Archive for October 31, 2013

My personal journey that was the Great South Run

Having said I would update you on the training and how I was getting on, I let the side down. This wasn’t that the training wasn’t happening, it was just that life got in the way of me writing my blog.

So Sunday 27th came and so did the severe weather warnings!

I have to admit that throughout the training it was the rain I was worried about, not the wind. A very foolish misconception, after all the last 2 Miles of the race where along the sea front at Southsea, with no shelter. And as you will be aware if you have been anywhere near the great outdoors on that day, it was windy…. Very windy.

After an issue with my guide runner, the dog costume for the guide runner and everything coming together at the 11th hour I didn’t have the chance to be nervous about anything other than being able to finish the race.

My original guide runner was too tall for me, making him too fast in stride even at his walk pace. So, thankfully I was able to twist the arm of a friend, to join me. As a former partner, he is aware of my eye condition and my preferred way of being guided and having things explained to me. He also had a good understanding of what it meant to me to be doing such a challenge. Although I don’t think he had a full appreciation for what doing a 10 mile flat open air course would be like with a giant dog suit on!

The dog suit was another issue, the events team at guide dogs was arranging for me to have one of their costumes as the one that I had used from my local Southampton mobility team was already being used by someone else. With just 10 days to go before the race it arrived, a dog costume that looked nothing like the fat little puppy I had borrowed from Southampton, it was a very sad looking dog, with several sewing issues.

So, I went back to Southampton and asked for their help, the fundraising team were fab, they tracked me down a puppy costume that was in good condition, although missing its hand gloves, they arranged for it to be driven down from its home in Leamington and it arrived on the Thursday before the race.

It was a fat chocolate lab puppy costume, that with a guide dog race vest on looked the part. My guide would be able to play the role of being my dog after all.

top dog

top dog

So, it was all in place and race day came. On recommendation and for ease we travelled over to Portsmouth on the Gosport Ferry, and then walked the 2 miles to the charity village for a warm up before starting in the ‘green’ heat at 11.05.

It was only once arriving on site and getting the puppy ready, putting my own cane away that the emotion of the day hit.

And oh yes, it hit…. I was in an absolute panic. Not about running the race, not about even completing the race. No, it was something that unless you have trouble with large groups or very little vision will be hard for me to explain in a way that is easily understood.

The volume of people, more that 2500 of them were also taking part, yes we were ranked in different colours depending on ability, the green rank that I was in was the busiest and saved for the casual runners, walkers and those who had never done such an event before.

I was attached by an elastic strap on my wrist to the puppies wrist and when we had trained I had done so to hold his arm between his elbow and wrist. We had trained to work at a good pace together, none of this was of concern, this I had prepared for, trained for and had control over. All the other runners though, well they were a completely different story, over them I had no control, no understanding and nor did they of me.

In such a vast crowd no-one realised that I had a visual impairment or that the dog was my guide, not just a guy dressed up for the fun of it.

So we warmed up together, moved up to the start line together and then it all started, no more time for panic, no more time to think, just time to put my complete and utter faith in my dog.

But in a way that I had never put my faith in Vicky before, I couldn’t not do it now, there were several hundred people behind us, to the sides of us and in front of us and there we were, 2 people with no where to go but forward.

My senses were on ultra high, I could sense all of the people around us, especially those behind us, but I couldn’t judge their speed or distance and with a giant puppy head, vocal commands from my guide were non existant, instead it was all done through feel, touch and gentle gestures…. That we hadn’t practiced or used before. Where he went, I did, I gave up on trying to look forward, the movement of me and others was too hard to focus on, so I put my head down and watched his giant brown puppy paws instead and followed their rhythm.

We had trained together, to run together, but like I said, nothing prepared me for this. I felt like I was a failure, another thing that I couldn’t do, but then there were the people cheering and David attached to me and I WAS DOING IT, even if I had had to walk the whole course, I would have still have done it.

The race really knocked me down, yes I should of trained more, then maybe I wouldn’t have hurt so much after, but no amount of physical fitness prepared me for the emotion and the me part of the day.

I am struggling to explain this, but it was a very large marker for me, on how I do see things differently and how I feel about them. I have never and will not shy away from doing things like this again, in fact I am already thinking of next years challenge. Which not be a running event that is for sure!

I suppose that the reality that I was only able to do such an event by being with another person, not being able to just jog through the crowds and run my own race, I had to do it with a guide. A guide who was very happy to help and happy to go with my pace without complaint. But nether the less, a guide.

The great south run for me was another realisation that I can’t just get up and do things by myself, I am different and in this instance that has caused me upset.

Its been one of the highest moments for me to say YES I DID IT, but a low also to think that I wouldn’t be able to do it alone.

Getting a handle on things

As I have mentioned before, my guide dog has given me so much freedom and Independence, more than I feel I would have if I had continued to use my cane on a daily basis.

Vicky, however has decided that she is getting tired of her role as my guide dog and in recent months has slowed her pace considerably, to the point sometimes that I feel like we are standing still… She has had several health issues and in the past two years having suffered with a growth on her tonsil she has been receiving daily medication in the form of an inhaler. This has enabled her to breath easier. She is happy working and has been assessed several times as I would not wish to work her if she were not happy.

She is still very happy to work, her tail is testament to that, it is just that it is at a slower pace, a pace that is too slow for me.

Having celebrated her Eight birthday, thats Fifty Six in dog years!

The decision was taken last week to retire her from service, when a suitable replacement has been found or she decides she is no longer happy to work, which ever comes first.

This decision has been one that has been at the back of my mind for a little while now, so was not as a complete shock. But as she is such an amazing part of me and my family it is still one that fills me with upset.

I had commented before that when Vicky was to retire I would go on to work with a new dog, which I am still going to do. But I was not prepared for what happened next at the guide dog assessors visit last week!

To be matched with the ‘right dog’ it is important that the guide dog team know as much about your lifestyle as possible. This includes your usual day, places you visit, hobbies, interests, other family members, other pets, etc etc.

I had thought about this bit, I had even written a list, a list that is four times longer than the list I had when applying for Vicky, a list that impressed the assessor as it gave her a very detailed account of my life and what I would need from a dog.

This was all good….. Then E, my assessor invited me to do a ‘handle walk’ This is where she would hold the harness and work with me as if she were the dog.

This is a way of her understanding and judging my pace, stride length and most importantly control and balance, which are key for matching me with the right dog.

So off we went for a walk down my street, where all my neighbours know me and just in time for the mums at the pre-school to be walking past on their way for lunch pick ups.

I vaguely remember the handle walk from when I applied for Vicky, but this time it felt completely different, because I knew what I was doing, well….. In theory that is!

So, off we went. E told me that she was sniffing and I was to correct her, this is the same with a dog, (although with the dog on the harness you can feel them putting their head down to sniff, Vicky doesn’t actually talk to me) It is a vocal correction, where tone is key, if this doesn’t work then it is a correction using the harness, not to hurt the dog, but to stop them. This must be carried out with the correct verbal warning, where timing is crucial. Followed by immediate praise when the dog responds, which again is a different tone.

Then came the praise. Me walking along the street with a grown woman holding the front end of a harness, while I held the harness, telling her she was a ‘good girl’ as one of my daughters dinner ladies walked passed.

Another part of the test was my instructions. E had to find the crossing having been targeted to it, I then had to praise her with a soft yet exciting warm tone (thankfully she was happy for me to forgo the ear rub that they encourage in a new partnership!)

It was back to basics, time to put in place all of the commands that I use daily with Vicky, foot positions that have become second nature, so much so that when E asked me to stand in the ‘starting off position’ I FROZE. I couldn’t remember what this was or how I did it. E understood my hesitation and reassured me that I had used the correct position when we had taken Vicky on her walk earlier. But with E stood beside me I couldn’t remember it. Thankfully she came to my rescue and reminded me of what to do, a simple foot position that sets you off to walk forward or turn left or right in a fluid motion with the dog.

A motion that had become so fluid in fact that when I had to think about it, I couldn’t do it.

We worked on my preferred pace, my pace with the children and my ability to follow. This assessment was the same as the one I had had to complete when I first applied for a guide dog, because having had one dog did not automatically qualify me for another.

I have been assessed as fit to work with a new dog, awaiting medical conformation, which is standard practice. When received I will be put on the waiting list for my next dog.

This is a scary, yet exciting prospect. But one that will only help strengthen me for my future.

Looking towards the future

Part of me as a person, is someone who works and earns my own money. Being on benefits for me is a failure of my ability to do this.

I am currently in a position that I am reliant on the help that they offer. I am home looking after my two children, now on my own after my relationship broke down earlier this year.

But I want to do more……

It is not that I do not love being at home, or that I don’t love my children, but I need more. I have a strong work ethic and I want to be able to support my children more and allow them to have nicer things.

My career before my sight started to deteriorate was in design, a career that yes I could have continued with with the correct support, but one that I felt that my heart had fallen out of.

I have also worked within administration and with charities that deal with sight loss. But although I ave an eye condition and I enjoy the volunteer roles that I have with Open Sight and Guide dogs, my sight is just part of me.

So time to look to the future and to see what I can do for my next career.

Last year I started this ball rolling by doing a taster course in counselling. I fell in love with it as a subject and as a possible career move. And despite my initial concerns my sight loss has no affect on me being able to support others. It just means that I need to do things in a slightly different way.

This year I have been working towards my ABC certificate in counselling. Class makes up just 4 hours with 8 hours at home, however for me this is more like 12.

Studying and all that comes with it has been a learning curve in more ways that just the subject! I have learnt a lot about how and when I can use my eye’s and sight to get the most out of them, without creating negativities for myself.

An example of this, is using the computer. As I have said before, I am a Mac user and as such, have a MacBook Pro and iPad. Both of which offer fabulous accessibility as standard. (maybe thats another blog in the making!) But when I can use my Macs is becoming limited.

If I want to be able to close my eyes and wind them down to sleep, I must not be using them after 9pm in the evening. Even with the speech software, I still try to use my remaining sight, its a natural reflex. If I have reading to do, this must be done even earlier in the evening or preferably during the day.

So, study is nothing like the all-night, stopping only to use the loo sessions that I had when at university just 10 years ago. Which is a real marker for me of the deterioration that has occurred.

So, my work is done with an hour here, an hour there and also a stopwatch. Because as with most people when I am deep into something, time can run away with me and with my eye’s I do not feel the affects immediately, but it is often a few hours after.

But this has not put me off.

Just this week, went in the application for the DipHe in Counselling. Its a whole day at Eastleigh with 2 1/2 days of home study. The ‘perk’ of this course is that I can apply for assistance in the form of a scribe for the time in college. I can also apply for a grant to help me to upgrade my Mac, to a larger screen as my existing mac is becoming a struggle. Its not going to be easy. This I am in no doubt about, but this is where I want to be.

So, as I can no longer do late night studying, I will have to give VERY early mornings a trial instead.

Joining the Gym

Just over a year ago, I signed up to a swim membership at my local leisure centre. I aimed to go several times a week to improve my fitness.

I was able to swim alone if I chose my times carefully, but to keep up my enthusiasm and to help me with my swim technique I roped a friend into coming with me.

The swimming was going well, I still go. But I felt that as the colder, wetter, darker weather was due to set in, my opportunity to get out on my bike, for a run or just an incredibly long walk was reducing.

I also needed to admit to myself that I needed to train more if I were going to actually achieve something out of the great south run.

So….. Joining the gym seemed the obvious choice.

To say I was nervous was an understatement, I was petrified.

The instructor Stephen, who did my induction with me was incredibly fit and I felt incredibly unfit and fat. Yes it is his job,, and isn’t that the whole reason I was joining, was to improve both my fitness and to reduce my weight.

I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to use the machines, but those fears were soon quashed. The display on the cardio gym equipment was HUGE…. It was also incredibly simple and easy to use.

I would if I wished even plug in a set of headphones and watch my own tv programmes if I wished, without disruptions from any kids. I asked if I could move in, but they said “no” !!

Stephen was very clear in his explanations of how to use the different programmes on the machines and where I could find everything within the gym. For now I am only looking to use the cardio machines.

Since my induction last tuesday, I have already been 3 times.

I like the fact that on the treadmill I can run at different paces, without having to do it at a time that suits someone else. The gym is open from 6am to 11pm, that is the only restraint on when I can go, that and childcare too.

This has made me feel incredibly good about myself. Help is on hand, but for the majority of the time I am independent. I can run, walk, ride, row, all by myself.

In addition to the gym, I have also joined a class. Its called BodyBalance and is a mix between Pilates, Yoga and Tai Chi..

Carol the instructor is incredibly descriptive with the position and movements, it is a very slow although energetic I felt able to keep up, even if I need to work a bit more on my balance and coordination.

But I survived and will be back again tomorrow for another class. It will take time to get up to a more flexible standard as some of the others that go to the class, but then thats why I am doing this.

To improve my fitness for me.


It happens around us, it creeps up around you and before you and before you know it, lots has happened and you haven’t written a single part of it down.

So here I am, writing it down.

Bear with me, there is training for the great south run to catch up on, a new gym experience, my guide dog, gained independence, the fun of benefits and me finding out about me. So over the next few days there will be a fair few updates, some will be archived depending I when they occurred, so have a good look around.

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