Once in a lifetime

Once in a lifetime is a saying that gets easily used. When my wife and I travelled America we lauded how it was once in a lifetime. In reality we will no doubt repeat that trip in a decades time. We often use the saying when the task in actuality is easily repeated.

For once though I believe I have a once in a lifetime opportunity. I have been giving a condition place to be a London 2012 Olympic Torchbearer. The condition being I pass the security and background checks, pretty sure I will pass this easy enough!

So I am truly honoured to have been chosen. It is without a doubt the greatest reward for the past year of hard training and running. I would even rank it higher than my TV commercial!

Like most things in life there was a long string of interwoven events that led to me being nominated.

Disregarding all the training for a while, the timeline went a little like this:

I wrote a blog post about my experiences with RunKeeper and how it enabled me to train solo outdoors. This was quickly picked up by the RunKeeper team and appeared on their blog.

The Daily in New York found the story and ran an article on me.

This was quickly followed by Wired and CNN. Resulting in me filming a short for CNN that aired earlier this year. The Wired featured blog ran for a number of months and brought in lots more attention.

During the time I was writing for Wired I lost my pacing team. So I began a search for a new pacing team and perhaps the most instrumental people in the timeline were introduced.

I contacted UP & Running in the hopes they could help me piece together a pacing team. They went above and beyond and ran a small in store campaign and mentioned it on Twitter. This brought in the initial point of contact James Clay, along with James came Matt Puddy and Charlie Baxter.

Matt and Charlie took up the reigns and began to put together a team. Matt ran all the logistics, planning and organising. He was incredibly instrumental in allowing me to run my first ultra run.

With the run complete the next event was the ASICS call. They wanted a blind runner for a TV commercial and I didn’t really fit the bill. I had a quick chat and mentioned what I was doing alone and with my pacers was a better story than the one they were on the look out for. They agreed and the TV commercial was created.

These interwoven events created my running journey of the past year and were the basis of my nomination. I was kindle nominated by Charlie and Matt and was chosen. But without all those other people my story wouldn’t have got out there and the opportunity would never have presented itself.

So to all those people Thank you.

There is however one last mention. For my wife, she was there through all the difficulties of training, the time I was passed out on the bathroom floor, when my legs failed during training, when my water was stolen and most importantly she had the faith that when I said I could run alone she believed it.

Under The Knife

The majority of blind people are still have some level of vision. Only around 2% see total darkness. Luckily I fall within than 98%. For example I can still perceive light that in turn allows me to see shapes and movement as well as on good days make out a little detail. The sight I have lost is my peripheral vision, central vision, colour definition and I also have total night blindness.

To be able to utilise this small amount of vision I need to wear glasses. This is often frustrating as glasses and contact lenses cost me around £1000 a year. This is an enormous amount of money for frankly very little benefit. The cost has become far to prohibitive now I am a student and I simply cannot afford it.

Thankfully I have another issue with my eyes: cataracts. This may not at first seem like a lucky ailment to have, but it does mean I qualify for surgery. During surgery plastic lenses replace my natural biological ones, the great thing is these can be prescription lenses.

So thanks to the cataracts I will have my prescription partly corrected and I will be able to afford to use my limited vision once again.

I am also interested to see what happens when I walk around using my cane without glasses. Currently I believe people are less willing to help as they believe I have a large amount of vision. People have even approached me and started conversations assuming because of my glasses I am simply partially sighted.

RP Community

Despite being registered blind for over a decade I have never been involved with the blind community. I decided early on to try and adapt as much as I could and keep this in a constant cycle, it was only when these adaptations required the use of a cane I became involved.

My increasing involvement has seen me start to arrange a fundraising event for Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind (SRSB). While I was chatting with the event organiser she mentioned there was a RP group meeting in a few weeks and would I like to come along. Unsure of what would be involved I thought it might be interesting.

The meeting consisted of a Dr talking about possible cures. Now I must mention as he did these cures are a long way off. We are talking gene therapy, stem cell research and bionic implants. All pretty much sci-fi at this point in time. I am well aware if a cure will be found it is at least 1-2 decades away. I am fine with this if there is a cure great! I will take it, if not I will have adapted and be doing what I want regardless.

The majority of people at the meeting seemed to get a lot from a talk on possible cures, they were seeking a medical classification and cure. U moved away from this idea many years ago. I feel concentrating on adapting rather than hoping for a cure is more productive. After all if I sat at home waiting for a cure that would be a very boring life.

Due to this I didn’t particularly take much from the meeting and when asked by the organisers I mentioned this. And I was asked the question “if you could turn back the clock and make is so you never lost your sight, would you?” the answer is no. While I would happily take a cure I wouldn’t change what has happened. I am only where I am in life due to everything that has gone, losing my vision made me adapt in specific ways. Each of those adaptations led me down a new path.

The path I have found myself on currently I am very happy with, a psychology student aiming towards a career path in clinical psyhoclogy or maybe even sport to tie in with my other passion right now, running. I only began running in an effort to push the boundaries and see what I was capable of, I don’t think I would ever of challenged myself like this if I had retained my vision.

I still plan to attend the meetings and hope there will be lots of talk about adapting and moving forward. I also look forward to working with SRSB.

some days are easier than others

Some days the commute to university is a breeze, I jump on the train at Doncaster quickly find a seat and begin listening to my audiobooks. A quick walk through the meadow hall station and usually the tram is pulling in and I repeat the process jump on and listen to an audiobook.

Other days it is simply draining. People literally pushing me out of the way as we board the train and kicking my cane out of the way. Only to get to the transition to the tram and the same be repeated. Old people with mobility issues seem able to out sprint anyone when it comes to getting a seat. I was literally turning round to sit down the other day as an old person sniped it from under me!

Yesterday was a mix of the two, the journey to university was incredibly easy and I managed to listen to a few good chapters and even arrived at university a few minutes early. Just in time to bump into an old friend from college.

The journey home however was awful, I was pushed out of the way as I left the tram and barged about entering the terminal. Not a fun time, no worries I thought the train is usually empty at this time. I was wrong, the train has never been so full, it was literally standing room only. Then the unusual happened, someone offered me their seat, I felt so bad I refused and carried on walking down the train. After being shouted at to keep moving by the ticket checker (do they have a job title?) someone else offered me their seat and I relented. Ahhh a seat and relative safety.

I phoned Sian and asked her to meet me on the platform so we could shoot off. I popped off the train and Sian was no where to be found, I rang a few times and no answer. Eventually I got through and she assured me we were on the same platform, we didn’t appear to be so we met in the underpass. Sian assured me we were on the same platform as we met in the underpass so no idea why we couldn’t find each other.

So basically to sum it up, sometimes the commute is a pain but every time I think everyone is just plan rude someone offers to help or gives up their seat.

Adapting to university

When I began the process of applying for university I retained enough vision to be able to read. This was a great plus during college as it allowed me to read through the required textbooks and complete my work easily.

I had hoped my vision would stay stable during my 3 years of university. Unfortunately it didn’t even last 3 weeks. Already I am having to totally change the way I learned and move the vast majority of my learning to audio.

This change is huge, for the past 20 years I have been used to learning through visual based means, now I am forced to rely on auditory techniques. This is a difficult transition as a new learning style at the same time I begin to study at a new level are two great challenges to run simultaneously. This isn’t even taking into account getting the textbooks into an accessible format.

If I thought obtaining textbooks digitally was difficult obtaining them in an audio format is taking it to the next level. Again thankfully my previous career in IT is really helping out and I am able to convert any book to audio once I have a digital copy. But it makes me wonder what people without a reasonable level of computer savvy do.

In this day and age of a digital society it still boggles my mind to find content is difficult to get in the format the end user actually needs. If I can do it with an iMac and some free software publishers can certainly do it.

In an effort to ease the time burden on myself I have a library assistant who can convert from paper to digital. For this I am incredibly thankful but it still means there is a delay to accessing the information I need. People blessed with vision have the option of doing to the library and pulling out and book they need and flicking through the pages. The only delay being the time to search for the book. I at best have a 3-4 day delay on accessing any information I need.

So again publishers: stop making excuses and sort it out

Its been a while….

The blog has been quiet for a while but rather than a lack of things to blog about I have just been too busy.

Adjusting to university has been a lot harder than I had anticipated. With the commute to university being the first time I have used my long cane it has been taking its toll. I perhaps rather wrongly assumed people would be forgiving of me using the cane and be polite. This turned out to be wrong.

Today for example as I boarded the tram someone clean kicked my cane out from me. No apology they just looked at me and pushed by me. This unfortunately happens on the majority of commutes. On the flip side about once a week someone is actually helpful and assists me with something.

With the rush hour commute being difficult I decided to make a few changes to my timetable to ease the process. Thankfully i didn’t enjoy the module I dropped to ease the commute. So I suppose it did all work out for the best.

While I begin to get my studies under control I have been thinking about next years ultra running. I am definitely entering the UltraRace Championship which will see me return to the Cotswold 100 amongst many other races (90 miles in Jan I best get training!) I have begun to think about other challenges.

I have never been fond of the multi day event but the past few weeks have been thinking about how far I could run in a week. 210 miles seems perfect achievable so could I run 280? push it to 300? I have a few destinations in mind and some interesting point-to-point runs. Just need some funding! (or sponsorship!)

Around The Corner

University looms just around the corner; I am still a little anxious about starting university there are just so many unknowns. One of the biggest for me is the commute.

Historically I would adjust the commute so it was absolutely minimal. In the early days when I worked retail, I would catch the bus just after or at its terminal so the bus was empty. This would make it very easy to find a seat and negate a lot of the issues with transport. Fast forward a few years and jobs and I lived literally next door to where I worked, totally removing the commute.

My commute now consists of, being dropped off at the train station, a train then a tram. The journey to university is relatively simple, my wife points out the right train and I board it. Finding a seat is still an issue but I can stand if I must, The tram journey is also very easy, I board the tram and the terminal and there are only two trams, one takes me to the right destination, the other relatively close. So if I go wrong here no big problem.

The issues arise on the way home, I can’t see the name on the tram so I have no idea if I board the right one, the same goes for the train. So I am forced to rely on asking any bystanders if they know where the next train or tram goes. Not the most ideal situation but needs must.

I am also conscious of moving around the campus and the studying itself. Having never studied at this level before I am unsure of the adaptations I will have to make to succeed along the way. All seems a little ad-hoc at the minute, I am confident I will be settled in and know what I am doing within a few weeks. After all everyone at university is in the same boat, its somewhere new and scary!

I also have an ultra coming up in a few weeks, so best start upping the miles. Nothing like adding to the pressure!


Today during cane training I was finally awarded my own long cane. Before you can be presented with a cane you have to show the ability to navigate safely as well as know a few key movements of the cane.

In reality I mastered the cane a few weeks ago but have been a little to busy to meet up and finalise the process. Today we hit a few of the routes I plan to use when commuting to university as well as practicing a few road crossings.

Crossing the road is always dangerous when blind as frankly there are too many crazy drivers! But we headed to a busy road instead of picking the quiet areas so I got a feel of what it is really like rather than spending my time crossing easy roads.

This was also a great opportunity to try different tips for the cane. I have decided to use the rollerball tip, which is basically exactly what its namesake implies. An enormous rollerball. It glides over surfaces far easier and snags less, making walking on rough surfaces such as paving slabs easier.

Today was also a great change to try out some speaking alarm clocks and wristwatches. Now the watch I actually want is a black faced TW Steel but I cant afford it right now. Money is constrained so I may end up with a cheap ugly RNIB watch. Not looking forward to that but needs must.

Demo Dog Day

While I continue to train with the long cane I am also incredibly interested in using a guide dog. I love dogs and really like the idea of having a little buddy with me when I go out.

To progress through the process I attended an introduction day where you get to handle a guide dog and have a little chat with a reasonably new guide down owner.

I arrived at the centre and was met by an enormous german shepherd; quite rare in the guide dog world. It was the largest german shepherd I had seen and we used to have them as family pets! As we waiting for another person to arrive we chatted about guide dogs in general and their capabilities.

After the other guest arrived we headed out to have a trial run with Lola the german shepherd. I was nominated to go first. The instructor had chose an incredibly busy street with a number of obstacles to demonstrate what the dog was capable of and see if I was willing to allow the dog to lead. In order to keep it safer the instructor also had the dog on a leash while I held the harness handle.

With a simply instruction of forward we were off. The first 20m or so felt so strange, the dog moved at a fast pace, far faster than I could navigate alone. The dog weaved in and out of the pedestrians and obstacles and I quickly found it easy to understand the dogs movements and follow along.

The one thing I seemed to keep forgetting to do was praise the dog, you have to constantly reward the dog be it verbally or through a treat to let it know its doing a good job. But apart from that I felt I was doing incredibly well. After a few more basic commands and crossing a couple of roads the instructor decided to release the leash and let me have a go solo.

The dog picked up the pace and we were off zooming down the high street. Lola was able to identify possible obstacles in the distance and noticeable slowed as she calculated the best route. The dog overall performed excellent right up till we returned to the car. As Lola spotted the car she bolted and pulled me along!

I really enjoyed my experience with a guide dog and look forward to hopefully passing my final assessment next week. Then its a case of waiting a long period of time (upto 18 months) to be matched with a dog.

Cane Training an Update

As the run approaches I have also been continuing with my cane training. I am pleased to say I have mastered the majority of the techniques and was praised for being so competent so quickly.

The cane training came at an odd time as attempting to run a 100 miles does not seem to go hand in hand with mobility issues. This contrast has been interesting as the skills I have acquired through running and training alone translated incredibly well to using a long cane.

It turned out the techniques I had developed on my own where the actual techniques used to navigate with a cane. A strange coincidence indeed! This allowed me to quickly progress through my training and become proficient with the cane in an incredibly short time frame.

On todays lesson a student accompanied me and my rehab officer. The student had to ask if I was indeed blind as I moved around so well. I laughed and confirmed I was and told her she should come see me running alone!

Despite becoming proficient with the cane my training is not complete. We are beginning to work on set routes I will utilise on a daily basis. So we will be practicing boarding the train and tram I will use to get to university. I am really looking forward to this as I see it as a fantastic step forward in regaining my independent mobility,