Lending one’s feet and eyes
For the first time in the history of the Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou marathons, visually-impaired runners, with the assistance of personal guides, raced alongside their ablebodied counterparts.
Fourteen blind runners competed in the Nov 6 Hangzhou Marathon this year. Each runner was supported by an entourage of between 4 and 5 volunteers. Among them was Yan Wei, who completed the full marathon in 3 hours and 22 minutes, a personal best timing.
Yan hails from a running group called “Running in the Dark”, which specially provides training for blind runners. The group has since March this year been organizing guided training sessions every weekend in Shanghai.
During trainings, blind runners are each accompanied by three volunteers. One volunteer is responsible for removing any obstacles on the road and controlling the pace. The second volunteer acts as a lookout for other runners or vehicles on the path while the third, who is attached to the blind runner by a safety rope, takes note of the trainee’s running gait and pace.
Zhu Peihua, the leader of the group’s Shanghai branch, had completed the 10-kilometer race during the Shanghai Marathon on Oct 30 before running his sixth half-marathon in Hangzhou a week later.
The 27-year-old first developed a passion for running last year when he took part in a guided running activity. Zhu said that he was so captivated with the sport that he even bought a treadmill so that he could train at home.
“Running gives me the chance to be outside and take in the fresh air. The activity has also made me more willing to talk to people. It’s simply good for health,” said Zhu.
The popularity of guided running activities for blind people has been growing since last year. Cheng Yi, a volunteer at Running in the Dark’s Hangzhou branch, said that it is not just the number of blind runners that has been growing quickly.
“There are so many people applying to become assistants to the blind runners that I’ve had to turn many of them down,” said Cheng, who added that volunteers face a more physically demanding task compared to a regular runner.
“You’re not simply running. You also have to focus on the situation at hand, ensure the safety of the blind runner and monitor his energy levels,” added the 32-year-old.
Some of the other challenges involve being aware of the verbal instructions one gives.
“At the beginning, I kept saying ‘here’ and ‘there’ instead of ‘ left’ or ‘right’ which is much more specific and relevant to the runner. A blind runner once collided with another runner because of my mistake. Luckily, no one was hurt,” said Cheng.
Last week, Running in the Dark introduced their training sessions to blind runners in the Wuliqiao neighborhood in Shanghai’s Huangpu district.
There are currently also guided running training sessions being held in other Chinese cities such as Chengdu, Shenzhen and Guangzhou.
Cheng said that he has naturally become close friends with many of the blind runners he has guided.
“We talk about our families, jobs and hobbies. The friendship I have with them is the same as any others. As time goes by, the understanding between us will improve ,” said Cheng.
Guides running alongside a blind runner during a road race.