VI Running with Colin Johnson and Chris Blackabee
On Sunday the 19th of September 2021, more than 10,000 runners took to the streets for the return of the Great Bristol Run. The event featured the UK's first-ever dedicated 10k race for blind and partially sighted people after local guide runner Colin Johnson asked that The Great Run Company include a race to encourage people with sight loss to take part. Over 70 runners and guides were at the start line and took off in the Visually Impaired (VI) Runners 10K Challenge just a few minutes ahead of the mass start for the 10k and half marathon races on Anchor Road.
British Blind Sport spoke with Colin Johnson and Chris Blackabee to find out more about the event and how to get involved in VI running.
How did you get into running?
Chris: I lost my sight in my teens and went to a VI school where I was introduced to adapted sports. However, I didn't take up running until I was 40. I was working in banking and needed to make a change and take care of myself. I started going to the gym and one of the instructors suggested going for a run outside and offered to be my guide. I haven't looked back since!
Colin: I started running about 25 years ago when I entered the Bristol half marathon. I had become pretty unfit and was overweight and wasn't able to run one mile without stopping. So the challenge of the Bristol 1/2 marathon really did change my life. I have gone on to run marathons, ultra-marathons and many fell races.
What would you tell others looking to get involved?
Chris: My advice is to start slowly and not go too crazy too fast! Use British Blind Sport's Find a Guide to get yourself a guide who matches your pace and who you work well with. Above all, have fun and enjoy the training!
Colin: With running you will always get your rewards for hard work and training, but it is important to build up your training and mileage slowly so that you avoid injury. It is a very common mistake to do too much too soon so a good rule is to only increase your mileage by no more than 10% per week, and also take rest days to allow your body to recover.
Why is keeping active important to you? How have you been continuing your passion/staying motivated through the pandemic?
Chris: Running has been shown to have physical and mental benefits, but it also has significant social benefits. The lockdown was difficult - online sessions like the BBS Active at Home programme and other online resources kept me active, but I missed the social aspect of running with a group. It's made me realise, now more than ever, just how important it is to stay active and have access to clubs.
Colin: I have been running for over 25 years and have done all sorts of races from road, cross-country, as well as fell racing. My home club is Westbury Harriers based in Bristol. As I have gotten older I now enjoy the off-road running more than ever, hence I have run around the South West Coast Path, as well as the entire coast path of Wales. Running out in the hills and mountains is a joy that is hard to be matched; it feels like it’s the most natural thing for a human to do and something I feel we evolved to do as humans. If I am not able to run then it does impact my mental health, hence the reason I am passionate about introducing others to that same joy running gives me.
Colin, what made you want to become a qualified Guide Runner? Chris, what made you want to take up running. What is your greatest achievement in this area?
Chris: I enjoy the sense of freedom that comes with running and running with a guide. When you're out navigating with a cane, you have to be on your guard. Being with a guide relieves this pressure. I've run a lot of marathons, but nothing beats the feeling of finishing my first marathon in Budapest. It opened the door for more opportunities. I would love to challenge myself to take on an Iron Man.
Colin: I first came across guide running when I met Chris because he had a place in the Budapest marathon and needed a guide to get him through his first marathon. I then trained as a guide and guided Chris around that marathon. The joy and total elation that I experienced in doing that was something that money could never buy. Helping someone to achieve a goal like that is priceless, and things have progressed from there.
What impact do you think the Bristol VI 10k Challenge has had?
Chris: Coming out of lockdown made me realise there were a lot of people who weren't aware of opportunities for blind or partially sighted people to get active. The VI 10k Challenge aimed to raise awareness of VI running and get as many people involved as possible. It was the first time an event like this was held in the UK. The atmosphere on the day was electric. We hope it’s the start of something bigger.
Colin: The VI Challenge race has been a goal and a passion of mine for almost 3 years since I had the idea. The goal was to try and raise awareness of blind/VI running because there is currently only a tiny fraction of VI people that do get out and run, and the benefits can be enormous with mental well-being and self-belief. The race has been a great success in spreading the word and we have had lots of positive feedback, so I hope that it will be the start of others doing similar events.
If you, or someone you know, would like to take part, visit www.greatrun.org/bristol to sign up for the reminder service for the 2022 event.
About VI Runners Bristol
VI Runners Bristol is a local club for blind or partially sighted people who want to try running. They have a team of England Athletics-trained running guides who can take you from running or walking to running or walking a marathon. Running improves not only your physical health but also your mental health and self-confidence. The club meets every week on Wednesday evenings for a run followed by a visit to a local pub. If you would like to get involved, please contact Colin Johnson at ActiveCity@bristol.gov.uk or visit the club's website at: https://www.bristolactivecity.org.uk/portfolio-items/vi-visually-impaired-runners-bristol/
Find A Guide
Running is a great way to get in shape, enjoy the outdoors, and meet new people. We have a growing database of trained, licensed Guide Runners who can assist you in starting or continuing to run safely!
Our friendly guide runners are passionate about running and are ready to help you whether you're a seasoned runner or it's your first time running.
You must be 18 or older. To get started, enter your postcode and our Find A Guide engine will search for guide runners near you. Link: https://runtogether.co.uk/get-involved/find-a-guide/