Tuesday 20 March 2018

A true visionary... blind marathon runner Sinead Kane shares her story

Sinead Kane running in the Donadea 50k in February this year, with her guide John O'Regan behind her.
Sinead Kane running in the Donadea 50k in February this year, with her guide John O'Regan behind her.

Having limited sight hasn't stopped avid runner Sinead Kane from completing a marathon and constantly pushing for more

I took up running in April 2012 when I was asked to do the women's mini marathon for Childvision (National Education Centre for Blind & Visually Impaired Children). The reason I run is because it is a confidence booster, a stress reliever, and keeps my body healthy. There is so much room for personal and physical growth when you dedicate yourself to running. The results you achieve are directly related to the work you put in. As a runner, I have entered into a cycle of goal setting, determination, hard work and rewards. This cycle has developed into a healthy competitive spirit, where I am motivated to constantly pursue self-improvement.

Sinead Kane running in the Donadea 50k in February this year, with her guide John O'Regan behind her.
Sinead Kane running in the Donadea 50k in February this year, with her guide John O'Regan behind her.

In July 2014, I decided to run the Dublin marathon for Childline. I found it difficult to get a guide but when I did get a guide in August I put up my mileage quite quickly. I wanted to make the most of the time I had with the guide. At the beginning of September I sustained a knee injury. I couldn't do any running for three weeks. To keep up my fitness I did aqua jogging for those three weeks in September as there was no impact on my knees.

I did the Dublin marathon in October. I wanted to do it under four hours. It was my first marathon. I did it in 4.01.41.

I finished the Finishing the Dublin Marathon gave me the confidence to try other races and I’ve gone from strength to strength.  In February of this year I completed a 50Km Ultra Marathon and the following month I completed the Tralee Marathon beating my time from Dublin.  In May I took part in the Wings for Life World Run in Brazil and finished 23rd female in a field of 1413 females.  I went back to my roots and again ran the Women’s mini marathon and beating my previous time by over 10 minutes and most recently I took part in my most challenging event so far.  In July I took part in a 12 hour race in Belfast (Energia 12hour Race) and finished in 2nd place with a distance of 109.8 Km beating the previous track record by almost 5Km.  I’m now in the final stages of training for this year’s Dublin Marathon and have a few other events in the planning stages.

Having a disability, whether its amputation, paralysis, or vision loss, doesn't mean you can't join thousands of others. Where there is a will, there is a way.

When I was a child, due to my disability I was always picked last for sport in school. People always told me that I wasn't able to run because of my bad sight and so I started believing it. Now I have the self-belief in myself to realise I can run. It doesn't matter if you're fast or slow. Challenging yourself is all that matters.

Challenges for the visually impaired runner:

1 Biggest challenge - finding a guide. The guide has to be twice as fit as me so that on long runs he/she can maintain focus for my path line and theirs. The guide needs to be able to communicate when there are obstacles.

Running with a band can take a bit of time to get use to and some people find it uncomfortable. But it is all a matter of getting used to it. For me it restricts my arm movement a bit trying to go in sync with another person. We get a lot of speed from the power we generate with our arm movement and so having my arm restricted by the use of the band affects my ability to run like a normal person, but I need the band so that the person can guide me.

2 Once a guide is found, coordinating training times, finding times suitable to both. Whereas the ordinary runner can just get up put on their trainers and off out the door.

3 Picking routes to train that are safe. Also getting to the route. Most visually impaired people don't drive and so have to consider whether the public transport goes near the route to drop them off. Also, some people will drive to their training spot and leave their gear in their car. I don't have that luxury.

4 Learning the skill to train as a team rather than an individual. Running with a guide, both of you have to think of the other - you're not just thinking for yourself.

5 Buying running products in shops and not being able to see labels. Hence, I always ask for help.

6 Worries - before races I can plan with my guide to minimise risks but I can never plan all risks to be eliminated, as on the day of the race we will know what we need to do but others might not be so careful.

7 Weather - the type of sky affects my eyes. If it is a white glarey sky, that hurts my eyes and causes them to be sore and watery, and in turn gives me a migraine. Hence, on the day of the race if it is a white glarey sky, before I even get to mile two I will probably have a migraine from the pain in my eyes. Bright sunny days also affects my eyes because I am very sensitive to light.

What I have learnt from running so far is that it takes persistence, a very strong mindset, patience, and determination. I have also learnt to expect the unexpected and not to spend time feeling sorry for myself. For example, when I couldn't find a guide I didn't stop at one option and feel sorry for myself, I kept going until I found what I wanted. Also, like the knee injury, I didn't sit back and feel sorry for myself and give up. It's how we react to things that shape us. The lessons to be learnt are to be persistent and to react in a positive way rather than feel sorry for yourself. Turn setbacks into comebacks.

I couldn't control being born with just 5pc vision but I can control how I live my life. I can choose to make a difference in society and contribute or I can choose to sit back and feel sorry for myself. I choose the former. I am a great believer in finding opportunities, experiencing life and not allowing my disability to hold me back. When I am running I repeat different mantras in my head; relax, rhythm, flow or drive, drive, drive. I tell myself to believe in myself. I use internal encouragement to help me push on.

Most successful people only achieve their goals through encountering obstacles, having doors closed in their faces, dreams derailed by mistakes, setbacks, and naysayers constantly telling them they aren't good enough. The difference between those who have won and those who have thrown up their hands in defeat is often the level of persistence and determination the person possesses in tough times. I try to stay away from energy vampires. I try to surround myself with positive, like-minded people. I think being resilient requires three elements - courage, adaptability, commitment (CAC). All setbacks give us the opportunity to work on our 'bounce back' muscles. Your belief muscle - the ability to believe in yourself and endure; your understanding muscle - the ability to see the lessons behind the setback; your take action muscle - the ability to move forward; your sight muscle - having mindsight rather than eyesight is very important. Use your mindsight to see hope and brightness for the future. Staying upright in a world that is full of chaos and upside down is hard. But using mindsight can help to not focus on the chaos in the world.

I can choose to be blind or I can choose to be visionary and I choose to be visionary - to show personal leadership. It takes courage to have limited sight and to go out and run with thousands of people because the risks of being injured during the race are higher. However, what I have learnt from life is that courage has a ripple effect. Every time we choose courage we make those around us feel better and the world a bit braver.

In running, I respect John O'Regan, ultra-runner. He talks a lot of practical advice which makes sense. My plans for the future? I would love to run the Boston marathon at some stage.

If anyone reading the article is interested in guide running, then they can contact me through my website, www.sineadkane.ie

(Sinead is an ambassador for the Irish Independent A Lust for Life 5k run, which takes place at midnight on the runway of Cork Airport on 21 November. A Lust For Life is a wellbeing movement dedicated to building a more resilient world through the creation of inspirational information, ideas and events.  alustforlife.com)

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