Kevin Crompton, 51, had never run a full marathon before taking the plunge on October 2 and competing in the 2022 TCS London Marathon. It was an experience that turned out to be one of the most challenging and exciting moments of his life. w, this fundraiser for the visually impaired aims to encourage the community to become blind runners and get involved in running, and to spread the word about how the visually impaired can get involved too. M&F spoke to the inspirational athlete to find out more.
"It's been on my wish list since 1989," says Crompton of Morecambe, England. “I never got around to stepping on it or doing anything about it, and then I started running again last year. Catherine, my sighted guide, said to me the day before the application deadline, “How are you enjoying doing the London Marathon? I said 'yes why not' so we put our name on the ballot.” He decided to raise money for Galloways, his local charity for the visually impaired, through a Just Giving fundraising page.
Having been granted entry into one of the most famous marathons in the world (26.2 miles / 42.2 km), Crompton knew his experience in London would be very different from most other competing athletes. "I was born with an eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa," he shares. This is a disease that affects the light-sensitive layer of tissue at the back of the eye. "It got worse over the years and now I have no vision in my left eye and less than 2% in my right eye."
Training for any sport is rarely linear
Crompton planned to run three times a week in preparation for the marathon, but was derailed when he injured his knee while walking one day when he smashed into some bollards. Of course, such accidents are part of the territory of people with visual impairments, day in and day out, so he quickly got back on the track. The runner then received the exciting news that he would finally be getting a guide dog, so he had to train for six weeks to get used to his new companion. Crompton eventually returned to marathon training and had only completed a 13.1 mile (21.1 km) half marathon before the full marathon arrived. Nevertheless, he gave everything. "I really enjoyed it, to be honest," says Crompton. “It was difficult, I think, because of the crowds. The people in front of me made me take my breaks a bit because I couldn't see them coming, so I couldn't anticipate it, but the smells, the atmosphere, the crowd, the music... it was phenomenal. I get goose bumps just thinking about it now!”
Sighted guides are game changers for blind runners
Crompton ran the marathon tied to his sighted guide, Catherine, and trains regularly with another friend and guide, Ricky. If you're an avid runner and want to become a sighted guide, a quick Google search will lead you to an application near you. You can then be assigned to a visually impaired running partner. Sighted guides are a resource that offers hope so blind athletes can participate in an activity they love. "I kept asking Catherine, 'Are we okay?'" Crompton describes the London Marathon. "Catherine was constantly pulling me left, right, or straight and (verbally) telling me to look back and look ahead. She needed eyes on the back of her head!” he laughs.
Crompton has complete trust in both Catherine and Ricky and has built these partnerships from short runs to marathons. Still, running a marathon as a blind person is a serious undertaking. t being able to anticipate things often means he has to react sharply when obstacles approach. However, this did not stop Crompton and he is already planning to compete in future marathons. The runner has learned from the London experience and says he will now incorporate mobility exercises into his training to better tackle those obstacles next time. "I think lunges and exercises for your hips and legs would give you extra support and strength," he says.
Courtesy of Kevin Crompton
Don't let visual impairments get in the way of your love of running
"Do it because it's such a great experience," says Crompton. “If you can and like to run, just go for it and do it. The crowds are calling your name and calling you. It's been such an incredible boost.” In recent years, the London Marathon and its sponsors have made great strides to help all types of people feel included in the process. In a world first sports retailer; Wiggle and New Balance, in partnership with the Royal Society for Blind Children, brought custom Braille banners to the event. The banners, placed between miles 20 and 23, featured motivational messages like "This is Your Race" and "Get a Wiggle On" right when the blind runners needed them most. "I thought it was a really great idea and a nice way to be inclusive. I enjoyed going there and getting an impression of the banners," he says, finding the initiative very motivating.
For Crompton, the physically challenging moments were often offset by the surreality of the race itself, with both regular runners and blind runners regularly choosing to wear costumes to raise awareness for various charities. "I think one of the funniest moments was when we saw a minion having to be given water because he couldn't get his arms around the suit," he laughs. Our man sprinted across the finish line in a more than respectable 6 hours and 3 minutes and was overjoyed to find that, like the banners he had seen during the race, the marathon medal itself had the braille received treatment. "This year, every medal had Braille on it," he says. "That was a really nice gesture."
So what did the medal say? "We run together," shares Crompton.