Our guide to assisted running - Women's Running

Our guide to assisted running

Author: Kate Sellers

Read Time:   |  August 20, 2021

For those of us who have a disability, there can be many barriers to overcome before we can run. Tina Chantrey tells us some ways we can work together to make running more accessible and inclusive

Taking part in any sport and experiencing the thrill of racing gives such a spectrum of benefits, especially for your mental health. The diversity of running is its true gift as it offers something to all people. It’s the greatest leveller. When you run with others, differences in age, ability, demographic, education and career all become irrelevant. And, whether you have a disability or not, when it comes to a race everyone runs the same distance. This makes the sport of running an inclusive and exciting opportunity for disabled runners to get active and have fun.

Disability can be incredibly diverse in the ways it can impair or limit activities in different areas of life, from a learning disability to mental health problems, spinal cord injuries, limb amputations, visual impairment, deafness or another impairment. The majority of impairments – physical or mental – aren’t visible. Less than eight per cent of disabled people use wheelchairs. Every runner will have their unique motives, needs and aspirations.

Getting started

The first step of setting a goal will give you the motivation to train when factors out of your control – such as the weather – throw you offtrack. With assisted racing, just as in other racing, ensure your first goals are realistic and achievable. If your aim is a local parkrun, do you have enough time to train to run 5K by your goal date? If you are aiming for a longer race, work back from race day and ensure you have enough weeks to build endurance, or time on feet, as well as strength through speed work and cross-training.

Most areas have a parkrun and these events are great for experiencing something like the feel of an organised race. At a parkrun, you aren’t under pressure to complete the whole distance until you’re ready, and you can slowly build week on week until you can achieve 5K. The ethos is non-competitive running for all and the community side of parkrun can help relax you into participating in sport regularly.

“We strive to be as inclusive and diverse as possible,” Kirsty Woodbridge from parkrun told WR, “and welcome those from all backgrounds, of any ability or age, to our free community events around the world.

“People take part in wheelchairs, with running frames and, if visually impaired, with a guide,” she says. “We would encourage anyone interested in taking part in parkrun to have a look at our website, read about the wide range of people who take part, get information about what to expect at an event, and reach out to the local event team with any further questions.”

The beauty of parkrun is that you can go along and watch, to see what it’s all about, assess the course, and chat to other participants. “The First Timer welcome provides people with the opportunity to meet new people and ask questions. There is no obligation to complete the course, so if you only want to do a few kilometres that is totally up to you,” adds Kirsty. At parkrun, there is no cut-off time, and the Tail Walker volunteer is always the last to finish. Search for your nearest event and its start date post lockdown at parkrun.org.uk.

Invest in equipment

If you’re being assisted in your running, getting the right equipment is crucial to ensuring you enjoy your sport. Doing your research before you buy is essential. If you’re a wheelchair user and want to participate in your local parkrun, ensuring you have the right equipment means the difference between participation and exclusion. Like with some larger races, parkrun doesn’t allow handcycles as they are classified as bikes because of the chain.

Find your event

Having someone else to train with can make a monumental difference to runners. Motivation is always key to success and training with others makes running more enjoyable and easier. Whatever your personal situation, finding the right people to train with and choosing the right events for you is a great first step on your running journey. Reach out to local races and ask them to support you, find charities or organisations who may be willing to help you buy the right kit or achieve your goals. All athletes, regardless of ability, start somewhere, and many find that running is a life-changer in terms of mental and physical health.

Getting involved

Even though you may expect that assisted running is easily accessible for anyone, that’s often not the case in UK races. Running in the Rock n Roll Las Vegas Marathon, I was overwhelmed by the number of assisted runners, with hundreds of wheelchairs decorated with lights and tinsel being pushed by support runners. This race was a celebration of the whole Vegas community, with many walkers and disabled runners taking part. Here in the UK, we are unfortunately still behind America in opening up all events to all runners.

If you’re planning on taking part in a race, either assisting another runner, or being assisted, it’s a good idea to get in touch with the race organiser first. Our greatest race in the UK, London Marathon, welcomes blind runners and their guides and wheelchair users in racing wheelchairs, but those using handcycles – where your hands are used to turn a chain for propulsion – are not permitted. London Marathon also does not allow wheelchair users to be pushed; you must be able to self-propel. Check on cut-off times too, to decide whether you are able to achieve them.

Reach out to local running clubs. Whether these are traditional UKA affiliated clubs or more relaxed RunTogether groups, your local running group should be able to support you in your running. There are also County Sports Partnerships (CSP) with links to local disability groups and local disability organisations such as Actionaires, Metro, Trust, Mencap Gateway Active groups, and mental health groups that may be able to give guidance.

Find a guide

If you ’re 18 or over and visually impaired, you can search for a guide runner in your local area by going to englandathletics.org/ findaguide. Guide runners will have attended a Sight Loss Awareness and Guide Running workshop, they will be DBS checked, and they’ll be passionate about running. Whether it’s your first time running or you’re a seasoned runner just looking for more support, you will be matched with a local guide. If you are interested in becoming a guide runner and supporting visually impaired people while they run, you can find out more at englandathletics.org.

Going further

There are many organisations which work to make assisted running more accessible.

• British Blind Sport – www.britishblindsport.org.uk

• Royal National Institute of Blind People – www.rnib.org .uk

• CP Sport – www.cpsport.org

• Mind – www.mind.org.uk

• Dwarf Sports Association UK – www.dsauk.org

• Mencap – www.mencap.org.uk/sport

• Special Olympics – www.specialolympicsgb.org.uk

• UK Deaf Sport – www.ukdeafsport.org.uk

• WheelPower – www.wheelpower.org.uk

• Limb Power – www.limbpower.com

• Mental health charities – Mind, SANE, ReThink

• National Autistic Society – www.autism.org.uk

• Activity Alliance Disability Inclusion Sport – www.activityalliance.org.uk

Written by

Kate Sellers

Kate Sellers

Kate is our Senior Digital Executive and a keen runner. She's also a qualified Personal Trainer and yoga teacher, so she knows her stuff about workouts, cross-training and stretching. She loves to combine running and exploring, so you'll often find her testing out the latest kit in exciting locations across the UK and beyond. Kate champions exercising for enjoyment. "Most of the year, you'll find me running for fun and wellbeing," she says. "That being said, I do still love the thrill of training for a race from time to time!"

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