Sunday, February 27, 2011

One Man, Sans Sight, Trains for 100-Mile Ultramarathon By Simon Wheatcroft

As a trainer and coach I hear all too often a list of excuses why my clients can't do what they set out to do. For any of you thinking of whining this week, please read this first. - Koz
Reposted from Playbook- the Wired World of Sports  Simon Wheatcroft   

Editor’s note: Simon Wheatcroft lives in Doncaster, England, and has been registered blind since he was 18 years old. That’s because Wheatcroft, now 29, has been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that essentially breaks down the cells composing the retina, a layer of optical tissue that helps convert light images and visual cues before sending them on to the brain. There is no cure, but that hasn’t stopped Wheatcroft from continuing with one of his great passions: running.
Moreover, Wheatcroft is now committed to running the Cotswold ULTRArace.100, a 100-mile ultramarathon that starts on June 24 and ends the next day.
This is the first in a series of semi-regular guest posts, where Wheatcroft will describe the challenges and triumphs he encounters as his training regimen continues. For more frequent updates, please check out his personal blog at In this installment, Wheatcroft reflects on how his use of various apps — RunKeeper, in this instance — has helped him get back to serious training.
Being blind introduces a number of challenges in my daily life; certain tasks can only be completed with support or guidance. I won’t bore you with the psychological effects and the stressors involved. I will just say it’s stressful.
Running is my way to alleviate stress; concentrating on my breathing and pace allows me to drift away. Historically, I used a guide runner to aid with my running, as running on the roads and blindness are a dangerous mix. I began using RunKeeper while I had my guide runner, and it gave me a great sense of control. The audio cues allowed me to feel in control of my pace and to not rely on input from my guide. This, frankly, felt great. For the first time ever, I was able to give pacing information to my guide rather than the other way around.
Then I lost my guide runner. With university calling, he moved to another city and I was left with one option: the treadmill. Now, the treadmill at first would appear the ideal solution. After all, it offers a very low risk of death.
But the treadmill itself offers a number of issues that removed control from me and placed it into the hands of a guide. The majority of treadmills now feature touchscreens — pretty useless to someone who is unable to see the screen. I wouldn’t be able to change speed or incline, and I wouldn’t know how far I had run or, indeed, for how long. I could, of course, have used Nike+ for this information, but it wouldn’t solve the actual operation of the treadmill.
So, instead, I chose to do something which may have appeared impossible: run solo on the roads with RunKeeper. I memorized a three-mile stretch of pavement and began practicing. With each dip, lamppost and foreign object memorized and paired with distance audio cues through RunKeeper, I was now in control. It allowed me to break free of the shackles of guide runners and to feel a true sense of control and freedom. It’s difficult to express the difference one app has made, not only with my running but my life as a whole. For those five runs a week, I forget I am blind and just run. RunKeeper made me just like everyone else on those three miles of pavement.
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