Jeff Daniels is among the runners taking part in the second annual Visually Impaired (VI) Runners 10k Challenge at this year’s Great Bristol Run on 25 September 2022. The race, which was held for the first time at the Great Bristol Run 2021, is currently the UK’s only dedicated event for blind and partially sighted runners.
Jeff lives with extreme myopia and describes himself as severely sight impaired. Now 62 years-old, he has experienced trouble with his sight from a young age.
“My sight problems really got in my way once I turned 30 and I had to give up driving. I went through a period of being totally blind, but surgery has brought back some of it.
“The condition I have means my eyes are out of shape, so my retinas tear away. While surgery has helped to some extent, my condition has worsened with age.”
Despite the challenges he faces with his vision, Jeff has embraced running as part of his lifestyle and credits it for turning his life around.
“I tried to get into running a few years back and, pre-lockdown, I started going to the gym and was doing a regular run-walk session on the treadmill,” he explains.
“I lost almost a stone in weight, but when lockdown started that all stopped and the weight went back on.”
Living alone and with no opportunity to exercise, the lockdown periods were a challenging time for Jeff.
“When the second lockdown ended and you were allowed to meet up to six people outside, a few of us got together, including Teresa, a friend of mine who’s a long term member of VI Runners Bristol, a running group that allows blind or partially sighted people to run outdoors with the help of a trained guide.
“She’s been a great mentor to me and got me into running. She’s done lots of races, including the Great Bristol Run 10k, the London and Berlin Marathons and is a great inspiration to me.
“And not only that – we’ve become so close through our running that we’re now a couple. So I’ve found love on this journey too!”
Jeff did his first 5k in July last year and took part in the inaugural VI Runners 10k Challenge at the Great Bristol Run in September 2021. I ran that in 1 hour, 12 minutes, which I thought was pretty damn good for a 61 year-old. Since then, I’ve done quite a few 10ks and my target for this year’s Great Bristol Run is to complete the race in less than an hour. I can do it on a treadmill in 52 minutes so I’m hoping I can do it on the ground.”
A dedicated race for the visually impaired
Normally, blind and partially sighted runners would have to compete in the same races as sighted runners, but the VI Runners 10k Challenge is the first of its kind that allows them to compete for their own medals.
“Having a category for visually impaired runners makes such a big difference because it inspires people to try something they might have thought was beyond their reach. I’d love to see more race organisers doing this.”
Jeff’s advice to other visually impaired people who are thinking about taking up running is to see if there’s a VI running group in their area. If not, he suggests approaching any running group and asking if they have any trained guide runners among their ranks.
“One of the hardest things is getting your head around using a guide. Someone’s giving you verbal directions and you’ve got to absorb all that information and it takes some getting used to. But then you get to the stage where it just clicks!”
Jeff joins the VI Runners Bristol (a group set up on Facebook) at their sessions every Wednesday evening and is also involved in organising their runs.
“Without the dedication and support of the guides we would not be able to participate in runs or race challenges,” says Jeff. “We run as one we are just runners enjoying freedom.”
Running is now an important part of Jeff’s life.
“I never thought this would be something I could get into and now I’m fully engrossed in it.”
As well as the benefits running has brought to his mental health, Jeff has reduced his weight from 14 stone 8 to 11.5 stone.
“I’ve never felt this fit. I used to have trouble with my knees, but now I’ve got rid of that extra weight it’s much better. But for me, the mental health benefits have been the best. I went from not having any contact with anyone during lockdown and feeling quite low to a point where it feels like life is worth living again and I’m having so much fun.”
If you, or someone you know, wants to take part in the VI Runners 10k Challenge at the Great Bristol Run, visit: https://www.greatrun.org/vi-runners-challenge/ to register.
The VI Runners Bristol group allows runners to train as guides to take blind or partially sighted people running. For more information, visit Facebook: www.facebook.com/groups/1890506954520150
The Great Bristol Run also includes a 10k, Half Marathon and Family Run. At this year’s event, runners can look forward to a live, start line DJ, pumping out a high energy set to help them find their groove for the challenge ahead.