Chris Blackabee was part of history this weekend when he took part in the UK’s first 10k race for blind and partially sighted people. The Great Run Visually Impaired (VI) Runners 10k Challenge was added to the Great Bristol Run weekend after local guide runner Colin Johnson pitched the idea to the event organisers.
Chris lost his sight completely at the age of 18 but it wasn’t until he turned 40 that he decided to take up running having discovered the opportunities available to VI runners. He started out by walking on the treadmill, before progressing to outdoor running with the assistance of a fitness instructor from his local gym.
“I felt anxious and apprehensive when I first started running but I soon fell in love with it. In August 2016 I was contacted by Achilles International* to compete in the Budapest Marathon. I was keen to take part but it suddenly dawned on me that I didn’t have a guide. After networking and exploring my options, I was encouraged to use England Athletics’ Find A Guide database, through which I was introduced to Colin Johnson. We arranged to meet and instantly had a connection. We have a similar sense of humour and can-do-attitude, and were proud to complete the Budapest Marathon a matter of weeks later.”
Chris has since set up a running community in Bristol for those with visual impairments and his goal is to inspire others with sight loss to train and compete in organised events. In 2017 he supported Colin in establishing VI Runners Bristol, with the main aim being to encourage others to spread the word and get more VI people active.
When asked about The Great Run VI Runners 10k Challenge, Chris said:
“We wanted a race where VI runners could measure their performance against runners in the same category. Visual impairment brings lots of challenges. It’s easy to become isolated and lose your identity because you don’t feel confident in your mobility. Running can make such a big difference. It puts you in touch with people, gets you out there and breaks down social barriers. These benefits shouldn’t be overlooked.”
This race was the first of its kind in the UK and Chris hopes it will encourage race organisers to put on VI races in the future. Chris has certainly got the bug for racing and will be competing in the Berlin Marathon this coming weekend.
“Running gives me a sense of freedom. When I’m walking I have to tread carefully but when running with a guide I can switch off. You have someone who’s watching out for you, every step of the way. It’s a real sense of relief for me to know that I’m safe.”
Are you visually impaired and looking for a guide runner?
There are almost 2 million people living with sight loss in the UK. Of these, around 360,000 are registered as blind or partially sighted (source: NHS). There are many ways a blind or partially sighted person can get involved in running with the support of England Athletics. We have a growing database of trained, licensed Guide Runners to help you start or continue running safely. Simply enter your town or postcode to find a Guide Runner local to you. We have also developed a training and licence scheme for runners wishing to become guides.
Find out more about Guide running
- Click here to find out how you can become a guide runner.
- Go to Find A Guide to find a guide runner near you.
- Click here to find out more about VI Runners Bristol on Facebook.
*Achilles International is an organisation that supports disabled people to compete in athletics.