RunKeeper: Keeping The Blind Running


Being blind introduces a number of challenges in my daily life; certain tasks can only be completed with support or guidance.  I wont bore you with the psychological effects and the stressors involved, I will just say its 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 is a dangerous mix.   I began using RunKeeper while I had my guide runner, it gave me a great sense of control.  The audio cues allowed me to feel in control of my pace and 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 round.

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 actually removed control from me and into the hands of a guide.  The majority of treadmills now feature touch screens, pretty useless to someone who is unable to see the screen, I wouldn’t be able to change speed or incline, I wouldn’t know how far I had run or indeed for how long.  I could of course of used Nike+ for this information but it wouldn’t solve the actual operation of the treadmill.

So instead I chose something with may of appeared impossible: run solo on the roads with RunKeeper.  I memorised a 3-mile stretch of pavement and began practicing.  With each dip, lamppost and foreign object memorised and paired with distance audio cues through RunKeeper I was now in control.  RunKeeper allowed me to break free of the shackles of guide runners and feel a true sense of control and freedom.  It is difficult to express the difference one iPhone app has made, not only my running but my life as a whole.  For those 5 runs a week I forget I am blind and just run, RunKeeper made me just like everyone else on those 3 miles of pavement.

RunKeeper has not only allowed me to run solo but also kept my dream of running a 100-mile race alive.  Finding a guide runner who shared the same goals as me had proved difficult; no one was willing to train to that distance.  But now I have a running partner that doesn’t complain about the long runs and lactic acid, they simply deliver my audio cues that keep me running.  So this June armed with RunKeeper I will be attempting the Cotswolds 100.


15 thoughts on “RunKeeper: Keeping The Blind Running

    • I know the route very well, RK distance prompts are there to remind me what is next. The GPS isn’t detailed enough to give my location on the pavement I know that as it is flanked by grass. So if I have a foot strike on grass I move a little to the aide.

  1. Wow, what an amazing use of technology. Makes my occasional run sound rather insignificant now. I have used Runkeeper on and off over the past while, and also tested RunMeter (that one can email or tweet your progress as you go, which is handy if someone could have a cup of coffee waiting when I got to the end!).

    Keep on running!

  2. That is fantastic! Congratulations on using technology to become more independent. For your 100 mile race training, you may need to consider an additional power source for your iPhone. And please pardon my ignorance, but how are you able to effectively operate a touchscreen device without seeing it? Good luck with the Cotswolds 100.

    • I am looking at buying a power source that takes AA batteries.

      And apple have built accessibility features in their entire line of products. The iPhone has zoom, White to black and VoiceOver. If you have an iPhone go into the accessibility settings and check it out, very impressive. The iPad is hailed as a great product for the blind.

      As for using apps like run keeper, I know the orientation of my phone and know where my fingers should be to press the buttons.

  3. I met a blind runner at the Augrabies Extreme Marathon in South Africa in 2004 – it was his 4th or 5th year doing the run (250km in 6 days) and had also completed the Marathon des sables a couple of times. He was an inspirational man. Having met him I am absolutely confident you’ll achieve your goal in June. I wish you strength, stamina and good fortune.

  4. Simon,

    Truly awesome – in the proper meaning of the word, i.e. worthy of awe.

    I’m not doing the Cotswolds 100, it’s a bit far for my tastes, but if there were any issues with your guide towards the time and you needed a relay of guides please get in contact; I’d be happy to do some and know where I could find a few other people too.

    Inspirational stuff Simon, very best of luck.

  5. Deborah and Simon – yes, it is Geoff Hilton-Barber. I first met him running Augrabies Extreme in 2001; and we’ve remained friends since. He’s also a regular at New York Marathon. He lives in the KwaZulu-Natal Province where he has an organisation that provides a home for adults and children with disabilities and impairments. They do many outdoor activities – running, hiking, horse riding… and I think he still takes groups of children up Mt Kilimanjaro, assisted by sighted guides and helpers. It’s called The Horizon Farm Trust (

    Oddly enough, my mom first met Geoff in the late 70’s when he was going blind and her friend was teaching him to sail. He sailed solo from Durban to Perth! And then almost 30 years later I meet him running a staged ultra!

    Simon, I just love how you’re using RunKeeper. I know that Geoff did almost all of his training on a treadmill. I haven’t chatted to him for an age, so reading your post and the comments is a great shake-up to drop Geoff a note. I’m going to copy your post to him – he likes technology and gadgets so he’ll get a kick out of it 😉

    best wishes with Cotswolds (and if you ever want to come run in South Africa, I’ll run with you).


  6. Geoff’s achievements are amazing I hope our paths cross one day!

    I have emailed him in the past to discuss Badwater, just asking a few logistical questions. We have both lost our sight to the same eye condition too.

    I would love to run in Africa one day Comrades would be a good one! I will email you so I have you in my address book!

  7. I am losing my vision – have Usher’s syndrome. Running has been an important part of my life for so long. Having lost so much, I feel relieved that it may still be possible to run forever! Thank you for your post. Please contact me if you can – would love to hear more. Thanks.

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