Family life

When running isn't selfish

When a blind athlete asked Jennifer to be a guide runner for a race in downtown Toronto, she set aside her own training goals to lend a hand

By Jennifer Pinarski
When running isn't selfish

Runners at the start line of the 2012 Achilles 5K. Photo by Achilles Canada via Flickr

What I love the most about running is that for the time I'm out on the trail, it's 100% me. My goals, my quiet time. So when I was asked by Rhonda-Marie Avery to be her guide runner in the Achilles St. Patrick's Day 5K Run, held at the Steam Whistle Brewery in downtown Toronto this past Sunday, I was honoured and quickly accepted. It meant putting aside my own training plans for the weekend (shelving about 12K). As her guide runner, my responsibility was to get her safely to and from the race, keep her from danger during the race by running side-by-side and pointing out potholes and pedestrians and hopefully helping her achieve a personal best in the 5K distance. 
*gulp* No pressure. 
Leading up to the race we texted daily, a smattering of smack talk of how slow we actually are (both of us are training for ultra distance events — her July Half-Ironman and my own 6-Hour Trail Run). We thought 30 minutes was reasonable for a couple of mid-pack mother runners, especially considering the only 5K distances we've ever run have been at the end of a sprint distance triathlon. Rhonda's PR was 32, mine was 26, which was set five years and one baby ago (so long ago that I actually had to look up my results).
I've run with Rhonda before, on a cold, quiet and windy 19K training run in February where conversation came easy and there were few hazards on the deserted streets of Peterborough, Ont. On Sunday we ran with 1,600 other people, many of whom had their own guide runners as well. It was very, very different than our hometown run. As as a solo trail runner, I felt totally out of my element, surrounded by people and concrete. But I had a job to do.
And doing that job made me think that I must have looked like a chicken, constantly turning and ducking my head to look out for anything that Rhonda could have fallen in (lots of grates, streetcar tracks and pavement cracks) or run into (other runners, parked cars — plus I nearly collided with an amputee in a wheelchair and was absolutely horrified). Also, as a guide runner you need to be bossy and vocal. And while I'm bossy and vocal with my kids, as a runner in public it was hard for me to put aside my shyness and yell at people that we were on their left or right, to alert them that we'd be passing them. Sometimes we'd just divide and zoom around the people in front of us. 
But we did it. We crossed the finish line in 30:36. We pulled off a two minute PR for Rhonda and I completed my first race as a guide runner. And I was terrified. I really thought that I sucked.
Rhonda assured me that I did a fine job — despite pushing her physical limits, not talking nearly enough to give her a point of reference as to where I was, not yelling at enough strangers to get out of our way and blowing my nose all over her arm warmers. In fact, I did well enough that she's asked me to be her guide again for an upcoming half-marathon — a 4K open water swim and a 50K trail run. Oh, and she wants me to stand in for her Half-Ironman guide should anything happen to the guide scheduled to compete that day. I feel like the training that I need to put in to get ready for this event isn't nearly as hard as helping a fellow athlete fulfill their dreams (without making them keel over or fall in a very deep hole in the process).
High five to all you guide runners, because it's seriously harder than it looks.

Learn more about Achilles Canada and the athletes they support on their website.

Photo by Alexis Edgehill, Achilles Canada via Flickr
This article was originally published on Mar 21, 2012

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