Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Blind Ultramarathoning

The Guardian profile of Simon Wheatcroft, a legally-blind runner, is quite inspiring. Just imagine the concentration and dedication it would take to do this:
Over weeks of gradual exploration and slow experimentation walking a route alone, he was able to memorise a set three-mile course along little-used pavements and grass verges – albeit with some sections alongside a dual carriageway – near his home in Rossington, Doncaster. He also recruited technology to help him form his mental map of the area, using a smartphone app, RunKeeper, to provide aural feedback through headphones about his pace and distance. This information could then be cross-referenced with his knowledge of the route and any obstacles, giving him extra confidence regarding his surroundings.
Wheatcroft explains: "From where I start, the first turning is at about 0.75 of a mile and I knew it would take me seven minutes to run that. So when the app told me I'd been running for six minutes and my distance, I knew in the next 60 seconds there would be a turning and the pavement drops."
Now, having clocked up hundreds of miles alone on the route, Wheatcroft has been able, gradually, to phase out the app. "When I first started I had to really concentrate to a unbelievable level to know where my feet were falling. Now it has become quite automated." This is not to say the learning curve hasn't been without incident. "I did make a few mistakes early on – like running into posts. But you only run into a post once before you think, 'Right, I'm going to remember where that is next time," he laughs.
For more, check out his blog. He's currently training for the South Downs Way 100-mile race in June and is going to carry the Olympic torch for a bit before the London Games. Good luck Simon!

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