On Sunday 10 July 2016, four teams from Achilles Sydney awoke bright and early to take part in the Sydney Harbour 5km & 10km event hosted by Real Insurance and Pont3 Events.
The teams were: Team Ben P guided by Ellis and Chris, Team Bill guided by Michael, Team Charlie guided by Libby and Team Stephen guided by Jen and Wayne. All teams took part in the 10km event. Despite the very chilly start to the morning, the sun soon rose from behind the Opera House and helped warm us up – as did the 10km of running!
For those not familiar with the event, it starts in The Rocks area of Sydney, near Circular Quay. The course is known for being both super flat (and hence fast!) and for taking in some of Sydney’s best known sights – going under the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge with the Sydney Opera House as a backdrop. The course also took in the newly opened Barangaroo recreational park along with the popular Darling Harbour. As Charlie put it “it’s a running tour of Sydney!”
Our vision impaired members each chose to run the course for different reasons; both Bill and Ben have run it previously and wanted to get back out there and enjoy it again. Charlie claims his fitness is low (some of our volunteers would disagree!) so a 10km flat course enticed him to participate. Stephen was searching for a 10km PB after setting a new record marathon time at Boston earlier this year.
But it’s not just our vision impaired members who got a lot out of this event. For guide Jen, it was a 10km PB, following a sprint finish with Team Stephen. “It was the first time I’d guided Stephen and I knew he was renowned for his fast finish. I just held on to the tether for dear life and floored it with him! It was great fun to push ourselves to the max side-by-side”. Stephen agreed, noting the reliance on his guides to keep him on pace. As I’m sure many of the runners out there know, it can be so easy to slow into a comfortable pace without realising. So, as a guide you’re not just guiding, you’re pacer, water boy/girl, coach and cheer squad, doing whatever you need to in order to get your runner over that finish line safely (more on this to below).
For Libby, who was guiding Charlie, it was all about the camaraderie “Running with Charlie was such a hoot! We had such fun. Chatting and laughing the entire course, obviously! We made a few new friends (and possibly new Achilles members). Charlie kept me honest and pep talked through the entire event.” For Charlie, the day was about “getting out with others and jogging” and enjoying a good cup of post-race coffee and sharing stories of the run.
Michael, who guided Bill, said it was a great course, highlighting the beauty of the Sydney foreshore. But the best bit for him was “being able to see all participants both at the start and at the end”. And we agree. We love getting all of our team together at the start line to pump each other up as we get all our race bibs etc sorted. It’s then great to cheer each other across the finish line and share a sweaty congratulatory hug and take a post-run group photo! Wayne, on his first time guiding, agrees that the best part of the day was the members, whom he describes as “an amazing and inspirational group of people!”
But it wasn’t all plain sailing, there were a few tough obstacles for us to steer around on the day. The course is narrow in places with some hairpin bends and quite a few kerbs and bumps to navigate. As well as the hundreds of other runners to make our way through. One of the trickier things about guiding in a busy race is that when passing other runners you need to make way for two people rather than one.
If you are a sighted runner, you can easily take for granted your ability to adjust your stride by the smallest margin to ensure you don’t collide with someone (or something) out on the course. Our vision impaired members don’t have that luxury. It’s up to their guides to foresee where they will need more room and try to warn others as best they can. Hence, you’ll often hear us calling “Blind runner coming through”. If you’ve got your music blaring or are lost in “the zone”, we’ll give you a gentle nudge if you haven’t heard us verbally warning you. Whilst we’d love to be able to weave through the crowds like nimble running ninjas, that’s just not realistic when we’re guiding and tethered to our vision impaired runners!
Charlie summed up the race-day atmosphere: “I did like the well organised event and the wonderful community spirit I experienced on the day.” That spirit was evident out on the course (and before and after) as we were cheered along with exclamations of “Go Achilles!” and people spurring us on as we passed others or were passed ourselves. This acceptance and encouragement from the community make a huge difference to our members, who aren’t always able to see the people cheering and waving or see the looks of awe and acknowledgement as we pass by. So whilst our members (and sometimes our guides) aren’t always best placed to offer a thank you in return (we are running hard out a lot of the time!), we are super grateful for all of the enthusiasm and support we receive.
We’re very lucky to be respected and supported by the greater running community and event organisers, such as Pont3 Events, who assist us with free (and easy) registration of our guides.
We also have a huge “Thank you” to give to Real Insurance https://www.realinsurance.com.au/ who covered the entry costs for our members with disabilities. Sponsoring a team to participate in an event is a fantastic way to help our club grow and develop. If you or your company would like to look into sponsoring Achilles, please email email@example.com
A final “Well done” to all our teams who ran on the day! We, at Achilles, are so very proud of you all.
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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.