Lend­ing one’s feet and eyes

China Daily (USA) - - THE BUND SHANGHAI - ByZHANGKUN and FANGAIQING zhangkun@chi­nadaily.com.cn

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.

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