I know I don’t have much street cred when it comes to views, but I can say with complete authority, that before I went blind I had never walked a half marathon! Always choosing to focus on what I can do rather than what I can’t, it is only my eyes that no longer work, not my legs!
Starting out at the magnificent Forsyth Barr Stadium, my sighted guide Jo and I got to commence our 8th half marathon on a beautiful sunny Dunedin day. With clothing always being important, we had adapted our outfit to alert passing athletes know the reason Jo and I were connected by a rope was that I was blind and she was my guide. This is not easily apparent from behind and it was an incident several years prior that forced us to make these changes to our walking wardrobe. The first year we competed together a woman wanted me to move out of her way, and in politely doing so I managed to crash into a medium barrier at the side of the road as I stepped to my left and promptly found myself heading straight for the tar seal below. This of course gave the female athlete the opportunity to sail on past with no apology, while I was left picking myself up off the ground. Ever since then JO and I have been wearing hot pink t shirts with signposts on the back of them; Jo’s with sighted guide and mine with blind walker. This way other athletes know I am blind and Jo is not.
This year with a change in route, I asked Phil Coaks of Caversham Harriers to email directions for the course so that I could become as familiar as possible with it. This was particularly important as the route seemed to change continuously, and with heading out ahead of the pack 15 minutes early so we don’t get squished in the crowds, the marshals are not always on duty in that first part of the race. Two years ago Jo and I got lost at the beginning and we were both keen for this not to happen again. Walking a half marathon when you’re blind is one thing. Walking a half marathon and a bit is truly a pain in the backside!
This year the birds kept us company when we set off 15 minutes early and started our race along Butts Road. We headed then into the leafy part called the University Oval and at this stage we had the whole course to ourselves so it was quietly pleasant. The marshals began appearing and cheering us on and we headed around the University clock tower quite buoyant. The sound of studentville began to filter into our ears. Students who had either gotten up early, or stayed up all night, began cheering us on. The next phase of the course took us into the Botanic gardens. Ordinarily a peaceful corner of the world but not this time. Behind me I could hear a herd of elephants descending upon us. The noise became so loud I even closed my eyes! It made no difference visually but it made it easier to centre myself and help me focus on where I was putting my feet rather than concerning myself with the hordes of athletes passing us, either on the left, the right or from any other direction humanly possible. For all their noise though there was no chatter. No hello’s or goodbyes, they just ran past us like we were statues!
“Here’s the Dunedin Railway station” Jo would inform me. “Toitu now and the Chinese Gardens” she would explain.
“Step up” she would say.
“Railway tracks” she would inform me.
My body could feel the first uphill on the over bridge and then down towards the breezy harbour. The gentle wind offering us light relief along the way and I wished those orange cones had lead us into Custom House café for a coffee! Alas no; but by this time the athletic crowd were friendlier with cheers of encouragement as they passed us. We reached the half way mark at the Forsyth Barr Stadium again and this time along the cycle track, unfortunately not on wheels but on foot. More friendly people passed us as we headed along state highway 88 and up over the Rose Neath Hill.
Yet another drinks station at the 20 km line was a welcome relief to do our last 1 km. We fell over the line with a time of 3 hours 42. In a race where times seem to be so important to others, I comforted my efforts by knowing that I am the fittest I have ever been in my whole life and it’s taken going blind to get there!