MechSE grad student goes extra mile for blind runner
Last November, Ashley sent an email to the Second Wind Running Club, based in CU, asking if anyone in the club would be willing to be her guide runner for the half marathon and for training runs building up to it. The club has received similar requests in the past, but I was unable to fulfill the role for one reason or another. This time, however, I was in a good position to be a guide runner. I got in touch with her, and we did a couple of trial runs together, and things looked like they would work out.
Starting in January, Ashley joined the half marathon training program that is organized by Second Wind and Body N Sole in Savoy. I was already signed up to be a pacer for the group. Once I decided to guide Ashley, my pacer role changed from being a general pacer to specifically guiding Ashley. We did almost all of our long weekend runs together, with the training group. We also met twice during the week for our shorter training runs. With schedule and transportation constraints, we ended up meeting at Beckman, where I work, for the mid-week runs. Often, my sister, friends, and labmates would join us, giving us more people to talk to and making the runs more enjoyable.
On race day, Ashley and I ran with my sister Paula and one of my friends Margaret, start to finish. Paula and Margaret were really helpful, getting water and Gatorade at all of the water stops for Ashley and I. (It's hard for Ashley and I to maneuver through the crowds at the water stops, and it's difficult for Ashley to grab a cup of water on the go.) Other runners were really supportive during the race, encouraging us as we passed them or they passed us. Ashley's goal was to finish in 2:30 (average 11:27 pace), but we were well-trained, and started running around 10:30 for the first several miles. Ashley was battling some injuries, so that slowed us down a little bit at the end of the race, but we finished in 2:18:20 (average 10:33 pace), blowing her goal out of the water. Overall, it was a great race.
In a lot of ways, running with Ashley wasn't much different than running with any person or group. We had a training schedule, we met up, did our runs, talked about whatever to pass the time, and then repeated the next day. One big difference is that, unlike running with other people, I couldn't skip a training run with Ashley, because she couldn't make it up later on her own. There was a lot more accountability than I've had in the past. The other big difference is the responsibility that I had. Ashley was counting on me to "be her eyes," as she says. I had to pay attention to every rock, bump, and pothole in the road, as well as the bigger issues like people, traffic, and the overall route. I guess the take-away thought is that being a guide runner does require some extra effort, but at the end of the day, Ashley and I are just two people who enjoy running. I was glad that I could help make that possible for her.