Last weekend I ran the Stockholm Half Marathon for the second time, although it was a vastly different experience from last year. This year I ran as a blind guide for Rob Sanchas, who had flown from Rhode Island in the USA to participate in the race.
Many people have asked me, "how did this come about?", and like many of the connections I have made through Run With Me, the answer is Instagram! In June I found Run With Me Stockholm had been tagged in an Instagram post, it read:
"I received my shirt for the Stockholm Halvmarathon in the mail. Now I just need to find a guide to for the race... #BlindRunnerProblems
At that point I had still been thinking about whether or not I would run, but I saw that and thought "sure, why not!" So I replied to Rob and explained that I had no experience running with blind people but would be happy to do it. We arranged to meet up before the race for a practice run so I could understand the use of the tether and practice guiding.
On the Friday before the race we met in Gamla Stan and went for a small run together (2 km or so) so I could practice running side-by-side with Rob, we each held a shoelace right wrist to left wrist. It seemed fine, give verbal instructions when there were steps up or down or obstacles, and pull on the shoelace when I wanted Rob to run to the left. We went to the expo to pick up our bibs and although the organisers had not organised anything special for us initially, they were happy to try and accommodate Rob and moved us from the back of the pack into group B near the front.
On race day we met up and went to the start line together, navigating our way through the large and excited crowd grouping on the Norrbro bridge at the front of the Riksdag. I was feeling a bit nervous about how it would be guiding Rob, and was hoping I didn't have any problems with my knees or calves, after experiencing some discomfort earlier in the week. We waited at the back of group B for the start gun to go.
The run itself was a lot of fun, and Rob and I chatted as we made our way around the course, with Rob telling me the story of how he became blind through his work with the army, as well as what it's like to run as a blind person. There are certainly a lot of barriers that you never think about as a person with full sight. He also told me about Achilles International, which is an organisation that works with disabled runners.
We had great support from other runners as they noticed us tied together at the wrist. Lots of "heja heja" and "bra jobbet". Rob was aiming for around 2 and a half hours and had told me his pace tended to be a bit up and down. He was right. Sometimes when I checked my watch we were running 6 minutes per km, and other times we would be up around 7.5 minutes per km. But he had it under control. The run went past without a hiccup, and Rob powered home to finish in 2:32 minutes, a new personal best!
Overall this was a really great experience, and I would be more than happy to be a guide again. I am not sure if there is an existing organisation in Sweden for disabled runners, but if you know of one please comment below so I can look them up!
Well done to Rob, it was really inspirational to run with you. Good luck in the New York marathon this November, too I'll be checking to see how you go!