Blog: “The key to beginning to enjoy running, for me, was trust”

The English Federation of Disability Sport (EFDS) website features a blog post every Friday throughout the year. In 2017, we'll be sharing the experiences of disabled people, and those who support disabled people, on their journey to being more active. This week, Kelly Barton talks about her experiences running as a blind person.

Kelly Barton running on the beach without a guide

Up until last December I had never had a go at running – I just assumed that because I couldn’t see, it wouldn’t be possible. So, when I found out about my local parkrun and heard that they had trained/experienced guides, I decided to give it a go.

At first running seemed a really scary concept – I couldn’t get my mind round moving fast outdoors, as when I’m walking with my cane I am always very cautious. Also, having to put my trust in a guide felt like a huge thing to do; I was reliant on that person to tell me about every bump, obstacle and turn, as well as what kind of surface we were running on and who and what was around us.

I very quickly realised that the key to beginning to actually enjoy running – for me – was ‘trust’. And without that, a run just isn’t enjoyable. Running with a guide is a definite relationship and over time I have built up my confidence by doing the majority of my running with the same guide, Mike (you can read Mike’s blog on the EFDS website). When I am guided I like to take hold of the guide’s arm; I tried a tether once, but just wasn’t at all comfortable with that. I think it’s different for everyone and an individual choice.

From parkrun I went on to take part in a 10k run in Liverpool. Since then I have completed two half marathons; one in Liverpool and in August, we went over to Ireland to take part in the Dublin Rock ’n’ Roll half marathon. When I originally set out to do my first 5K run, I never ever believed that doing a half marathon would be achievable and it still seems crazy that I’ve managed to run all those miles!

Kelly and guide Mike running the Liverpool Rock n Roll Half Marathon

Over the summer I went out on to the beach with Mike one evening. It was deserted, so he suggested that I had a go at running alongside him without holding on, as there was literally nothing I could run into or trip over. I was so tentative about letting go of his arm at first. It’s hard to describe how weird and scary it felt running (even though he was right at my side) without being guided. While pretty terrifying, it was also completely amazing and liberating to be out on the beach, just running free and independently, like any other runner. It felt brilliant!

In the past I had tried going along to gyms. This is extremely difficult when you can’t see and I never really got any enjoyment from working out – but I absolutely love being active now with my running. It’s a great feeling to be out in the fresh air and getting exercise.

I have a very busy and full-on life, with working and being a mum, so getting out for a run is relaxing, and it’s an escapism too. But also, I feel that running has increased my confidence. I have stepped outside of my comfort zone and done things that I never thought I would do, like putting my trust in another person and travelling to a different place to complete a half marathon. Such positive experiences hugely impact on your everyday life, giving you the belief that ‘anything is possible’.

When I’m running, I do get extremely nervous beforehand, mainly because of the large crowds of people. But once I start, I’m ok and afterwards I just feel so happy and really pleased with myself that I have achieved it.

I am looking to sign up for some more 10k’s and half marathons for the next year. One day, I’d love to achieve completing a marathon - although I think I’m way off that, just yet! But, I like to be challenged and have something to aim for, as that’s what motivates me to keep running.

Even though I'm not able to see, I like to ensure that I live a completely ‘normal’ life. And one of the things I love about running, is the fact that I can blend in and just be like everyone else. It’s different for everyone, but personally I wouldn’t be comfortable taking part in a sport that is ‘just for visually impaired people’. I don’t like to be grouped with other blind people at all, because when I am in work or with friends and family, I’m surrounded by sighted people and I like my running to reflect this also. Again, it’s an individual choice, but myself and my guide never wear any clothing to indicate that I am blind or that he is guiding; that way I get to feel just the same as all the other runners.

I’d love to encourage more blind and visually impaired people to have a go at running. I think the most important thing to say, is that it’s not about speed at all. It really doesn’t matter how slow (or fast) you are. When you consider that most blind and profoundly visually impaired people struggle to get from A to B using a cane or guide dog, running can seem really daunting at first. But, if you can find a guide who will run with you and who you can build up trust with, definitely give it a go.

Statistics show that many blind and visually impaired people are socially isolated, so running is a great way to get out and active, while making new friends. It’s therefore really important to find innovative ways of engaging with people who have sight loss to encourage them to believe that running, getting active or indeed any sport is a definite possibility for them.

I’ve been running for almost a year, and every now and then I still lose my confidence with it. I might have a few bumps or collisions when I’m out and about with my cane and this in turn impacts on how safe I feel when running – or if I turn up for a run and I’m paired up with a guide I’ve never met before this makes me extremely nervous because trust isn’t something that happens instantly. My point really, is that running does take a lot of confidence and although I get slightly daunted with it at times, over all I absolutely love running and I’m so glad that I took it up.

It would be great to see more blind people feeling empowered to take up running too – and for some that could even mean a gentle walk, jog; anything that gets people out and active is a brilliant thing!

Thinking about trying out a run? Look for a local guide on the England Athletics Find a Guide Database. All guides in the database have attended a Sight Loss Awareness and Guide Running workshop, are DBS checked and are passionate about running.

Parkrun organise free, weekly, 5k timed runs around the world. They are open to everyone, free, and are safe and easy to take part in. Visit the parkrun website to find an event near you.