Making Firsts: Running Blind

With each step
I discover more
And Learn.

Since I began running almost a year ago, I have gotten the chance to participate in three races. Last May I entered the Blue Nose Marathon with the Blind Sports Nova Scotia team. We raised almost $5000 in funds to help us finance our goal ball team for tournaments, equipment and gym rentals. Now this year we will have a team again and the pressure is on to raise money! This year I will not be able to participate in the marathon because I’ll be away in California training with my new guide dog (whose name, sex and breed is to be determined). The other two races that I did were track and field events; I did a 100 meter sprint at a race in Moncton at a meet in August and then a 60 meter dash at the Nova Scotia Provincial indoor competitions in Halifax this past January. These experiences have all been my firsts. I never attended a track meet or a marathon before so I was not sure what to expect. The sounds, smells and feelings were all new to me.

 When I was in high school I joined a Run for the Cure team as part of a mandatory requirement for a science class. I recall carelessly walking the race with two friends and opting out at the 1 K mark, because we were not interested in finishing. Then, in my first or second year of university I joined a run for the cure team that my friend organized at our residence. This time I really stepped up my game by walking the five k (I am being sarcastic).

When I decided to enter our team for the Blue Nose last May, I signed up for the 10 K race. I knew that I was fully capable of walking the 10 K, and although I had run a few times in the month before the race, I had never even run 1 k by itself at a time. My decision to sign up for the 10 K was no indication of overconfidence-I had NO intentions of actually running the 10 K! When I asked my new found running guide Rich if he would be my guide for the race, he gladly accepted the challenge. Running and racing was a normal part of life for Rich. I on the other hand, had little idea of what to expect!

Rich recognized that I needed new sneakers for running-and is I ever glad he did! He kindly offered to go to the store with me to pick out my new sneakers which were a huge relief for me because it meant I didn’t have to go to the shoe store accompanied with someone who knew nothing about shoes. This would have forced me to rely on the awkward interactions of me and an apathetic sales person at the store who would probably have no real interest in helping me pick out the ideal running sneaker for me. As we were walking to the store Rich noticed that I was wearing shoes that were very light and close to the ground. He pointed out that I seemed to be a lot more comfortable walking in these light; low to the ground shoes that I wore to work; than I did with the sneakers he had previously seen me in at practice. This was something I had never given much thought to before. I knew that because of my visual impairment I was often reluctant to where heals-because walking in heels while blind was a disaster waiting to happen for me. However, I had never really noticed how shoes without heals affected my comfort level. Since Rich pointed that fact out I’ve become more conscious of the difference that my old sneakers verses my new sneakers have on my ability to walk and move more effortlessly and comfortably. I absolutely love my new sneakers and could not live without them anymore. The main reasons that I love them so much is that they (A), are lighter making it easier to move faster, (B), they are closer to the ground making it easier for me to feel changes in my environment,  and (C), both the lightness and closeness to the ground helps to improve my form.                 

Now, with my new sneakers on foot, I was better equipped to brave the blue nose marathon madness.

The day of the Blue Nose

First of all, I did not recognize the importance of getting to the race site really early. The morning of the race I had planned on taking the bus, but when I missed the bus going downtown, I thought I would see if my roommates mom would be driving her to the race-she was not. Feeling a bit of pressure, I then called and waited for a cab. After the cab finally arrived, I headed for the race site. I ran into yet another obstacle when the cab driver refused to drop me off at the spot where I had originally agreed to meet my guide. The driver was not very helpful and told me I needed to get out of the car at the intersection where he was stopped. In his brief instructions, he informed me that I should follow the crowd and I would find the person I was meeting. So, a bit disoriented and panicked I reluctantly stumbled out of the cab and began   to instinctively follow the instructions of the driver by following the voices of the crowd down the side walk. When I called my guide from my cell phone to tell him what happened, he asked me where I was. I simply replied by saying that I was close to where all the people were. He laughed at me and reminded me that their were thousands of people at the site. With the little bit of information that I had figured out about where I was located, Rich frantically looked for me and found me just minutes before the race begun. I imagine it was probably one of the hardest games of hide and seek he had ever played!

After he found me we went to put my race bib on with my number! Wearing one of these bibs was also an exciting first for me! When the race began Rich and I started to jog and make our way past some of the walkers and slower runners. As we ran further, I was totally surprised by the fact that their were actually people on the side of the roads who I could hear cheering everyone on at the race. I remember telling Rich that I didn’t realize that people actually came to watch things like this. When we hit the first water stand Rich asked me if I wanted water I said that I did-never passed up an opportunity to drink. When I finished the water he informed me that I needed to throw my cup on the ground and keep going. Throwing the cup on the ground felt so wrong-and I laughed at the fact that it was a normal procedure in the race. I could feel broken cups under my feet and could hear them blowing around in the wind so I knew that Rich’s instructions were actually legitimate.

During the race I discovered that I really do enjoy beating people. I do have a little bit of a competitive side and this side of me came out when I ran into a few people that I knew and happily passed them. At one point we ran into a visually impaired guy who I know who plays goal ball. He was jogging for the entire race, and I was doing short bursts of running and then walking for long periods of time in between. Him and I kept meeting up with each other during the race and I was determined to make sure I beet him, and guess what, I did!

When I went to my first track race a couple months after the Blue Nose, I also had no idea what to expect. I had never gone to a track and field event before. When I was in elementary school I vaguely remember going to a couple of track and field days at school where they gave out ribbons to winners. I do remember getting a ribbing for something, but for the life of me I can not remember what it was for. Hmmm…maybe I made it up in my head to make myself feel good about myself! 🙂 I do however, remember running a sprint race at track and field day. I ran the race by myself without a guide-apparently my school did not see me as being blind. The race was a disaster waiting to happen. I suspect that I probably did not start running right away when they yelled go because I would have wanted to avoid being to close to the other kids in my class. There I ran, having little idea of where I was going. Later, my sister Tara, who was a grade higher than me, had told me that her class was cheering for me when I ran-she also bluntly announced that I was running really slow. I believe that year marked the last year that I agreed to attend track and field day at school.

In a way when I went to the track meet back in August 2011 I felt like a kid, experiencing something 12 years to late. Never the less, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to do it-it’s never too late! At this race I was fully prepared to lose miserably. This is because I thought I was going to be running against fully able bodied runners with a lot of experience. Luckily though, I was actually competing with visually impaired runners and since I was the only girl I was guaranteed to win in my category. This was good news! Now my mission was to beet the other visually impaired guys!  

Being completely clueless, I had no idea that track races started with a canon gun noise so when I heard it for the first time I really started to feel the excitement of being at a track meet. This race was also the first time that I realized that runners, and sprinters, start running in a certain position to help them gain momentum at the start of their race. Rich and I had never practiced the proper way to start before. Practicing before the race felt strange and again, not being able to mimic the starting movements of others made it difficult for me to learn.

Overall, I’ve learned a lot from the three races I have participated in so far. Participating in them has given me more of a motivation and desire to race more in the future. Thanks to everyone who has made these firsts come alive for me.