Many of you know that I volunteer with Team With A Vision as a sighted guide for visually impaired runners. I’ve been doing it for about a year and a half and it’s been extremely rewarding for me. (To find out more about how you can get involved as a sighted guide, click here.) Getting involved with the visually impaired also has made me more aware of the problems that you might not be aware of if you don’t have visually impaired friends or family members. While out on my training runs now, I’m more aware of where the sidewalks are uneven, where there are no curb cuts and what paths might be great for guiding.
During the fall of 2015, I started guiding Kyle Robidoux on some of his training runs as he got ready for the 2016 Boston Marathon. I looked forward to our runs together and was very excited to be a part of a really cool organization. That’s when Kyle asked me to take part in the Blindfold Challenge . Run as part of the BAA 5K, the Blindfold Challenge asks sighted runners to run the course blindfolded while being guided. It’s also a fundraiser in which you could run for MABVI , Perkins School for the Blind or The National Braille Press .
I reached out to my friend Nicole ,who I run with a lot to see if she would be my guide. She was super nervous, but I told her there would be a training beforehand to get us ready. A few weeks before the race we met the other participants and had our training session. Joe from Team With A Vision explained that the point of the challenge wasn’t for us to “understand what it’s like to be blind”, we could never grasp that from 30 minutes of not being able to use our sight. The point was to show that with a little guidance, VI athletes can compete anywhere.
Race day was super exciting and I couldn’t wait to get out there and see how we did. From practicing, we figured out that the longer I had the blindfold on, the less disorienting it felt. So about 20 minutes before the gun, I put on my blindfold and grabbed the tether and let Nicole do the steering. We corralled up and we got lots of questions and encouragement from our fellow runners. We took off and I was confident that Nicole would keep me safe.
Everyone who runs road races knows what a clusterfuck 5k’s are. People never seem to corral correctly so navigating the field can be incredibly frustrating. Now imagine that you can’t see. Then imagine that you’re being guided, so instead of one body needing to pass someone there’s two. Then imagine that the other runners have headphones in with the volume cranked, this is where is goes from being frustrating to down right dangerous for the visually impaired runners.
As we came down the Commonwealth Avenue mall, I kept hearing Nicole shouting “blind runner on your left”, “blind runner on your left” and could hear the frustration creeping into her voice. Several times other runner’s feet with hit mine and I almost wiped out right there. It was truly scary and it made me leave the race feeling frustrated by my fellow runners utter lack of regard for anyone else. I vowed to never use headphones in a race where there were VI runners ever again.
The thing is, I love music. I love listening to music while I run as many people do. I find it motivating and inspiring. But, I also care about the safety of everyone in a race with me. I think I’ve found the solution. I spent the 4th of July on Martha’s Vineyard with Nicole and we checked out the brand new Town Pool that opened up in Vineyard Haven. My eyes were immediately drawn to the Trekz Titanium by Aftershokz display. I had seen the headphones online but never had seen a place to try them out and hear what they sounded like.
Trekz Titanium use bone conduction audio to send the sound through your cheekbones directly into the inner ear. This leaves the ear canal completely open so that you can hear ambient noise around you. I tried them on in store and was really surprised that the sound was pretty good and that I could still clearly hear all the noise around me. The headphones cost $130 and come in two sizes, regular and mini. I wore them for an 11 mile run yesterday and I really enjoyed the experience. I could hear my music, but I could also hear approaching bikes and cars. They were comfortable and worked with my glasses and insane sweating.
Try skipping headphones or maybe give these guys a try in your next race. You’ll be a more aware of your fellow runners but still be able to enjoy your tunes. It’s really a small thing, but it makes things so much safer for everybody.