Running with and guiding a blind runner

Adventurous Mum asked me to write a guest blog about what it is like to guide and run with a blind person. My name is Phillip Stanley, an average runner and novice triathlete. (Adventurous Mum says: Phil is being modest here as he can run a sub 47 min 10k. And he’s a 2nd Dan Black belt in Tae Kwon Do where we first met!)

Phil and Ben at parkrun

All smiles before parkrun

My friend, Ben Darby lost his sight when he was 3 years old although he does retain a little vision. The first thing to say is that running with Ben is a pleasure and, while it comes with responsibilities, it has many benefits for me. Ben is approaching his mid-30s and I am moving too quickly towards my mid-50s. He is stronger and faster – and has run all distances including two marathons.

Ben estimates that through training and races he’s had 30+ guides, including a number of attractive ladies – what an operator! Ben likes running with me because he trusts that I will keep him safe and give him the space and support to do what he loves most doing – running. Building that level of trust, helped by constant communication provides the foundations of guiding.

We are both members of Run Wirral, and use routes very familiar to Ben so he has computed road layouts and potential hazards. My job is to remind him of kerbsides, wheelie bins, overhanging branches, lamp posts, animals, and what people are doing around him. He holds onto my elbow so that as necessary I can pull him the right direction (well most of the time). Along the way I describe the route or street name. This is vital when it is dark.

At races, his main worry is making sure that we meet in good time so that he can drop off his bag, go to the toilet and get into the runners’ corral. I let him know when we are about to go and as we approach the start line to start his watch. He obsesses about times like most runners.

Phil and Ben at Liverpool HM

Phil and Ben at mile 9 of the Liverpool Half Marathon

The first part of any race is to find space and get into a rhythm, and of course it is crowded, so we could take about 10 minutes to get settled. Apart from alerting Ben to any potential dangers, I describe landmarks we pass or people we know just to say hello. We are easily recognisable with our names on the front of our vests along with Ben’s ‘Blind Runner’. We hear lots of encouraging remarks, and Ben laughs when people say how wonderful it is he can run – little knowing how fast he can be.

Apart from the business end of being a guide, the friendship has developed by the things we talk about when we are running. Ben is a warm, caring person but has a mischievous sense of humour. We cover everything from sports; family; the people we know; or what we have been up to in the past week. Since I love the sound of my voice, Ben listens patiently to my long stories which go off on tangents – and my stressful day at work. It’s good to share stuff and the time passes. You really get to know a person when running with them. As we approach the finishing line and I see space, it’s like letting a dog off the lead as he sprints to the finish – and that lad can run quickly.

Ben and I have made a lot of friends through running. We are a community. He has helped me to get stronger and his encouragement has meant I have achieved some great times. He keeps me going when I feel tired, as pictures of us show – him, smiling, happy to be running; me grimacing, digging in at times. What did I say earlier? There are mutual benefits to this relationship. I am the type of runner who thrives better on reacting to external stimuli and as I run past scenery, fellow runners or act as a guide, I perform better.

In my life, I meet negative people who moan about things. I would like to introduce them to Ben to show how he has to overcome barriers every day. He is happy when he can run and I am happy to guide him. Long may it continue – and hopefully more PBs along the way.

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