Parkrun

Picture of Kelly Barton taking place in the 2017 Parkrun


I am 40 years old (I still can’t believe I’m 40!) and have always been registered blind due to being severely sight impaired. I have absolutely no vision in my right eye, but am very fortunate to have a tiny amount of sight in my left eye.

To give an idea of what this means, someone would have to speak to me so that I know who it is or even to determine if it’s a man or woman. And I use braille, voiceover and various speech programmes to assist me in work and life generally.

I’m always up for a new challenge and am happy to give most things a try. So when Simon (who is my GP) told me about parkrun, with a view to me assisting him and the Southport parkrun team in getting more visually impaired people involved, I mentioned that I wouldn’t mind giving it a go myself. One week later I did my first parkrun. I had never really thought about running. I have joined gyms in the past and have got a treadmill at home, but prior to parkrun I had never actually ran on it.

A short time ago I was part of a local gym that does group personal training. In those sessions when everyone else went out to run I stayed inside on my own and used a rowing machine because the trainers felt that running would be too difficult and inaccessible for me. I never really questioned this and just assumed that they were right – but not doing what everyone else was doing meant that I never truly felt part of their community.

To my delight I found parkrun to be very different to this. It feels extremely inclusive and everyone is friendly and encouraging. There are a growing number of VI runners / guide pairings at Southport parkrun, and the volunteers are doing everything they can to make it as inclusive as possible whilst encouraging more people to be guide runners. Mike, an experienced guide, was my first guide runner. Despite knowing he had guided before, I was extremely nervous on my first run. Due to the fact that I had never run before, I had no idea if I could even complete 5k and after about the first two minutes when I began to feel out of breath, I honestly felt doomed and as though I would never complete it. But I’m happy to say that I did, and I have now done parkrun 10 weeks in a row. Over that time I’ve reduced my time from 43 minutes to 30 minutes.

The things that have really struck me about running, as some one who can’t see, are these:

  • It feels really weird being outside and not having a cane in my hand, but putting my total trust in another person instead.
  • I feel quite nervous around crowds of people, for example at the start of the run, because I have that feeling that I am going to crash into somebody.
  • Finally, when I first did parkrun, I had no real concept of what 5k was. Maps mean nothing to me and I don’t have the advantage of being able to look round the park and build up a visual picture of how far I’m running. But my guides have been extremely good at breaking it down for me and telling me when we have completed 1k, 2k etc. The nature of our parkrun means that we have a lake to run round which has quite a lot of lefts and rights – I like this part because of the feel of it, I have a reference point, and I know where I am.

Prior to running, I had no idea what I would need from a guide runner. But I have discovered that I like to run holding the guide’s arm and I like to be told when to turn left and right and if it will be a sharp left or right – without this I think I would find it quite disorientating. It’s also nice to be told if the surface we are running on is about to change and both guides have been really good at describing who is around us, for example children, older people and couples. All these descriptions add to my overall parkrun experience and helps me to build up a picture of what’s going on around us. Overall, I love the challenge of running. It feels really liberating to be moving faster than a walking pace outdoors – it’s like having a sense of freedom that you don’t often get when you can’t see, due to having to be relatively cautious when walking outdoors. I find it difficult and I am exhausted at the end. But at the same time I feel an enormous sense of satisfaction at what I have achieved.

 Kelly Barton