by Liz E
(pictured above: 18 Achilles 10k and 21k runners stand together for a group photo outside the MCG Gate 2)
Sunday was my first time at the Melbourne Marathon, and I loved it! It was also my first time guiding a runner who is blind.
I traveled over from Gippsland to Melbourne on Saturday morning with four friends from my local running group - Sale and District Runners. Things didn't start so well when I took the first sip of my coffee in my travel mug and I realised I'd made it without actually boiling the kettle. I guess is was a true indication of how tough things can be before the first coffee of the day...Anyway lucky it was McHappy Day so we stopped to grab another one. Bib pick-up went well. I spent some cash on new running essentials, and then had a mandatory dinner at Spaghetti Tree in the CBD with my other running buddies.
Bronwen (one of my friends I'd traveled down with) and I arrived at the MCG on Sunday at 6am for her to drop her bag ready for the marathon (she killed it - also it almost killed her so kind of even) and queue at the loos.
BUT then the exciting part!!!!! At 6.30, I met Chris Baillie and his family for the first time! Chris is a runner who is blind. He has been close to totally blind since birth but only running since May this year, when he hooked up with Achilles Melbourne. Achilles is a group that trains people to guide people with vision impairment/who are blind and then links them up with people with vision impairment to be running buddies. I joined Achilles about 2 months ago when I attended at a training day at The Tan Track where I learnt to be a guide. As a part of the training I was blind folded and guided along. I wouldn't call what I did while being guided running, because it was so nerve wracking that I really just shuffled my feet along the ground.
I was linked up with Chris and Amanda (another guide) to complete the 10k course. At all times, either Amanda or myself was with Chris, while the other was "bulldozing" a clear path for Chris to safely run.
I started with the task of bulldozing. It was a tough gig. I had to spot and point out in advance gutters, low trees, bollards, parked cars, and anything else that was a potential hazard so that Amanda had enough time to safely guide Chris around them without dropping speed. However, the one hazard that was tough to control were the other runners on the course. I ran a few meters ahead calling out "blind runner" "move aside for a blind runner" "Thankyou!". For the most part, people were more than accommodating once they could hear me. It was a job made tough by the fact that so many runners wore earphones with the music turned up and had no idea what was happening around them. Anyway, a gentle push got them moving over, and on we ran. I quickly found that yelling while running is tiring! Chris suggested I should have a megaphone!
(pictured below: Chris and Liz run towards Birrarung Marr next to Federation Square in a crowd of fellow runners)
At about half way I swapped into the role as guide. Talk about hyper-vigilance! Such a responsibility. Chris was 100% relying on me to stay safe. He critiqued my instructions – short, sharp and to the point! He was very patient with me, and for that I am grateful. Apart from verbalising all our movements, I described the scenery as we ran past so Chris knew where we were and what was going on- and it is definitely the most attention I've ever paid to what was going on around me. Exhausting stuff! As we were running I asked Chris if he had ever been inside the MCG before. He had: to represent Australia playing cricket! I ran Chris straight past his wife, Amy, who was trying to take our photo on the course without even noticing her, and I had thought that nothing was escaping my attention!
Chris had a goal of sub 60. We smashed that time with 56.37.
It is the most rewarding run I've ever done. Allowing Chris the freedom to enjoy running as much as I do, something I have always taken for granted.
Sunday’s run was tough for me and I was exhausted from having to be so switched on to everything, but I have a lot of improving to do. My voice was a bit hoarse from yelling all through the run, and then cheering everyone else along the way. As a person who had always had full vision, I cannot imagine the courage and determination it would take for a person with vision impairment to start running. I am truly blown away by the whole concept and just wrapped that I found out about this group of amazing people and am able to participate. I will definitely continue to be involved with Achilles.
If you get the chance, I would highly recommend jumping on board with Achilles to help give people with vision impairment/who are blind the freedom to run when they otherwise wouldn't have the opportunity.
Achilles saw 13 teams from both Melbourne and Sydney clubs participate in the 2017 Medibank Melbourne Marathon. We congratulate the following teams:
Team Mel from Sydney (with guide Phil from Melbourne) congratulations for completing her first marathon!
Team Andrew v d S from Sydney (with guide Julie B from Melbourne)
Team Adam (with guides Nigel and Matthew)
Team Kevin (with guides Emily and Emma)
Team Francois (with guides Tanya and Bella)
Team Chris (with guides Liz and Amanda)
Team Peggy (with guides Lisa and Karin)
Team Sophie (with guide Jermaine)
Team Maddy (with guides Catherine and Melinda)
Team Brooke (with guides Susie and Maeve)
Team Ness (with guides Julie C and Rhiannon)
Team Andrew C (with guides Lucy and Michael) – first big run event ever!
Team Haylee (with guide Vic)
Our mission is to enable people from all walks of life, including those with physical impairments, to enjoy the health giving benefits of walking and running in a supportive, social and encouraging environment.