It hit me that I have some amazing running highs to draw from when I realized how incredible this experience was. I called my parents after we finished the race, which is something I’ve done for years after events. They always thank me for calling to share my excitement and it was noticeable how much this experience meant to me. Sharing with them is always important and to help them understand this event’s meaning for me I told them that guiding at the CIM Marathon was equal to the enthusiasm I felt winning the Hardrock 100. They were at the Silverton finish line, they knew how much that meant.
I felt so much vulnerability, ownership of needs, and real caring for all present in that room during the awards Sunday afternoon. For nearly two hours, each person took a turn to share about their experience being engaged in the weekend, whether racing, guiding or supporting. I really appreciated the stories of connection. And how important it was for every individual sitting in that room, especially the athletes with visual impairments, to connect with people in their similar situation. To laugh, tease, learn from each other, and support each other. To have an entire weekend that they weren’t the odd man or woman, the different one in the sighted world that surrounds each on a daily basis. We have amazing skills, access to technologies, and resources available to make sense of our surroundings with and without sight. The B&VI community is an amazing niche of people, like ultrarunners, and other creatives that move around and experience this awesome world.
When it came to the race, earlier that morning, I wanted to do a good job. I felt a huge responsibility in lending my sight to this man I barely knew. This was reinforced at 4:30am when I snapped off the bedside lamp, the only light on, on my way out and had to make my way to the hotel door. I stumbled along, feeling along the bed and the walls to exit the hotel room. I couldn’t remember what side the door handle was on and floundered trying to simply get out the door. It hit me that’s how some of the runners in our group experience the world around them.
To help Kyle run a marathon he helped me understand his obstacles. Keep him from tripping on a manhole cover and other variation in the road, jumping over timing mats or onto sidewalks, or from bumping into another runner. (helpful link: United in Stride guiding video) I took it upon myself to share more details from the experience so that he could gain visuals of what we were passing. The changes in the neighborhoods, the wide-open spaces along the forever vista of the rolling road, to the massive four-lane intersections packed with people bundled against the morning chill, holding coffees and decorated signs. He asked me if we were going by a farm and before I could ask how he knew, I smelled the manure too.
To be able to offer the best support, I appreciated that Kyle gave me the guidance I needed by asking for exactly what he needed. “Please guide more here, it feels weird underfoot. Countdown before I need to jump over something, 3, 2, 1, I’ll jump on 1. I’ll hold your arm for this section.” He also easily understood my need to go to the bathroom multiple times in the first 10k. When guiding alone the first half marathon, I would lead him to the white line which he could follow walking and then I would dart into the bushes. What can I say? I am a trail runner! And caffeinated beverages kept me functioning the previous 10 days on the road. The fact that needs could be easily expressed and met made the experience respectable and equal.
Kyle and I shared the start line shuffle and first 13 miles together, calling out cracks and giving visuals, but also running, chatting with each other and engaging in conversation with others around us. The chilly morning. The sun finally touching and warming our backs, he noticed it first. Other than the red tether between us and the “Guide” bibs on my tank top we were two runners in a marathon race sharing an experience. “Please guide a bit more here Krissy.” His helpful reminder now and again so I didn’t forget that key role.” And “Thank You.” Kyle said thank you after every visual call out, grabbing him water, or pointing out the trash can by guiding his hand towards it. I remember telling him after the ump-teenth crack that he thanked me for pointing out, “It is awesome how much gratitude you show Kyle, if you get too tired to say thank you I totally get it.” He never stopped.
Half way through we ran under a massive arch, which I later learned another guide ran her runner right into in an awkward moment that both were able to laugh at. After the next turn I handed over the red tether to Sablle. We had met the night before at the hosted dinner and texted photos that morning so we would know what colors to look for on each other. She was super obvious for me to spot with her arms up in the air, jumping up and down to great us. She was excited, and keeping warm at the same time. Committed to the run and loving the experience I opted to hang with the duo and support as I could.
Sablle stepped right in to calling out the pile of cups underfoot and I stepped into stride beside them aware of how much I’d been talking for the last two hours. I was able to support their duo by getting water at the aid stations, instead of leaving Kyle alone to walk through the aid station and grab him water, Sablle could continue running with him and I went and brought water back. A few times I let runners ahead know that we would be passing on the left. But one guy caught all three of us off guard. We later guessed he was in the relay and had dropped his timing chip. In his flurry, like a horse with blinders, he charged in front of Sablle, clipped Kyle’s calf and squatted in front of me to pick up something off the ground. He stood up and almost made a scene, but quickly registered that he’d just charged a runner with limited sight and his guides and apologized.
Aside from our one exciting incident, we kept pace and chatted. I found myself encouraging both him and my aching hip flexors to keep moving forward. Pavement hurts, yet, made much more enjoyable as a closely shared experience.
The chaos of nearing the finish made more sense for me to run just ahead of the duo. Kyle was picking up speed and passing the late race faders. It was inspiring to turn around and see the determination on his face and focus on Sablle’s navigating those final turns. Nearly yelling at me to step back alongside, Kyle insisted that I cross the line with them. A familiar sentiment I’ve felt for years pacing and being paced. Sharing the final step across a finish line has a unique bond.
Still acting as his eyes we meandered through the chaos of a marathon finish. Receiving medals, snacks, bottles of water, turning down a tyvek jacket and finding a place to snap a selfie of our team.
Our eyes and the information we receive are both fascinating and not to be taken for granted. Listening to the keynote speaker on Saturday night reminded me of the time I lost my vision at the Hellgate 100K in 2007. It was scary and I remember thinking I would much rather break a leg and never be able to run again then not be able to see. How would I start my new job? Navigate the world? But after this weekend’s experience I see so much ability and so much vision for what is possible. We each have a responsibility to how we respond to the challenges that are thrown our way. Our choices influence the people around us, and impact our lives. The lightness, directness and gratitude captured in participating in the CIM with Kyle and Sablle and the B&VI community is a highlight in 2018 and a new add to my life. I immediately signed up for United in Stride as a sighted-guide in hopes to be able to help a local runner who is VI train for their upcoming race. I also added a B&VI division to the Chuckanut 50k. Currently we do not have a B or VI runner in Bellingham and we didn’t have any register for Chuckanut, but we never had a sighted-guide offered either. I look forward to seeing what is possible.