I've had guide running on my mind for a while and more recently when I saw Mr.K had been out with a VI runner at local 10k events. So, I looked in to how to get some training, assuming this is what everybody does if they want to be a VI running guide. The obvious place to look was the England Athletics website as I have also quite recently done their LiRF course, which was paid for by my running club.
EA run some courses in areas where they think there is a shortage of guide runners, so, if you live in an area with lots of registered guides you might find courses are thin on the ground or you have to travel to find one. Luckily I managed to book myself on a VI Awareness and Guide Running course in Oxford on a Friday in June.
The course was at Magdalen College School in what looked like a small drama classroom, with some practical work outside in tennis courts. The course lasted 2 hours and consisted of learning about visual impairment in all its forms, how to talk to visually impaired people, watching a video on guide running and how to guide a runner. To learn about visual impairment we were given lots of different kinds of goggles painted, marked or screened off to give an impression of different kinds of VI. I tried some that were shaded white so I could see big changes in light - I could tell if I was near the window or in a dark corner of the room, but little else - and another which gave me tunnel vision, which I could work around, but needed a lot of scanning around to see my surroundings. As far as talking to visually impaired people is concerned, it was basically about talking to your VI runner about what they could see and how they wanted to go about running with you and also not being worried about the language you use. So it's not politically incorrect to use the word "see".
We then went outside to pair up to have a go at guiding a runner around the tennis courts. They had spread bins around the courts as obstacles and left gates open for us to negotiate. Guiding was hard to begin with, especially getting into a rhythm with my partner, but we were soon jogging around the courts. Still, it was easy to forget to keep talking and describing every detail of the terrain, from changes in surface and gradient, as well as turns and obstacles. Being guided, wearing a blindfold, was also very disorientating, possibly worse for a sighted person to be suddenly made blind, in the sense that I found myself feeling a bit dizzy and I couldn't run in a straight line and needed to be pulled back on course. After a while we managed to get in step and run in a more natural way, matching my right footfall to my partner's left.
So, having done the course I am now an EA licensed Guide Runner and insured to go out and trip over/run with visually impaired runners. I've also been signed up to the Basingstoke Guide Runners facebook group. It wasn't long after signing up that I had my first opportunity to guide a VI runner. Now, it would be usual to shadow a guide and runner to get some more experience of how it's done, but when I signed up there was just me available.
I got to Basingstoke parkrun early and met Tony at his taxi by the event car park, helped get him ready and stored his bag away safely, before heading over to the event briefing. I had done Basingstoke parkrun before, so I knew the course a little, but it had changed quite a bit since I last did it in 2011. With increasing numbers, it now starts on an open grass field, rather than a much narrower path. I fact all the narrow twisty paths they used to run on have been taken out to leave wide tarmac paths or open grass fields over the first half of a lap, which is ideal for letting the runners spread out.
We set off near the back of the field and immediately had a few walkers to get by, but were soon jogging along at a steady 12 minute/mile pace. The wide smooth paths meant we could mostly chat rather than have me describe the terrain all the time and for the most part even the transitions between grass and tarmac were easy and we only had one slight wobble coming off the path at the end of lap 1. Tony is very well known at Basingstoke, so there were lots of shouts from people around the course including all the volunteers, faster runners overtaking us near the end of our first lap, and people just out in the park.
We gradually picked the pace up over the second lap finishing in 38:15 and like a proper sprint guide I made sure Tony crossed the line just ahead of me and, after scanning barcodes we stayed near finish to cheer in the last runners and chat with some of the volunteers before heading home.
Basingstoke parkrun was the perfect gentle introduction to guide running, it being such a hazard free course, so my pre-run nerves weren't really necessary. Tony is a nice guy and quite chatty as well so it was nice to have such an easy course to run. I'm looking forward to some more guide running and might get to do Yateley 10k in August with Tony and possibly more parkruns with him and other runners as another group of guide runners is planning to set up at Prospect parkrun. As it's only been a couple of weeks since being on the EA course my email asking to sign up on the Find a Guide database hasn't come through yet, but I'm happy to have had my first opportunity to guide a VI runner so soon. Even better, we didn't fall over or run into a tree!