Running or jogging is considered one of the best cardio exercises out there. Just 5-10 minutes a day can help to build strong bones and muscles, while lifting your mood and energy levels. For many, outdoor running can also decrease feelings of loneliness, isolation and depression.

However, when you have a vision impairment, it’s not as simple as just popping out for a quick morning jog on your own. So how can we enjoy the benefits of outdoor running while keeping safe?

One answer to that question is guide running. The activity, which uses a ramble tag, enables visually impaired people to run tethered to a sighted guide. This person could be a friend / family member, or you could enquire about a guide at your local park run. Taking place every weekend, park runs are free, community events where people can walk, jog, or run. There are currently 1,200 events across the country, with more locations being added all the time. And, whilst giving you motivation to exercise, they provide the opportunity to meet new people.

Kelly Barton – a blind mum and charity manager from Southport- had never been running until her first park run event in 2016. She quickly hit it off with a sighted guide called Mike, and before long the pair’s friendship turned into a romance. They have since completed over 250 park runs together, as well as half marathons and the London Marathon. Recently, the couple also made headlines when they tied the knot in November 2023. I spoke to Kelly about how guide running has changed her life and why she would recommend other VI people give it a go.

Q: You have been running for seven years now. What was it that led you to start?

A: It was actually my GP who got me into it. I was saying to him that I really wanted to get fitter, but I was finding it difficult with my visual impairment. I couldn’t just go to the gym on my own because gyms can be hard to navigate and the equipment isn’t always accessible. Even going for a walk can be hard when you can’t see. You have to go on the routes you know. My GP told me he was trained as a guide runner and suggested I come along to our local park run, so I did. That’s when he introduced me to his friend Mike. We started running together and I was hooked straight away.

Q: Why do you enjoy park runs?

A: I like the fact there’s no pressure on anyone to run fast. For example, a lot of people do park walk. I think it’s great to encourage people to do just that. If they want to build up to a jog, that’s fine and if they don’t, that’s okay too.

Q: How has running improved your physical and mental health?

A: It’s been amazing. I think it’s such a brilliant way to start the weekend: 9am Saturday morning in the fresh air. It makes you feel fitter, happier, more motivated. I’ve made lots of new friends through park run. And it’s increased my confidence too. Since I started doing park runs, I’ve tried loads of other sports that I wouldn’t have considered before.

Q: What other runs have you done?

A: We started off doing 10ks and then half marathons. We’ve also done the London marathon twice, and this September we’re doing the Berlin marathon.

Q: How do you train for a race or long-distance run?

A: It takes over your life. I’ll train in the week and go to an interval running session. Then at the weekend, you need to do a long run. You build that distance up over the weeks and months.

Q: What do you recommend people do to motivate themselves?

A: When I’m running on the treadmill at home, I always listen to an audio book. It keeps my brain occupied and I don’t think about the running. Then when I’m out, I’ll chat with my guide, whether that’s Mike or someone else.

Q: Can you explain a bit more about how guide running works. Are runners matched based on their speed?

A: Usually, you will be paired with someone who is a bit faster than you. This is so that they have enough breath to give audio description about what’s coming up, for example a change in surface. But I would say to people, you don’t need to over complicate things. It’s just like running with a friend, but you happen to be tethered.

With the 2024 London Marathon taking place this Sunday, 21 April 2024, we’d like to wish all of our vision impaired runners and their guide runners the best of luck! Why not take some of Kelly’s advice and start off at your local runs. Who knows, you might be running the London Marathon as part of #TeamVICTA one day!

Written by Charlotte Bateman.