I didn’t really have any idea what to expect when I responded “Hi! I’d be interested!” to the tweet from MABVI—the Massachusetts Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired—about guiding a visually impaired runner during the B.A.A. Half Marathon. I‘d been training for a 25k race during the summer, but I’d never actually run an official half marathon, and I had definitely never guided a visually impaired runner before. So, when I got the email that I would be guiding Diane Berberian, a former member of the USA National Paratriathlon team, I was excited but also terrified…what had I gotten myself into?
Fortunately, everyone that I spoke to at MABVI really helped me to feel as prepared as possible. I had an intro to guiding session one morning a couple weeks before the race, guiding blindfolded MABVI Development Associate Andrea Croak around the track, and I had dinner with a whole collection of people involved with the upcoming half: runners from Team With a Vision, which is MABVI’s marathon team that has competed every year for the past 23 years in the Boston Marathon, students and alumni from the Delta Gamma sorority who ran with us and supported the event, and of course, Diane herself! Diane really helped to assure me that I had nothing to be afraid of, and we went on a shakeout run together the day before on the Esplanade to get a feel of what Sunday would be like. Despite the high concentration of bicyclists and other runners on that sunny morning, running with Diane was not stressful at all, and I felt confident about the next day.
After braving many road closures and the horrifically long porta-potty lines, Diane and I, alongside the Delta Gamma runners running with us lined up to start the race. The first mile is very crowded but also very much downhill, which made us all a bit nervous, but eventually we got to the Jamaicaway where the runners started to spread out. It was really helpful to have a whole group (or “Diane’s posse” as we were referred to) running together because some of the group could go up ahead and alert other runners in front of us that there was a visually impaired runner behind them, and when we passed them I could give them a second alert. I think I said “Blind runner on your right/left!” about a thousand times during the race.
The middle section of the race was going very well: the weather was absolutely beautiful, we were staying on a good pace to beat the 2 hr 30 min cutoff mark, and we’d been doing little “surges” every twenty minutes, where we would speed up for three minutes, to give us something to separate the many minutes we were out on the course. Between instructions and notifying runners, Diane and I chatted the whole time, talking about running, the course, applying to college (yikes), training, and basically anything we could think of. I barely noticed how much time was going by.
As we got to about the 10th mile mark, the race started to get more challenging. So far, the only difficulties I had faced were water stops, which means a lot of people starting and stopping without notice as well as lots of cups on the ground, and runners with headphones who could not hear me telling them to move out of the way (don’t wear headphones on a very crowded course!). But now, the race started to go uphill, and it became narrow and gravelly. The other runners became grumpier, and some got annoyed when I tapped them on the shoulder to let them know Diane was behind them. Then, mile eleven, one of the most demoralizing miles in any half marathon, turned out to be on a HUGE hill. We slowed down (though we never walked), and we ended up passing a lot of runners in those last couple of miles! At last, we came to the Franklin Park Zoo, where I pointed out lots of animals as well as the exciting 20K (12.4 mi) mark. After a lot of tight, rocky paths and sharp turns, we came to the track at the stadium near where we had begun the race. The time was just under 2:20, well below our goal of 2:30, as we crossed the finish line. We got our medals (Diane got a second, bigger medal for having done the distance medley—the B.A.A. 5K, 10K, and half), navigated the crowd, and met up with the rest of the group for lots of happy and relieved pictures. The Delta Gamma runners even taught the very confused pair of Diane and me how to do the sorority pose (or almost did).
We then all went our separate ways; Diane was running the Tufts Health Plan 10K for Women the next morning and went to rest up for that, and I went out to lunch with my family. But, of course, Diane and I made plans to stay in touch, and I doubt this will be my last time working with Team With A Vision! The experience I had running this race with Diane, as well as meeting so many incredible people along the way, was something that really inspired me and reminded me why I run in the first place. I’m definitely very glad I responded to that tweet.