Running blind on the trails

Steve Skidmore with guide Anna Covey at the Butcombe Ultra Trail

Steve Skidmore with guide Anna Covey at the Butcombe Ultra Trail

Registered blind runner Steve Skidmore tells us what it's like to run an ultra with a guide

Running on the trails can sometimes be hazardous enough as it is, but can you imagine doing so without properly being able to see where you're going?

Steve Kidmore from Bristol is registered blind but he did not let that stop him completing the Butcombe Ultra Trail, a 50-mile race across the Mendip Hills held last month.

Some may have thought the uneven terrain and trees would make trail running particularly troublesome for those with visual impairments, but Steve, who is fully blind in one eye and has limited vision in the other, explains: "Both running on or off-road come with many challenges.  With the Butcombe being 50 miles there was a fair bit of road to negotiate along with the usual mixed terrain of muddy tracks and plenty of very steep hills.  I prefer to be off-road as I get more anxious on roads where there are more hazards to contend with such as lampposts, wheelie bins, cars parked on pavements and endless curbs.

"Whereas off-road there is far less to worry about. I can’t think of anything better than running though muddy puddles and when the terrain gets too tough you can always walk. It’s more of a confidence thing that makes running off-road more enjoyable and even less of a burden for your guide."

Steve, who is a member of the group VI (Visually Impaired) Runners Bristol, has also completed the Green Man Ultra and London to Brighton.

As much as, for the fortunate ones among us, the sights of trail running provide a significant portion of the pleasure, the heightening of the other senses for those with sight impairments can mean that other aspects are more appreciated.

Steve says: "When the path is clear along with my guide I can take in the tranquillity of the outdoors. There is nothing better than when the sound of the distance traffic fades away.  The smell mostly evolves around farm animals and manure but, hey - no pun intended, apparently it's good for you.

"Ultra-runners may be a breed of their own but whilst running off-road with my guide I can truly experience the same pleasures as any other runner. There not only needs to be genuine trust between you and your guide but also empathy.

"Being honest about what your expectations are, compromising on pace and being open about fears and anxieties is what makes running ultras possible.  With now having run more than 200 miles with Anna I believe we have achieved this."