Interview: Blind Faith

Inspirational tales from runners who have overcome the odds



Ken Reid & David Lott

The 53-year-old marathoner from North Berwick on speed bumps, wide corners and carrying the olympic torch.

Ken
In my mid 20s I was diagnosed with the degenerative eye condition retinitis pigmentosa. I had the classic symptoms and I developed tunnel vision, which gradually got worse over the years. Before I was 30 I was registered blind. My sight had got more and more restricted until there was just a tiny point I could see through. But that eventually vanished and now I’ve only got some peripheral vision on my extreme right side.

Before I lost my sight, I drove and enjoyed cycling. Giving this up made me feel I was losing my independence. But I also believed being blind’s a life sentence, not a death sentence. So in 2000, after a change of direction in my life, I decided to do triathlons. I’d enjoyed cycling and swimming, but never run before. I soon got hooked and started to run much more. This led to me doing three marathons, starting with Edinburgh in 2009. 

As someone who’s blind, I’m very trusting – I have to be. Every day I have to ask strangers to help me across a road, or some task or other. It means I get on with most people and so running alongside someone and chatting away feels natural. During most of my training I’m running free and I’m only tethered when we’re on the track for pace sessions or at big races. Otherwise I usually rely on verbal instructions. My guides have to not only run with me, but also have enough puff to still be able to speak. Luckily they’ve all been great.

When I ran the London Marathon in 2010, I was tethered to David, who I’d met through my running club, while another friend, Gavin, was the ‘sweeper’ just in front of us who cleared other runners out of the way. I would then be guided through the gaps by David. Gavin also grabbed the drinks at water stations so we could avoid the crush.Although I pulled a calf muscle in that race, I was determined to hobble home, which must have made it even harder for my guides.

Some aspects of a race I run differently from sighted runners. When a speed hump is coming up, David will count me down to it and then I do a high step over it. I also go very wide on corners to avoid getting boxed in, so I often end up running a much longer distance. 

On the long distance runs especially, my guides have found that constantly talking to me is a good way of keeping us all motivated. It also makes us aware that we’re running as a team. 

I’m a bit of a showman during races and love waving to the crowds. I really made the most of it when I was chosen as a Paralympic torch carrier and ran my section with David. As I say, trust comes naturally to me and I’m always happy to run with whoever can help me. But with a guide like David that trust’s really warranted. He and other guides have been vital in getting me round courses safely.

Ken supports RP Fighting Blindness, a charity dedicated to finding a cure for retinitis pigmentosa. Visit rpfightingblindness.org.uk.

David
A few years ago an email came from my running club asking if any members were free to go running with Ken. I didn’t know him at the time but was keen to help.

I had some trepidation that I was going to guide Ken into a lamp post at first. But quickly it became obvious he was very adept, so the guiding wasn’t too onerous and I just had to be very vigilant.

The first time we tried it was with Robbie, who ran with Ken at weekends. Robbie guided Ken so I could see how it was done, and then we swapped over. It worked really well. I realised early on Ken was up for anything and didn’t let blindness limit him at all. I don’t ever forget that Ken’s blind, but guiding him has become second nature, like driving. You’re always anticipating what’s in front of you.  


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