FAQs of Guiding

New to guiding?

No problem, we’ve got your back. Guiding is not exactly rocket science but there are a few things to know. The good news is that guiding techniques are well proven and fairly consistent among blind/partially sighted runners. Our friends over at United in Stride have a terrific video covering the basics of guiding. Watching the video is a good place to learn the basics.

What is guiding?

Basically assisting a person who is blind or partially sighted to run. This run could be in the local neighbourhood, on a trail or at a track or in a marathon.

Can anyone be a guide?

If you are flexible with your running pace and distance, have an interest in meeting great people and a willingness to help out then you are well on your way.

Do I need to be a strong or fast runner to guide?

Nope, as there are blind and partially sighted runners just starting out doing walk/run intervals all the way up to full and ultra marathons and every distance in between. We always do our best to match people according to ability and running goals. You will need to be flexible in terms of pace and distance but not run faster or further than your comfort level and abilities.

What does a running guide specifically do?

Essentially you are the eyes and navigator for a fellow runner who cannot see or has limited eye-sight. This person could be totally blind or have partial vision. Not every blind runner is completely blind as they may have some degree of vision ranging from light perception to having enough vision that they can almost but not quite run without much help.

What if I am only occasionally available to volunteer or have a irregular schedule?

Not a problem. If you are only available from time-to-time, only available every third week on a Tuesday or what ever it is fine. Some guides join us quite regularly while others come out only a few times per year. We make it work and accommodate to peoples schedule and availability.

What support does a blind or partially sighted runner need?

Depending on the degree of vision loss, blind/partially sighted runners may need a combination of verbal and light touch cues and/or run using a tether to safely run. They will need someone to let them know when to change direction, help with avoiding obstacles such as off leash dogs, cyclists etc. and when to adjust their running pace. A blind or partially sighted runner also needs a description of the path ahead and what action to take in advance. Common examples are speed bump in 3, 2, 1,  you might say something like start moving left to avoid a pothole or approaching a street crossing so lets slow down to a walk in 3, 2, 1.

Do I need to tell my blind or partially sighted runner about everything along the way?

You don’t need to mention every little bump pothole or tree root along the way but the saying “if in doubt call it out” applies. Also if you notice something interesting along the way share it with your runner. There are a lot of beautiful and interesting things in the world to see, chances are if you find something interesting your runner might appreciate it as well. As blind runners we like to know what is around us and to learn what’s along the way as it helps open up the world to us.

What is a tether?

A tether is a strap that both the runner and guide hold at the same time while running. It is usually around 30-45 cm in length with a loop at either end. Almost any item with a bit of length can be used such as a lanyard or length of rope. As long as the item can be held loosely in the hand and made of strong, durable material, it can work as a tether. We find the straps used by climbers make excellent tethers as they are light weight, strong and durable.

What should I do before my first time guiding?

Read our ABC’s of guiding (this page!), watch the United in Stride guiding video and ask questions even if you think they might be silly. If you are in the Toronto area, join us for a run and observe how things work. For some individuals, it is a little overwhelming at first but guiding becomes second nature after awhile.

What should I discuss with my blind/partially sighted running partner before starting our run?

It’s generally a good idea to check in with your runner on their expectations & goals for the run (how they’re currently feeling, distance desired, any injuries posing a challenge and be sure to get an idea on desired pacing). It’s always a good idea to speak about path conditions, any known challenges along the route, how crowded the path appears, etc. Discuss any timing or other concerns encase you need to be back at a certain time. Ensure you both have adequate hydration and nutrition to complete the run.

Who sets the pace for a run?

Pace is determined by the comfort and experience level of both the guide and blind/partially sighted runner. Experience running with each other, road and trail conditions plus lighting and environmental conditions may play a part with how fast or how far you run on any given day. Never run faster or further than either person is comfortable with or to the point of exhaustion. As a guide, you have to make a judgement call in determining if the running pace is safe in the moment within the given conditions.

How do I know I’m setting a correct pace?

Certain running aids like a Fitbit, Samsung or Apple watch have running programs to help stay on pace. Remember to repeatedly check-in with your runner and ask if the pace is ok – for them. It’s very easy and natural to fall into your own rhythm which may not be suitable to your runner. Constant communication is key.

Do you only run in the summer or on nice days?

We are a year round club. We run in all conditions such as rain, snow plus cold and hot temperatures. We are a determined group and besides, who doesn’t love running along a beautiful, snowy trail on a crisp winter morning?

What if I am not comfortable guiding in adverse conditions?

No problem at all as safety always comes first. There is never any pressure for a person to guide when they do not feel comfortable. We are out to run for a safe and fun time. If, at anytime on a run, conditions do not feel safe then there is no problem with walking if it makes sense. On a truly horrible day weather wise, we will err on the side of caution and cancel the run.

Should I always run with the same person?

We recommend running with as many different people as possible. Variety is the spice of life after all. It’s wise to be comfortable running with different people especially if planning to run a race or doing serious training. You never want to be dependent on only one person for your runs just encase that person becomes injured or not available. Also running with different people gives more opportunity to learn and develop more friendships.

Should I change sides when guiding?

Generally speaking yes especially on longer runs. Our research shows running gait and form can change when guiding. Some guides have mentioned shoulder pain and other discomfort on long runs. Changing sides helps prevent any potential discomfort or injury. An exception is if a partially sighted runner due to the nature of the vision loss e.g. partial or no sight in one eye needs a guide to be on a specific side.

What about insurance or liability?

Everyone runs and participates in club activities at their own risk. As a club we do not accept any liability. Like other activities and sports there are risks and potential for accidents. We do our best to make sure everyone knows what they need to know.

What if there are no blind/partially sighted running groups in my area but I am willing to guide if there is a need?

Feel free to contact us at run@blindroadrunners.ca and let us know where you live. Sometimes we know of people looking for guides in different locations. You can also register with United in Stride who offer a service that matches guides and runners together across Canada and the United States. Alternatively Achilles International has mixed ability running clubs in both Canada and the United States.