Meeting VI Runners at a Manchester parkrun

The benefits of regular exercise are well documented, and thousands of people attend the weekly 5km Saturday parkruns across the country. What's it like for VIPs and their guides?

The benefits of regular exercise are well documented, and thousands of people attend the weekly 5km Saturday morning parkruns organised across the country.

But how welcoming is parkrun to those with a visual impairment?

The answer – at least on the occasion I attended – is “very welcoming”.

I visited my local parkrun at Fletcher Moss to talk to regular VI parkrunners Zara, aged 10, (on her fifth full parkrun…but she has also done 21 junior 2km Sunday parkruns) and her mum Shahida, who was on her 30th parkrun.

VI runners and guides

Shahida was with her regular sighted parkrunner guide Sue, with whom she has built up a close friendship over many months.

Shahida, who – like her daughter – has nystagmus, photophobia, and chromatopsia, said: “It’s just brilliant. I’d never done any exercise in my life, then I decided in my 40s I need to get fit, went on British Blind Sports website to find a guide, didn’t have much luck, tried again, and Sue was literally on my doorstep and available. The rest is history.”

“I like a flat course that’s easy to work out. I think it’s really important to have a guide who you can build up a relationship with, and who becomes a friend. The VI guides are just amazing, keeping us safe and giving us reassurance.

“It’s a great atmosphere at parkrun, everyone is so supportive and it’s like a little family.”

Sue, who has experience of VI guiding both at parkrun and elsewhere, explained that different runners may require different approaches.

She said: “The lady I used to guide with I used to have a strap and as long as she could feel there was tension in the strap she could feel that I was with her. With Shahida, because she has some sight, I just have to let her know if there are any obstacles or puddles coming up.”

And Sue explained that some parkruns might be easier than others for those with a visual impairment to tackle.

“All parkruns have a description of the course,” she said. This means people can decide whether they think the course is right for them. Some courses are flat and open and some are more trail-like and hilly.

You can find out about parkruns near you by visiting https://www.parkrun.org.uk/events/events/

Get in touch with the Run Director of your local parkrun by email if you want advice or information.

And if you are reading this and thinking about becoming a VI guide then you can also get in touch the same way and find out more about how to get involved.

When I visited Fletcher Moss I was lucky to also meet Diane, who was acting as a guide runner for the very first time.

She said: “I’m on my 145th parkrun, and I love the concept of parkrun because it’s so inclusive, no-one gets left behind, and no-one is excluded.

“In terms of guiding I’ve never done it before but I tail-walked last week with Shahida, and a call went out on Facebook for a guide for her daughter this week, so I responded to that. It’s good to give something back, and I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s been great. I didn’t even know we had guiders at parkrun and we definitely need more.”

So why not get involved? And if running isn’t your thing, remember that Henshaws offers lots of advice and groups dedicated to all sorts of leisure pastimes. Just click on the link below to find out more.

https://www.henshaws.org.uk/courses/?theme=exercise

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Edward
Edward
Ed works in digital communications at Henshaws, mainly on content for the Knowledge Village.