By Peggy Soo
Achilles members, both guides and VIPs, took a trip to Great Ocean Road on the weekend of the 18th/19th of May. Over 40 Achilles members participated in a number of events ranging from half marathon to 14km and 6km events. For some Achilleans, travelling to an event of this nature was an adventure within itself, using a variety of modes of transport: from VLine, guides and VIP’s travelling in car groups to the Achilles bus (thank you William and drivers). We arrived Friday evening with enthusiasm and excitement.
After the briefing and photos on Saturday morning, we headed into Apollo Bay township to participate in the 6km and 14km events. We had many cheers and supporters starting off at the wonderful Apollo Bay along some beautiful roads country Victoria has to offer...even running alongside some horses, if they were keen! The run was lovely and sunny which was certainly unusual for the middle of May.
Sunday morning brought on half marathon events along the picturesque Great Ocean Road. Once again many teams participated in this were very strong through some great distances. The teams were cheered by Achillians dotted along the road – even at the local bus stop. This motivated our athletes knowing that there were supporters along the way.
This weekend wasn’t all about running. It was very much about socialising with all our VIP’s and guides where we even cooked and ate together prepared by our wonderful sighted guide-come-chef, Simone.
I want to thank each person who made this trip possible. This took hours of preparation to get over 40 people in one place with accommodation, paired with guides and participated in all events. Thank you to our drivers for coordinating how to get to and from places with such ease. Big thank you to Simon, Tammy, Rhiannon, Simone, Maddy, Amanda, Theresa and William for the hours of organising and preparation into this. This is certainly a ‘bucket list’ event for many. We couldn’t be there without you.
By Sophie Thomas
Last weekend, I was lucky enough to take part in the Great Ocean Road Running Festival with Achilles Running Group. The running community of Victoria and beyond came together to pit their wits against the iconic windy road that gives such amazing views and the occasional queasy stomach (car-sickness anyone?).
The beautiful and normally quiet towns of Lorne, Skenes Creek and Apollo Bay hosted more than 8200 runners, and of course all of their family and friends who came along as support crew!
This event is for everyone! There’s a race for all running abilities, each giving their own challenges to overcome. Whether it’s long and slow inclines; steep hills, crazy angled camber, getting up at 4.30am, being shuttle-bussed to the start line, starting at 1pm in the full afternoon sun, a finish line 60km after the start line (those ultra-runners are nuts), it all adds up to an amazing sense of achievement when you cross that finish line.
I entered the Garmin 14km Paradise Run, and I must admit, my preparation was not as thorough as it could have been, which probably explained the major butterflies in my stomach in the lead up to the race (I couldn’t blame it all on the windy drive down). Talking to my Achilles friends, I found that most people have this, and it’s usually due to excitement and anticipation. I was paired with guide Stephanie, and we were joined by Deb, who was running her own race but decided to help out and ‘bulldoze’ for us.
Our race started later in the day, which was different for me – I couldn’t work out when I should eat and what I should eat. In the end I opted for eggs and yoghurt for breakfast (not in the same bowl… ew) and an apple just before the run.
Along with five other Achilles teams (VIPs Chris, Peggy, Eamon, Maddy and Penny) we set off from the Apollo Bay Pub, and then after about 300 metres our route veered right and we were heading inland. Wait, we’re not actually running on the Great Ocean Road? Huh! In fact, any feelings of being cheated quickly dissipated. We ran through beautiful peaceful cow pasture areas and up into the fresh cool forest of Paradise. It was equally as scenic as the beach-side routes the other runs took, and being the tree-lover I am it was pure happiness to be running on the road under the trees and alongside a sparkling creek.
Side-bar: I must admit that, looking up across the route in front of us and seeing thousands of people snaking along through the fields, I had a momentary thought “aren’t humans stupid?” What other animal does this? Gathers in huge numbers and runs along together in the same direction just for fun?! We are a strange race!
The teams spread out along the race and we cheered Eamon and Chris as they sailed past on the way back. Penny and I kept passing each other, with plenty of competitive banter and laughs each time. My goal was to finish in under 2 hours, and I managed 1 hr 45 minutes…plus I ran most of the way, with only a couple of walking breaks needed towards the end. I’m so pleased with myself, and it’s motivated me to improve my running and aim for more!
Achilles actually had 42 people (combined VIPs and guides) entered in races over the weekend, so there was always someone to cheer on even if your race was done.
Let me tell you, if you want to see emotion, go hang out at the finish line of a marathon. All the FEELS! I saw women being greeted by their proud husbands and smiling children, who then grabbed hands and ran across the finish line with them, extraordinary men in their 70s and older being supported by their daughters, young teenagers being filmed by their extremely vocal friends, and so many running group members all looking out for their comrades. Supporters were running back and forth coaching their friends and family down that last 100 metres, and not to forget our very own vision impaired pals who all came in strong, flanked by their amazing guides every step of the way.
The support out there was immense. I swear, if you think the closing scene of Love Actually is heart-warming, you need to see this for yourself. Whether you’re a runner or not, you can’t deny that running a marathon is a huge achievement and deserves all the admiration, love and celebration that comes from those that crowd the finish tunnel.
So if you’ve ever thought about participating in such an event, I strongly urge you to try it out. Achilles makes it possible! From registering to accommodation and transport, they work hard so it’s easy for you. It’s highly unlikely I would be able to attend events like this without Achilles. I feel so lucky to be part of such a wonderful group of people and am so grateful for all the support I receive.
By Penny Stevenson
You’re in a race, maybe grabbing a drink and someone tries to get in between you and your Guide because your hip tether is invisible.
I’ve long thought one of those safety triangles that are used on worksites would be useful to stop runners from running between myself and my guide, but I only wanted one, not an entire string of safety triangles!
The other day I was walking and something bright caught my eye, it was one of these triangles lying on the ground. Perfect! Time to test my theory.
It is made from a plasticy material and is quite rigid but not heavy.
I folded it over the tether and attached it with safety pins. The tether is still free to move and stretch.
My sighted guide and I tested it out at parkrun and whilst it might not solve the issue entirely (I’m sure that if it’s crowded people will still miss it), it provides another level of visibility.
At the time of writing, a 30m length of flags was available at Bunnings for $8.15
By Rhiannon Boulger
After a speedy and sweaty lap of the Tan for the Achilles Christmas break-up Tan Handicap, a group of Achilleans stepped into the darkness at Dialogue in the Dark - a sensory experience tour of Melbourne in complete darkness.
I was looking forward to dipping a toe in to the city of Melbourne as experienced by a person with vision impairment, and what happened was a fun and educational, full-on sensory experience.
Our guide, Kate warned us that other senses may be heightened in total darkness, and that's true. We laughed as we accidentally walked into things and each other (sorry Jeff!)
In the moments we weren't given any direction, I would just stand back, feeling somewhat exposed and, at times, vulnerable in the unfamiliar environment surrounding me. This made me think of how motivated Achilles athletes are to hit the ground running without hesitation, but here I was, nervous to move.
I felt I had to ask Kate how she knew where we each were and how to direct us, and she said that she knows her surroundings so well, she could sense where we were. That in turn made me worry that perhaps my incessant warnings to Achilles athletes while running may be too much. Could it be overwhelming to try and comprehend my direction amongst the sounds and sensations they felt?
Throughout the tour you're encouraged to touch and feel the things around you, and even the ground under your feet feels patchy and uneven. At the end, Kate encouraged us to ask questions and discuss our experience. When asked if the ground in the exhibition reflected how it felt out in the city, Kate said it was pretty accurate. This again made me think of the experience of Achilles athletes, and perhaps too many warnings are better than not enough?
I learned a lot, as most of the tour was relevant to the knowledge needed as a guide. The experience and insight gained has given me the opportunity to reflect on the guide/athlete dynamic in a way that will help me to contribute to the success of our wonderful club to cover more of the city trails, and beyond.
...and here are a few more quotes from our Achilles guides who were on the tour:
"Being plunged into total darkness makes you rely on other senses and has highlighted to me how important verbal communication is. Our facial expressions add emphasis to our words and when that is not there, you need to be careful of word choice (ie. no-one saw my cheeky wink when I said we all stank after running around The Tan )"
"It was thought provoking, challenging, & somewhat confronting and it leaves me a little in awe with what the VIPs go through each day with their lives.
Ifeel very humbled that I have the privilege to be Achilles Guide the last year or so.
I'll definitely want to spruik DITD as I feel it is important that everyone should be more compassionate to our fellow people with any special needs, be it physical or mental issues."
By Adrienne Knell
It started just like any other Sunday at the tan: everyone meeting at the usual Rotunda. Although this time, bags weren’t put down and K9s weren’t attached to chairs.
Shortly after 8:30am we packed up and took the short walk to the Pillars of Wisdom. What many didn’t know was that in just over an hour it would be a flurry of yellow shirts making a sprint finish along the very same path.
Arriving at the Clock Tower, the puppies got used to their new cage tethering spot and people eagerly checked the weather app to ensure that the rain was going to hold off for us.
After our Welcome to Country, the highly anticipated teams for the handicap were announced. VIPs met with their team mates and were put through a delightful warm up which provided insight into the Wednesday night strength class.
Then it was time.
Pairings were done. The BBQ was sizzling away in the background. And for many, they learned where the official start line of the tan began.
Haylee and Jeff were the first to set off on the 3.89km journey and were sent off with a roar from the crowd as the first count down was completed. Ness took off shortly after with Maegan, Sharon and Catherine.
Brooke was the third to head out on the track and had Amir and Sarah hot on her heels. Peggy had a short wait and felt the nerves building on the start line before she took off with Marie and Nicki with some PBs to smash.
The next moments were a hot mess at the start line with 4 competitors all flying off within 3 minutes of each other. Francois took off with powerhouse guides Nat and Sarah N knowing that just a minute behind him, new member, Bill, would be facing off with champion group Simon, Lara and Michelle.
Kevin was off in the next minute leaving Andrew with a two minute wait at the start line. Andrew and Emily were eager to set off, and Rhiannon had a strategy to use her Jingle Bells and Christmas cheer to those they would pass.
One person remained. Adam was cool, calm and collected as his guides took the time to warm up. A hill sprint here, a stretch there. Finally, 23 minutes after the initial gun, Chris, Jen, Sami and Adam were off and they had their work cut out for them.
All that was left at the start line was the time keeper and the paparazzi. Suddenly, around the corner came a sea of yellow shirts. It was impossible to tell who had the lead and the blur of yellow got bigger and bigger before out of the haze was Hazel & Josie guiding Bill to a strong win. Closely behind was Brooke with strong support from Monica and Jacinta and hot on her heels was Kevin with strong duo Tanya and Cayla.
And then it was done. There were many out of breath competitors showing that everyone had given it everything they had. But mostly, what I saw were a lot of smiles and comradery. Participants reported that there was overwhelming support for their friends out on the Tan track, and even though it’s cliché to say it, we were all winners out there. And now, we all have PBs to smash, a trophy to win and a title to defend.
I’d really like to thank everyone so much for giving it a go and getting behind the handicap. It was a wonderful day and I’m so proud to be part of Achilles.
Will – Handicap Time: 36 min 48 sec. Personal Time: 21 min 48 sec.
Brooke – Handicap Time: 37 min 12 sec. Personal Time: 33 min 12 sec.
Kevin - Handicap Time: 37 min 17 sec. Personal Time: 21 min 17 sec.
Andrew - Handicap Time: 37 min 54 sec. Personal Time: 21 min 17 sec.
Simon - Handicap Time: 38 min 26 sec. Personal Time: 23 min 26 sec.
Amir - Handicap Time: 39 min 22 sec. Personal Time: 31 min 22 sec.
Adam - Handicap Time: 39 min 28 sec. Personal Time: 16 min 28 sec.
Francois - Handicap Time: 39 min 34 sec. Personal Time: 25 min 34 sec.
Haylee - Handicap Time: 39 min 42 sec. Personal Time: 39 min 42 sec.
Peggy - Handicap Time: 40 min 53 sec. Personal Time: 28 min 53 sec.
Ness - Handicap Time: 41 min 16 sec. Personal Time: 40 mins 16 sec.
By Andrew Close
On Sunday (4TH November), Achilles traveled to Nagambie and competed in the Four Vines Running Festival. It was a great day, with all competitors finishing their fun run. I would like to thank all the guides for a fantastic job they did - I would like to mention Mel E and Ashton B on their first fun run and Andrew G for his first time guiding. Ashton is the son of Chris and Amy he is only 3 years old and competed in the 2k with his dad and Andrew G (guide). After the fun run, we went to Nagambie rowing hotel and had a great lunch. The day was a great experience. Also, I would like to thank Amanda, Katherine and Amy for organizing this event without them it would not have happened.
Chris B and Julie B (guide)
Peggy S and Amanda K (guide)
Andrew C and Andrew G (guide)
Melanie E and Catherine N (guide)
Amy B and Robin B (guide)
2k kids runners:
Ashton, Chris and Andrew G
Dash for cash sprinters:
Andrew C and Cayla O
Photo 1: 5k starters Catherine, Mel, Amy, Andrew C, Andrew G, Robin and Ashton next to nokkon flag
Photo 2: all starters minus Andrew C. Left to right: Robin, Andrew G, Mel, Julie, Chris, Catherine, Amy, below: Georgia in pram, Peggy, Amanda and Granby the dog guide.
Photo 3: Ashton, Chris and Andrew run over a gravel path in between dense trees
Photo 4: Andrew and Andrew run side by side next to vines with a long road extending behind the, blue skies above
Photo 5: Andrew and Cayla sprinting down the home stretch of the dash for cash
Photo 6: Catherine and Mel running on a gravel path in thick forest.
This month’s volunteer of the month goes to Mark H! Mark was nominated for his:
“wonderful commitment during the year running most Wednesdays. When most people prefer a sleep in, Mark is always there at 6 AM to make sure I get my 5 km run. He is a great person with a good manner and attitude towards people with diverse backgrounds! His dedication and hard work is greatly appreciated”
Getting in an extra run a week outside our Sunday training is just as important for our athletes to meet the minimum recommended exercise dose! And being close to home removes any cost barriers with travelling. Thanks to volunteers like Mark, we can now increase the frequency of exercise! Thanks Mark!!!!
Pictured: Mark and Amir on one of their Wednesday morning runs in their local area.
When the weather gets better, so does the training! This month was an epic training month for our club, with a large number of runners ramping up their hours to prepare for Melbourne Marathon. And the increasing hours means increased dedication from our volunteers. So for September, we are excited to be acknowledging our volunteer of the month winner, Adrienne!
"Adrienne organised Achilles Melbourne's entry for Connor's Run on 16 September and thought of everything to make sure the event ran smoothly and enjoyably for everyone! She also helped Simon with his long training runs to prepare for the Berlin marathon and didn't stop there. Adrienne helped Simon to explore running nutrition options too! She has such a holistic approach as a guide which has benefited so many of us at Achilles"
Thanks so much Adrienne for all that you do for our members!
Pictured: Adrienne (wearing visor) taking a selfie with Peggy inside the MCG.
For August, we are so pleased to announce the selfie queen, Rhiannon Boulger, as our volunteer of the month!
“As a guide, Rhiannon can walk, jog or run. Varying running speed as a guide isn't easy and needs adaptability, flexibility and focus. Rhiannon manages all this...plus selfies along the way! She's probably the one who has gathered the most number of selfies with the most members of the club! Thanks for being so versatile and cheerful Rhi!!"
Rhi has been a long time active member of Achilles Melbourne. Our member's forum is always filled with her awesome photos and words of encouragement. Now, its our turn to showcase a selection of her selfies with you all...
July. Its the month that has an array of commitments and celebrations...Dry July, Christmas in July, 4th July, Bastille Day to name a few. For us, Deb is the reason we celebrated. A top supporter of the club, Deb was nominated because..
"Deb really knows how to have fun in everything and you can feel how passionate she is to help people. She has written up individualised training programs for runners preparing for long distance runs, drives vision impaired athletes into Sunday training and is always happy to give advice as a running coach. She even stayed the entire morning as part of the cheer squad for the Run Melbourne teams. So grateful to have her part of the club"
So much energy and palpable love for Achilles - thanks Deb!!!
Pictured: Deb standing in front, searching for the Achilles 10km team at Run Melbourne....hmmm
By Sophie Thomas
“You have night blindness don’t you Soph?”
“Yep, that’s right”
“Why don’t you do Wings For Life? It’s run at night”
“errr…because I have night blindness?!”
As we all know, Amanda loves to challenge athletes with vision impairment. Little did she know that this conversation actually sowed a seed of confidence in me, after years of telling myself it would be too hard. I’ve had countless mini debates with myself about whether I’d rather be losing my sight, or the use of my legs. To be honest, the legs win every time. I can’t imagine not having the ability to run, or even walk. Using a wheelchair seems to have so many challenges. So the Wings For Life event has always interested me, as it’s solely focused on raising funds for spinal injury research. There are also three totally different things that make this running event stand out from the others:
I have Retinitis Pigmentosa, which means I have some central vision, but my field of vision reduces to very little in low light conditions. So I naturally had some misgivings about signing up for a run which is held at night. But that seed that Amanda sowed grew a little more when I found out one of the Achilles guides, Lara, had already signed up. She offered to guide me, and her enthusiasm and excitement was all I needed to sign up too!
The logistics of picking up my race pack on the day were made so much easier by Catherine, another Achilles guide who had also signed up to run. She picked me up during the day and we headed over to the hub, handed over our disclaimer forms and collected our race bib, fluoro t-shirt and head-torch. Yep, you had to wear a head-torch! (which clever me turned on while I was looking at it aargh BRIGHT LIGHT BRIGHT LIGHT *stars and floaty blobs*). Then she dropped me home again for a few hours before arranging to collect me again in the evening.
Those hours were weird. I felt too nervous to nap, I was trying to hydrate (cue lots of toilet visits) and also work out when/what I should eat etc. I kept myself busy by writing on my t-shirt BLIND RUNNER as I couldn’t wear my usual Achilles one. Before I knew it Catherine was back to pick me up and it was go-time!
We had to park quite a way from the event hub. It was already dark at this point, so I clutched Catherine’s trusty arm and went with the flow. We caught up with Lara, Brooke, Paul and Jacinta at our meeting spot and calmed our nerves, posing for photos and having a giggle. Then it was time to go! Everyone had to make sure their head torches were on. We were marshalled along a footpath which led under the freeway, all lit up with neon lights and music pumping (although Lara was not impressed with the song choices “this is NOT music!”), round the path wound and then …wait, we’re actually on the freeway now!? Woah, cool. There we waited, dutifully throwing our arms up for the Mexican wave on demand. I’d taken my hearing-aids out at this point so I was in my little quiet world, however I had no problem hearing the loudspeaker while everyone around me was literally putting their fingers in their ears! We had 5 minute, 2 minute and 1 minute warnings, then the horn sounded! It was awesome to think that the same thing was happening all around the world at the exact same time.
Running on the freeway in the dark was a really cool experience. I wasn’t scared at all. Lara did an awesome job of guiding me around people and then pretty quickly the race spread out and we had loads of space! The street lamps provided enough light so I didn’t feel I was running in total darkness, and Lara kindly went at a pace that was easy for me to keep. After 30 minutes I knew the car would have set off, so I started wondering how much further we’d make it. There were buses stationed along the course to pick up people whose race had finished. I think we managed to pass three buses so I was feeling pretty chuffed but pretty tired. At the drink station they were handing out Red Bull, which was exactly what I needed! After that there were no more street lamps so I’ll be honest, a bit of fear crept in, but then Lara started singing “I got you babe” and I knew I was all right. I suggested we have another little walking break, but then all of a sudden we heard people saying the car was behind us! Noooo not yet! Lara and I sprinted (I don’t know how I did this!), but then she got pushed into me by a guy on a bike telling us to move over, and it was lucky he did because the catcher car went by super close! On it drove, beeping its horn and shutting down people’s races up ahead.
We forgot to track our run but heard from someone near us that we’d made 8km, not bad! Then it was a little walk to the next bus where we grabbed some water and a space blanket (secretly I was thrilled to get this, it made me feel like a marathon runner). The buzz on the bus was immense, it was clear everyone loved it! Lots of people planning to enter again and get further next time!
Back at the event hub there was a huge screen up showing runners all over the world: Germany, Korea, Austria, Brazil and so many more. Forget being parkrun tourists, we decided we wanted to be Wings tourists! Travel to cool and exotic places and do the run in a different spot each year!
But would it really have the same impact if I ran it during the day? I feel so proud of overcoming my fears of running at night, and it was made possible due to Amanda’s confidence in me, and the sheer brilliance of Achilles guides Lara and Catherine. I’m so grateful to them for giving up their time and energy to help me achieve this milestone.
I highly recommend this event – I’ll be there next year, come and join me!
(Pictured below left - right: headshot of Lara and Sophie with their head torches on smiling pre-race)
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.