Andy Smith, our Service Delivery Manager, has had Congenital Nystagmus and Astigmatism since birth. He is also an avid runner; he has previously done the Manchester Marathon, the Oxford Half, and countless other runs. Now he’s getting ready to take on the London Landmarks Half Marathon with his guide runner, Sharon, while fundraising for MyVision Oxfordshire.
Andy said, “we chose to fundraise for MyVision Oxfordshire because it’s an organisation with a varied range of vital services that support so many people; we want to help MyVision continue to provide the services that so many people rely on.”
This is the third running event for Andy with a guide runner and the first with Sharon, who he has been running with for about a year. They had known each other previously and became running partners after Andy made a post in their online running group about looking for a guide runner.
The London Landmarks will be an entirely new challenge for the pair. Andy said, “I’ve done two 10k events with a guide runner but the longer events like this one are more challenging for both of us. In the 10k you don’t have the mental fatigue. Sharon needs more mental stamina as well. Even when she gets tired, she still has to keep looking for the hazards and be aware of the route.”
Sharon has previously done the event on her own, but this will be her first time as a guide runner. “It feels like a big responsibility,” she said. “For the first few runs we did I was so worried Andy would fall, but we have got used to each other now and I feel quite confident.”
Both Andy and Sharon were avid solo runners before they partnered up, so they faced several adjustments. “You have to build a rapport and relationship,” said Andy. “I also have to be understanding and forgiving. I’m much taller than her so sometimes I hit a branch that she has missed, or I stumble on uneven ground, but it’s okay, you just move on. It becomes more than a ‘customer-client’ relationship and turns into a friendship.”
Sharon described that her biggest challenge has been “the worry of getting Andy around a run safely and also not knowing quite how much he can see of the routes.”
“On our routes I point out any uneven paths, drains, people, cars, rises and dips. Now I find myself looking at the paths to see if they are uneven even when I’m not with Andy,” she said.
Andy and Sharon have now got used to running together and find it very enjoyable.
Andy explained that when running with a guide runner it is much easier to stay motivated. During events when he and his guide runner wear ‘Visually Impaired Runner’ and ‘Guide Runner’ tabards there is a very supportive environment around them. “People would cheer us on and praise the guide runner so it’s a very positive vibe,” he said.
Andy then said, “One of the things that changed for me is that I take running as an enjoyment thing more now. We really enjoy running and it’s a social thing with my guide runner.” Sharon meanwhile shared, “It feels good to enable Andy to be able to get out and run again with confidence while I get the chance to have some company. Our first few runs I was really nervous, but I don’t think about it anymore and just go out and enjoy a run with a friend.”
“I’d love for people to donate to show that being visually impaired doesn’t hold you back,” said Andy. “With the right support you can do what you want; if you’re visually impaired and would like to get into running or any other hobby, don’t let your eyesight hold you back.”