Sundown Marathon: A Challenge For Blind Runners

It is a thin rope made from a simple piece of purple cloth.

But it is the most important source of communication between a blind runner and his guide.

Visually impaired runner Steady (left) and his guide, Kheng Hong.

Visually impaired runner Steady (left) and his guide, Ding Zhi.

That is because this purple rope tethered the blind runner, Steady (Goh Giin Huat) to his guide, Ding Zhi, during a 15km training run today at East Coast Park. The two were training with a small group – for the Sundown Marathon this May.

Communicating With the visually handicapped runner

During today’s run, guide Ding Zhi constantly indicated the left and right movements with an ever-so slight tug on the purple rope. The tug may have been minimal, but it was just enough to let Steady know when to turn. As an added precaution, he also verbally told Steady when to do so.

Explained running guide and software engineer Kheng Hong, 32, who sometimes partners Steady too, “When we guide the blind runners, we have to ensure that their path is clear. Because they cannot see, we must warn them of kerbs and obstacles on the ground.”

Uneven trails are not friendly to blind runners

This means that doing uneven trail running, such as at MacRitchie Reservoir, would be very challenging for a blind runner and his guide.

Steady and Kheng Hong are taking a break during the morning's run.

Steady and Ding Zhi are taking a break during the morning’s run.

Said another visually handicapped runner, 49-year-old clerk, Ong Hock Bee, “MacRitchie Reservoir is very tough, because the ground may be sandy, rocky or undulating, so it makes it hard for us to run.”

He added, “MacRitchie will be very tiring for my guide runner too! He will have to constantly tell me to lift up my leg, keep left and right, warn me that there’s undulating terrain, and so on. We have to listen extremely carefully and the place isn’t very blind-friendly at all.”

So he says that the visually handicapped runners usually don’t train at MacRitchie. If they want to do trail running, they would normally go to other areas, such as at Pandan Reservoir, because these other routes would not only be clear and easy to run, but also are “sandy and not so hard on the legs.”

Dodging fellow runners and walkers

During the run, Ding Zhi also helped Steady to dodge fellow runners and walkers. But they need not have worried that they were in the way though, because people were very friendly towards them.

The bond between the visually impaired runner and his guide must be strong.

The bond between the visually impaired runner and his guide must be strong.

Strong and Positive Camaraderie

The positive energy between Ding Zhi and Steady was definitely clear too, during the run today. They seemed to have formed a very close bond together and were often able to communicate messages to each other using only a single word or tug of the rope.

Guide Kheng Hong said that the camaraderie is indeed very important between the blind runner and his guide. He says, “The first time we meet, we must take time to coordinate with each other.”

“But Steady is already used to my style of guiding, so we can communicate well,” he added.

And having a constant running guide companion certainly suits the sociable Steady, too. The 40-year-old guitar teacher said, “I need to run with a guide – except when I do treadmill running, which is very boring! You see, I like to run and talk. It keeps my mind away from the running itself and the time passes faster too.”

Completed the run in good timing

At the end, Steady completed the 15km training run in good timing – in about 1 hour and 46 minutes.

According to Steady, this is in line with his goals, as he is planning to run the Half Marathon (21km) at Sundown in roughly 2 hours and 25 minutes. This would be an improvement of 10 minutes from his previous personal best at that distance.

Another visually impaired runner, Hock Bee, is stretching out after his long run.

Another visually impaired runner, Hock Bee, is stretching out after his long run.

Work on his Mileage

For the sports-loving Hock Bee, who has always harboured dreams of completing a Full Marathon, he feels that he still has to work on his mileage and practise not falling asleep during night training – in the lead-up to Sundown Marathon. He ran 19km today.

Said Hock Bee, “I have set my sights on the Full Marathon (42km) at Sundown. But honestly, I am not confident of going the full distance just yet. I have to build up my confidence levels. I am slowly working towards getting there, though!”

Hock Bee used to represent his school and won medals in the 100m sprinting, cross-country running and high jump as well as long jump events. So with such a diverse sporting background, he should be able to complete the Full Marathon in less than five hours – his estimated target time for the race.

Unlike Steady, he used to have partial vision, which meant he could make out basic colours and shapes – until he suffered from retina detachment at age 27 – and became completely blind after that.

He said, “Now, my vision is complete darkness. Even the bright sunlight cannot shine through my eyes – can you believe that?”

But his blindness is certainly no obstacle to his Full Marathon dreams at this year’s upcoming Sundown Marathon – and in the hands of Taichi Kimura, who is a very capable sub-4 marathoner as a guide, he should definitely fulfil his wish, come 31 May.

Make a donation to the Singapore Disability Sports Council – and help runners like Steady and Hock Bee. To donate, please click here.

More on Sundown Marathon

Click Here to read more about Sundown Marathon.

Click Here to get some good tips on how to choose running shoes for your Sundown Marathon.

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