How do you run one of the north-east’s annual 10K or half-marathon races if you have a sensory impairment which means you can’t run alone?
With the help of Ben Mair of Granite City Guide Running and a blindfold, I was given an insight into running when you can’t see.
In short – without being guided round the Jesmond Centre sports hall using a short, elasticated tether, I’d have gone nowhere.
A reserve of guide runners seems crucial to making sure every person who needs one can find one – and this is Ben’s aim.
Ben has been running for over 10 years and hosts information sessions for those with sensory impairments or those interested in being guides. He is trying to raise awareness of the need for these two groups to be brought together.
In his words: “It’s not that these people are not out there, they just don’t know who to get in touch with.”
His running partner is Leona, who has Usher syndrome.
Ben said: “I’d been a runner for 10 years and I was looking to do something to help others but that also fit into my lifestyle.
“When I watched the London Marathon in 2017 I saw people guiding and thought it would be a good thing to get into. But when I tried googling information that’s when I realised there is a shortage of it in Scotland, which spurred me on to create the group.
“I initially got in touch with North East Sensory Services (NESS), who paired me up with Leona.
“She needed a new guide for last year’s Great Aberdeen Run half marathon.
“She’s a really strong-willed individual and has done things like climbing Kilimanjaro.
“Talking to her she said: ‘This is something we need in the north-east.’”
Ben, through the Granite City Guide Running Facebook page and his sessions, is now trying to expose as many people as possible to what guide running entails and how to get started.
However, because of Disclosure Scotland legislation designed to protect vulnerable groups, Ben can’t personally introduce prospective guides with sensory-impaired runners.
He aims to do this by eventually becoming affiliated with, for example, Grampian Disability Sport.
He said: “I’m a point of contact, to find out about guide running and how to get involved.
“The long-term aim is to connect people who want to guide with people who need a guide.
“At the moment the page is for advice, information and I put on classes (to demonstrate).
“I can then put people in touch with NESS or Grampian Disability Sport (who can partner people up).”
Ben wants bodies like Scottishathletics and Scottish Disability Sport to make it easier to partner guides and runners, and he’s building evidence to show there is real demand for it. He added: “One thing I am doing is keeping a record of the people who want to guide and the people who need a guide.
“So I can go to Scottish Disability Sport and say: ‘you’ve got X amount of people in the north-east alone who want and need this’.
“The Facebook page has 170 people who’ve shown an interest.
“I’ve had close to 50 people contact me directly saying they want to be guide runners.
“There’s been at least a dozen or so (sensory impaired) people who have said this is something they’d look for.”
Ben’s next challenge is to get as many people as possible to join him and Leona in taking part in the Great Aberdeen Run. He’s even encouraging non-sensory-impaired pairs to try using a blindfold to understand the challenges a sensory impairment creates.
For more information, visit Granite City Guide Running on Facebook.