Running with the Blind

Marla Runyan was the world’s first visually impaired Olympian, and being blind didn’t stop her from breaking tape! img via

The other day my running partner decided to bring a friend to our run who was training for the Savannah Half Marathon.  Imagine my surprise when they arrived and I discovered his friend was blind!  I will admit that for the first few minutes I was a bit apprehensive; I’m not sure why, but I was.  I mean, I knew blind people can run. Marla Runyan has been one of my personal heroes so I knew it was possible, but I had not met any blind runner until now.  I mean, what would we talk about?  Would we have to hold her hand the whole way?

Not exactly…

Blind people can run, just like the rest of us.  Their legs work just like yours, it’s their eyes that are different, which is something I already knew, but just needed to be reminded of.  In fact, that wasn’t the only lesson I re-learned from this run.  In many ways, my new blind friend was just like the rest of us runners, and running with her was an exercise in practicing my running etiquette.

  • Really running is a time to bond, and as with any running partner you can talk about anything when your partner is blind. She had a great personality and we talked about random things and found things in common.  For instance, we both love traveling outside of the United States.
  • When running with others it is nice to let them know about the curbs, changes in terrain such as cobble stones, and potholes. This is especially true with the visually impaired.
  • Also make sure to speak up when it’s time to switch to single file or if you need to hug the curb a bit more. This should always be done because I have been bumped when my running partner decided to move from the sidewalk to the road pushing me in the process.
  • Think for two. You are not running alone, you are a team. You may be able to fit between the parked cars, but can two of you?

We had to amp up the communication and pay more attention to road obstacles, but in the end running is running, whether you’re guiding a blind runner or just running with someone new. In hindsight, running with her was not much different than running with a sighted person: it was a wonderful experience because she is an awesome person.

If you’re interested in more information on running with those who have visual impairments, a great place to start is the United States Association of Blind Athletes, where you can read about how best to guide athletes or find a chapter near you.

Have you ever run with a runner who is blind or has some other physical impairment?  Would you like to try it? Why or why not?

I eat miles for breakfast, or occasionally for a snack later in the day. Self proclaimed 50+ and fabulous poster child, US Army vet, college professor, avid runner, yoga enthusiast, guest columnist, and I've used Olay since I was 17 so they should use me in at least one of their ads!

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  1. I’m a visually impaired runner myself (I have the same condition as Marla Runyan, although my visual acuity isn’t quite as bad) and I always appreciate running buddies pointing things out to me (curbs, sticks, etc) while we’re running. I think there’s a difference though between “blind runners” and “visually impaired runners”- I can see well enough to run by myself most of a the time, although running with someone is certainly preferable! It’s an interesting line to straddle, because I’m visually impaired enough to meet Boston’s standards for visually impaired/blind entry, but I don’t really feel that I need any accommodation that I wouldn’t do myself. I’m glad you had a good experience with it!

  2. Thank you for your kind comments. I am inspired by you. I agree that there is a difference between blind and visually impaired. The woman I ran with called herself blind which is why I used it. I thought I heard that Marla Runyan was legally blind. I will admit that I do not know much about that and hope that I have not offended anyone with my post.

    1. Definitely not! There’s no real reason for people to know the difference unless you find yourself needing to! I find myself explaining the difference to people all the time- I’m legally blind, but I can see in general, but I’ll probably make weird mistakes and ask stupid questions…it makes life more interesting, that’s for sure!