Running In the Boston Marathon as Someone with Vision Loss

The Boston Marathon is one of the world’s major races, and participating in it is a dream come true for athletes. With just five days remaining until the 2017 Boston Marathon, I interviewed Tim Paul, call center agent at the Chicago Lighthouse’s UI Health Customer Care Center. Tim has been severely visually impaired most of his life as a result of Aniridia. The upcoming Boston Marathon will be his 13th marathon. Thanks to his drive and the support he has received from countless individuals and resources, Tim will run in the Boston Marathon for the third time.

Tim is not new to running by any means. Ever since he was in junior high, he would run for leisure with his family. By the time he was in high school, he could no longer participate in many of the activities in gym class due to his vision loss. Fortunately, running around the track was one of the few things he could still do. By his mid-20s, Tim’s eyesight worsened, and he needed volunteer sighted guides to assist him with running. Nevertheless, Tim did not let this deter him from pursuing his favorite hobby and sport.

Over the years, Tim has become friends with several of the people who have assisted him in races. His first guide from over 30 years ago was instrumental in connecting him with the volunteer guides that assisted him in his first marathon in 2001. He also helped Tim procure two donated treadmills, which allow him to train when sighted guides are unavailable. Tim is also member of the Dare2Tri Paratriathlon Club, a Chicago based nonprofit that helps athletes with visual and physical impairments prepare for triathlons. It was through his involvement with Dare2Tri that he learned about the Achilles Club, a world-wide organization helping people with disabilities to participate in mainstream running events. Thanks to the Achilles Club, Tim has been able to find volunteer guides that help him train and run in marathons, and which are crucial for his success.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have connections with organizations that are able to help me get guides,” he says.

Training for marathons or any major running events involves time and determination. Leading up to a Marathon such as Boston, it takes at least four months to build endurance. Tim’s training generally consists of a workout and long run per week. Because he runs in various marathons throughout the year, training is an ongoing process. To pace his training, Tim uses the Hal Higdon Training Programs website as a resource. This, coupled with regular running sessions on the treadmill and with his volunteer guides near Chicago’s lakefront, allows him to prepare for marathons as best as he can. Besides Boston, Houston and California, Tim has completed the Chicago and Fox Valley Marathons, among others. He is also considering running the New York Marathon for the near future.

Qualifying for Boston is no easy task. The Boston Marathon is the only race in the world requiring a qualifying time for athletes with disabilities, and individuals who are blind or visually impaired must be able to run the marathon distance in less than five hours. In 2016, Tim ran the Houston Marathon with a time of 4:35, and this allowed him to qualify for Boston. Completing the California International Marathon last December also helped him qualify for the 2018 Boston Marathon.

Running has given Tim countless unique experiences and allowed him to make new friends. Each marathon brings challenges, and this is what Tim enjoys the most. He is also grateful for all of the resources and support he has received from Dare2Tri, the Achilles Club, the Chicago Area Runners Association and countless other individuals who have helped him along the way.

“I’m so fortunate to have so many people that are assisting me, and it’s a team effort, it’s not just me doing this,” Tim says.

The Boston Marathon is one of the most anticipated races of the year for participants and spectators alike. It takes a tremendous amount of dedication and effort to be a part of this race, and this in itself is a huge success. We wish Tim and all participants good luck on Monday!

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