Dave discovered a community of guide runners on the Find A Guide website, and hasn't looked back since...
Dave Williams was born with Leber Congenital Amaurosis, which causes sight loss at birth. Never the most active of people, Dave tried to take up cycling to set a better example for his 10 year old son, Arlo, and to even out some of his unhealthy life choices (namely, a love of pork scratchings and a job that meant sitting at a desk all day every day)!
Unfortunately, Dave found it more and more difficult to find a pilot for his tandem cycling. It was at this point that Dave stumbled across the Find A Guide database; a national guide runner database delivered by England Athletics in partnership with British Blind Sport into which visually impaired runners can enter their post code and find guide runners in their local area.
Dave had a couple of reasons for showing an interest in this site…one, maybe he could lure a guide runner into converting to a pilot and two, as a freelance IT consultant maybe he could find a problem with the site and get some work out of it! Alas, neither objective became a reality and instead Dave ended up connecting with Steve, a guide runner who lived 3 miles away. Ever the cynic, Dave didn’t believe Steve was real – a guide runner 3 miles away in the rural countryside of Worcestershire was too convenient to be true.
After many back and forth messages, Steve turned out to be real and asked David out for a run. Still not fully convinced of how genuine the situation was, Dave called Steve’s bluff and accepted the run. The allotted time for the run arrived…and Steve turned up on Dave’s doorstep, ready to run.
Backed in to a corner, Dave pulled on his trainers and off they went. Dave has generally always preferred being independent, walking on his own without the use of a cane or a guide, so to walk holding Steve’s elbow was the first step out of his comfort zone. The second was the running. Whilst they began at a steady walk, 100m in Steve said “Are you ready?” and then began to run. 200m later, they were walking again and Dave was gasping for breath! But they carried on, walking and running and walking and running. And the end of the route, Dave apologised for wasting Steve’s time. Steve said he would see him again next Friday.
At the end of August, Dave continuously ran 1 mile for the first time. This seemed to be some sort of pivotal point; Dave realised if he could run 1 mile, then he could probably run 2, and then 3 and then who knows how many more! It was then that Steve recognised Dave needed to be running more than once a week and put him in touch with the Black Pear Joggers, where he met a guide runner called Bex. Bex has dyspraxia and so Dave thought, in theory, that this partnership would never work. Dave was proved wrong. He and Bex gelled immediately and have ran over 1000 miles together so far this year.
A few months later, somewhat accidentally, Dave ended up entering the ballot for the New York City marathon 2019…and to his shock and horror, he ended up getting offered a place!
Bex agreed to do it with him and so, with 9 months to train, they decided to give it a go! Dave’s main motivation to start this gruelling and painful journey was Arlo. He thought to himself, “what about my 10 year old son? What does he expect from me? I need to show him that if you put your mind to something, then you can achieve anything!”
So the New York City marathon finally came around, the Sunday arrived and Dave and Bex were up at 4am to get to the start of the race out in Staten Island. The New York Marathon is known worldwide to be one of the more challenging marathons, with over 900ft of elevation and 5 bridges. The road was covered in debris and potholes and people were constantly crossing over the course, making navigation tricky for Bex who had to focus on keeping herself going as well as Dave!
This marathon was almost exactly a year on from Dave’s first parkrun. He felt like he was floating for the first 16 miles, but when 23 miles hit Dave started to feel like he was “running through plasticine” (at which point, he says was quite grateful for the struggle because he felt it had all been too easy up until then!!).
Dave and Bex completed the New York marathon in 4 hours, 12 minutes and 20 seconds; an incredible achievement. And Dave is adamant that it’s a case of WHEN they run a sub-4 hour marathon, not IF.
They now have London 2020 in their sights, with someone suggesting that once that is completed they’ve already run 2 out of the 6 “major” marathons and may as well strive to run the other 4! It seems Dave can’t turn down a challenge, because he’s now put in for the ballots for Chicago and Berlin and will aim for Boston and Tokyo as well, all with Bex at his side of course.
Dave is testament that you can do anything you put your mind to. He wants to continue to break down the barriers and encourage visually impaired people to become more visible in their communities; to normalise the people themselves rather than recognise the impairment.
Dave never believed that his story could have unfolded like this that day he first stumbled upon the Find A Guide website.
In his own words it all started “with a bit of huffing and puffing” and became “one hell of a journey”.
If Dave’s story has sparked your interest in taking up running, whether it be for a mile or for a marathon, and you would like to find a guide to run with you, you can access the Find a Guide database here www.findaguide.co.uk