priceless and something money can’t buy.

On the marriage front; we are still together, it was actually a really enjoyable outing as I couldn’t hear what he was saying so we didn’t fall out. It was great practice for guiding Tony next week at Derry marathon and hey it was a comfortable 10k for me and gives me hope that the past 6 months of big miles hasn’t totally ruined the smaller run, so after Derry I might give the shorter races a bash again before jumping back into marathon training.

As always everyone, make sure you have voted this week for Rock’n’Run idol. Brining a whole new level of inclusion into my journey and Michael being inspirational (and absolutely crazy) this week, it would be lovely to represent Ireland in Las Vegas.



Running Blind – An Eye Opener

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