For those who are wondering how a visually challenged person can run a marathon, here is the answer: they do so by having a guide runner, explains Radhika Meganathan
In April 2017, Bangalore-based businessman Sagar Baheti completed the 121st Boston Marathon race and became the first visually impaired Indian to do so.
Supported by the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, the 31-year-old Baheti was already an accomplished sportsman in India when he travelled to USA to specifically participate in what’s known as one of toughest marathons in the world. As he crossed the finish line, onlookers cheered equally for his old college friend and Boston resident Devika Narain Aerts, who ran beside him.
But she was not a fellow competitor. She was his guide runner, someone who donates their time, talent and running spirit so that a visually impaired person can also participate in a race.
If you are vision impaired and want to run:
- Welcome to the world of running! A new and invigorating experience awaits you, especially if you have already found a guide runner. Your guide runner will help you get trained in different routes, terrains and techniques, starting from basic to advanced, as per your learning curve.
- There has to be absolute trust between you and your guide runner and that’s possible only with a lot of open communication, patience and perseverance.If you feel unwell or feel the run is too fast or tiring, immediately notify your runner.
- If you have complete vision loss, initially the training may make you nauseous or disoriented. This will completely go away as your limbs and mind gets accustomed to running.
- If it’s the first time for your guide runner, let them know very clearly about your preferred pace, needs and expectations. You both are a team now and will need to educate each other in order to function as a single entity runner!
- Looking for a guide runner? Ask your friends and family first; someone might be very invested in training with you. Other places to look for are: local gyms and running programs, along with ads and posts on social media in relevant forums. Resources such as http://www.unitedinstride.com and http://runningblind.org will help you get more information regarding guide runners.
If you’d like to become a guide runner:
- Are you having doubts whether you can really do this? Don’t worry, this fear is normal! Everyone starts as a beginner and it’s good to be cautious than sorry. As a preparatory step before doing it for real, consider shadowing an experienced guide and learning from them.
- Any successful partnership requires open communication, and this one, in particular, needs truckloads of it. Communicate your concerns and doubts honestly with your visually impaired partner, so that you can work together in drafting the best running schedule for both of you.
- If this is your first time as a guide runner, go easy with the pacing, distance and time-measured goals. As you get to know your partner better, you both will work out a good rhythm.
- During training and even during the race, if you feel the other person is getting distracted or demotivated, keep talking with them. Your positive energy and support will be invaluable to your visually impaired partner.
- Finally, kudos for doing this wonderful thing and helping a runner who might not be able to run otherwise. For a through tutorial on how to perform your best as a guide runner, visit http://www.unitedinstride.com/get-started/become-a-guide
Just remember this – in a race, the visually impaired runner must cross the finishing line. If the guide runner crosses the line first, both runners will be disqualified!