Running Blind Hints & Tips

The following information was covered in episode 4 of TBSP which can be found at blindsportpodcast.com/4 and outlines a few hints and tips on the topic of running blind including:

• Hints for a Guide Runner
• Hints for a Blind Runner
• Hints for a Partially Sighted Runner
• Grips and Tethers

Being blind or having partial vision does not need to stop you from enjoying running as a sport, exercise or recreational activity. You may need to change how you do it, but there is definitely no reason that lack of sight needs to stop you from being active.

There are blind people all over the world doing all sorts of running from:
• Jogging around their neighbourhood.
• Training for events such as 5km, 10km, half marathons, full marathons and even ultra-marathons.
• Various distances as part of a multi-sport event such as triathlon, biathlon or extreme multi-sport events.
• Sprinting and middle distance running around an athletics track.
• Cross-country or trail running.
• On the treadmill at home or at the gym.
• Aqua-jogging or deep water running in a pool.

The information mentioned here is based around running, but a lot of the concepts mentioned can be used for walking also.

Over my few years of running I have been guided by some great people. Some who were great guides and some that were not naturally skilled for guiding.

I have slowly compiled some concepts that work well for me as far as what I require from a guide as well as some that work for others.

Episode 4 of TBSP, as well as this webpage will cover a few hints and tips that I have found useful for blind runners as well as running guides to consider.

This is not meant to be an absolute rule book as there is no best way to guide or be guided so take on, add to and ignore as you feel fit from the following.

It takes a special type of person to guide a blind runner as not only do they have to think about their own running, but they must be the eyes for somebody else who is depending on them to feedback via voice, gesture or body movement what is going on. Anyone who takes this on and does it well will be fit, alert and slightly out of their mind. It’s one thing to be able to guide while walking, but running is a whole new ball-game and 42.2km’s is a long way if you are planning to do a full marathon.

There are three main things to consider when planning to guide or be guided. They are communication, communication and communication.

Like any partnership that needs to work well together you both need to work together as a team.

Be open and ask questions. Discuss what each of you require from the other.

For the Guide

First of all, thanks for stepping up and offering your time and abilities to guide a blind person, or to at least investigate the idea.

Strangely enough, one of the most popular questions that I get is “Right, I’m keen to be a guide for a blind person, now where can I find one”?

Some ways to connect with blind runners is to contact your local blindness agency or organisation. Most of these will have staff or volunteers who focus on sports and recreation for their clients.

Contact a local running group or club as they may have blind members or know of some.

Do a search on social networks as there are various blindness specific groups or broader disability groups that require guide runners.

Contact the likes of Achilles International who support runners to do various events with the big one being the ING New York City Marathon.

Or even just ask a blind person that you see somewhere about where they can direct you as they probably have a better local knowledge of where to start. Blindy’s are great at telling you where to go. (Smile)

So now you have found a runner. Some questions that you may want to ask the runner before you start may be:

• What is your past history/experience with running?
• How much verbal feedback/talking do you like?
• What guiding method do you like to use. Tether rope, hold hands, solid cane, etc?
• What side do you prefer to run on?
• What is your comfortable running speed?
• How much can you actually see?
• Any special things that I need to know?

The first thing to be mindful of is that you as the guide need to be aware of what is ahead of both yourself and the blind runner and get use to the amount of ground width that is required. It’s a bit like adjusting from riding a bike to driving a bus. Just because you will fit through a gap does not necessarily mean that you both will.

Start by walking rather than blasting straight into a run to get comfortable with the concept of guiding or being guided. This will give you a chance to get the hang of things at a slower pace. The way you prepare for obstacles mentally is a whole lot different at a faster speed. Even the concept of speaking directional prompts is different than normal and at first can feel unnatural to many.

Start in a wide environment such as a field or beach rather than a narrow area such as a path or sidewalk. Again this gives you a chance to get familiar with this new concept or person.

To get a better understanding of being guided as a blind runner you could always have a go yourself by using a blindfold, find a safe environment to run such as a field, beach or quiet road or track and ask somebody to guide you for a while.

This could be quite overwhelming for some at first, so start with a walk so you can give your other senses a chance to adjust.

You may find that you are now much more aware of:
• The sound of your surroundings. For example wind, traffic, people, the sound differences as you pass a wall or building compared to an open area, a loud environment compared to a quiet place.
• What you are feeling through your feet. Smooth surfaces, bumps or dips, uneven ground such as stones, cracks in the concrete or different cambers.
• What words your guide is using.
• How your running style has changed or how your foot placement has changed. Are you running slower than normal, are you nervously placing each step, are you still running tall or are you dragging your butt?
• Are you still talking as much now that you are blindfolded?

If you as a potential guide are nervous about the whole guiding thing, then you may find it useful at first to run alongside a runner and their guide to see first-hand how it works, ask questions or even take over the guiding for a while.

A good guide is a confident guide. As a blind runner, I would much rather run slowly with a confident guide than run fast with a nervous guide.

Precise, clear and timely notifications are safer, faster and much more reassuring for the blind runner. I cannot reiterate this strongly enough.

When running on the foot path/sidewalk, you may find it better to have the guide to run on the road side of the foot path as they can judge the driveway dips better.

When speaking commands, give at least 3 steps notice of the event so as to give prior warning. In some instances a count can be useful. For example: Curb down, in 3, 2, 1, down. You may become fairly coordinated where just an up or down at the right times is all that you require. For example “curb up” “curb down”.

When needing to move in the direction of the runner, push the arm of the runner as well as speak the direction. When needing to move in your direction, pull on the tether rope or arm as well as speak the direction.

Speak what is being approached. For example: shops ahead, narrowing foot path, traffic lights, obstacles, etc.

State any change of terrain. For example going on to grass, sand, metal road, puddle, foot path, road, etc.

In situations where you need to run in single file, the runner can tuck in behind the guide and let them lead first. Just say something like �We need to get through a narrow gap here, tuck in behind�. Do not push the runner in front and push them through.

Some voice commands to use:
• Left/Right � when direction changes are needed.
• Curb up/Curb down – When approaching curbs.
• Duck – Followed by why. For example: Trees. Remember to state when it is OK to stand straight again because you look like a dork running like a hunchback for no reason.
• Uneven ground – Followed by the reason and the extent. For example: Uneven ground, road works, for about 10 feet.
• Speed humps/Judder bar � a common hazard in many areas. Boo Judder bars.

The runner may not expect a running commentary of everything that you can see, but things of interest are cool. Remember to ask how much information is enough and how much is too much.

It may take a few runs to get use to a lot of this, but it is important to remember that a great guide will be relaxed, alert, open and a team player.

For the Runner

Getting new guides

Some ways to connect with a Guide is to contact your local blindness agency or organisation. Most of these will have staff or volunteers who focus on sports and recreation for their clients.

Contact a local running group or club as they may have blind members or know of some or be able to ask their members if anyone would be interested in assisting.

Do a search on social networks as there are various blindness specific groups or broader disability groups that require guide runners.

Contact the likes of Achilles International who support runners to do various events with the big one being the ING New York City Marathon.

If you get really stuck, put an advert in your local newspaper for Guide Runner Wanted. You would be amazed how well this works.

If you are planning to run frequently then it is a good idea to find more than one Guide. This way you lower the risk of being without a Guide when you want to run. It can be great to run with multiple Guides to share ideas, share the load on longer runs and generally have fun as a running group.

Don’t be afraid of getting to many Guides. You can always make a running schedule/timetable of the days and distances that you want to run and then work with your team of Guides to see who can do what.

So now you have found a Guide. Some questions that you may want to ask the new Guide before you start may be:
• What experience have you had being a guide runner?
• How tall are you? Stand next to your guide and notice the height differences between your elbow joints. This may determine how freely you can both run. For example, if you are short and you are holding the elbow of a really tall guide, then your arm will be held way up in the air. So you may find that using a tether rope works better for you.
• What is your comfortable running speed?
• How far and how often can you run?
• Where should we run, can you pick me up or can I meet you there?

Look after your Guides. These people are giving up their time and energy to assist you. Sure they want to do this and get satisfaction doing so, but it always pays to be mindful of a few basics.

Say Thanks. It’s just a little thing but it goes a long way. Even more so when you are tired or wet and stinky at the end of a run.

You may like to offer to buy your Guide a coffee or drink as a small appreciation of their efforts.

If they are driving you to and from your runs, you may like to offer some gas money or give them a petrol voucher.

If you are entering an event, contact the organisers and see if your Guide can run for free or even pay the entry fee yourself.

These are just ideas, but please remember Guides, we do very much appreciate what you do.

For the low vision runner.

If you are partially sighted and still have a reasonable level of usable vision, then here are a few tricks that you may be able to use to allow you to run without a tether or even without a guide runner.

If you can follow a person running in front of you, then maybe get them to wear a brightly coloured shirt or a top with bold markings that you find easy to see. X marks the spot. Ask a friend if they would mind running in a bright pink chicken suit. It will be easier to see as well as give you something to laugh about. This can be useful if you still have OK vision through a small field of sight.

Run in an open safe area such as a beach or sports field where there are probably less obstacles to crash into and where the ground is smooth. Some quiet country roads may be good, but obviously be aware that you are playing in the domain of the motor vehicle.

Check out any local athletics tracks as many of these have well marked running lanes which you may be able to see sufficiently enough to run at the pace that you want either unassisted or with a support runner.

You may feel confident running around familiar areas such as your local neighbourhood where you may know every step of the chosen route. Obviously this still has its potential issues, but that’s your call. Remember things like rubbish collection days as this will mean the footpath or sidewalk may be cluttered with bags, bins or trashcans and we don’t need any tackling practice during a run, do we?

Pick a time of day that most suits. Rush-hour when road and foot traffic is heavier may not be the best idea.

Be aware of the weather conditions. Pick a day that suits your vision. Too bright or too dark can change everything.

The sound of your surroundings changes when there is wind or when it is wet. This can dramatically mess with your spacial perception and how, or at what speed that you perceive or react to an obstacle or event. “Yeah, I did hear that bus, but just before it hit me”.

For many of us there comes a point where you just have to come to the conclusion that running alone, outdoors and unassisted is no longer a good idea because your vision is not reliable enough to ensure your safety. Also how do you think a car driver would feel after running you down as a blind runner because you mistook their car for a tree? Oops!?

At that stage you may want to consider using a guide runner, a treadmill or even aqua-jogging as other options to allow you to remain running.

Having some vision, but not enough to run unguided can have its issues as you still naturally react to what you think you are seeing and this is not always correct. For example you may jump over shadows, misjudge distances or step over obstacles like road markings.

If this is the case, you may find that if you close your eyes or wear dark sunglasses to limit your vision further when running with a guide, that you actually keep a better line. This may not always be the case, but it might be worth a try.

Grips and Tethers

Depending on the type of running that you are doing and who your guide is, you may use various methods of grips or tethers.

Direct Contact – Some people prefer direct contact when being guided by either holding your guide by the hand, wrist or elbow.

Solid Cane – Where the guide runs in front of the runner and they both hold the end of a solid cane or stick. This can work well in narrow environments such as off-road tracks or in busy places like running events. The runner can get quite a lot of information from the cane as the guide changes direction, pace and ups and downs. The cane also keeps the runner at a fixed distance behind the guide. So if you have just had an argument, get a really long cane.

Waste Rope – Looping a rope three times around the waste of the guide can provide a method of guiding in more extreme environments such as off-road goat track terrain where every step matters. It means that the runner has a grip of a rope next to the hip of the guide so every movement can be felt. This is not the most comfortable way of running as the runner will predominantly be running leaning forward, but it can work better for certain situations. The idea of three loops around the waste is so the guide is not strangled by one. The runner can change between the tightened loop and a looser loop.

Running with a tether – Where both the Guide and Runner hold a tether to remain connected. The tether may consist of a specifically designed rope to a cord, string, shoelace, hand towel, strap or ribbon.

I use a 1 metre length of rope. I tie a loop at each end big enough to get your hand through easily. I also tie a knot in the centre as an additional grip point. This means when the rope is tied it would probably be about 400mm long. The central section of rope between the two loops would be about 100-150mm depending on the size of the loops. This is long enough to allow arm movement, but short enough to be responsive to direction changes.

Rope is better than a stretchy bungee cord as it gives instant feedback where as a bungee takes time to react. If you need to move in a certain direction, then you need to know now and not when the stretchy cord catches up. A rope keeps you at a constant distance from each other.

If you are planning to enter events, then getting a brightly coloured rope can be more visible to runners behind you that try to run between the guide and the runner. If this happens, then just lift your arms. The human clothesline trick stops them every time. I have had times when I have been running wearing a shirt with Blind Runner plastered in large print on my back, my guide with Guide Runner on his and had a bright red tether rope and still had people attempt to run between us. What the…? Who is the blind one here?

Just loop your fingers through the loop rather than sliding the loop right around your wrist. This is because some guides are clumsy and why should we hit the dirt because they trip up. LOL!

When in open areas the full length of the tether can be used so we both have free arm movement, but when we need to run close then hold it in almost wrist to wrist. This allows you to run fore-arm to fore-arm. This can provide an amazing amount of natural feedback from the guide without saying a word.

For faster or longer runs, you may want to try synchronising the stride and arm swing of both the guide and runner. Running stiff-armed can get pretty tiring after a while.

If you decide to use a tether rope, string or strap, make sure that you make or obtain more than one. That way you can carry a spare (attached to your bum bag/fanny-pack or tucked into your shorts) should you drop one or forget to bring it. Put spares in your sports bag, your guide’s car, in your draw at work etc just in case you misplace your favourite and you are ready to go.

I hope this podcast and webpage has been useful. I wish you all the best with your running.

Thanks for visiting “The Blind Sport Podcast”.

All of the above information is covered in episode 4 released October 2013. blindsportpodcast.com/4

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