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Kevin Crompton, 51, had never ran a full marathon before taking the plunge on October 2nd and participating in the 2022 TCS London Marathon. It was an experience that turned out to be one of the most challenging, and exhilarating moments of his life. Now, this visually impaired fundraiser is on a mission to encourage the community to become blind runners and get involved with running, and spread the message of how fully sighted people can get involved too. M&F talked to the inspirational athlete to find out more.
“It’s been on my bucket list since 1989,” says Crompton, who is from Morecambe, England. “I never got around to entering it, or doing anything about it, and then I restarted running last year. Catherine, my sighted guide said to me, the day before applications closed ‘how do you fancy doing the London Marathon? I said, ‘yeah why not’ so we put our name in the ballot.” He decided to raise money for Galloways, his local sight loss charity, via a Just Giving donation page.
Having been granted entry into one of the world’s most famous marathons (26.2-miles / 42.2km), Crompton knew that his experience in London would be much different to that of the majority of other participating 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’ve got no vision in my left eye and I’ve got less than 2% in my right eye.”
Crompton undertook a plan to run three times per week in preparation for the marathon but was derailed when he injured his knee while walking one day, when he bashed himself on some bollards. Of course, accidents like this come with the territory for people with visual impairments day in, and day out, so he soon got back on track. The runner was then given the exciting news that he would finally be given a guide dog, and so he was required to train for six weeks in order to bond with his new companion. Finally returning to marathon training, Crompton had only covered a half marathon 13.1 miles (21.1km) before the full one arrived. Still, he gave it his all. “I thoroughly enjoyed it, to be honest with you,” says Crompton. “It was difficult, I think, due to the masses of people. People in front of me would cause me to put my breaks on a little bit, because I couldn’t see them coming across, so I couldn’t anticipate it, but the smells, the atmosphere, the crowd, the music… It was phenomenal. I’ve got goosebumps now just thinking about it!”
Crompton ran the marathon tethered to his sighted guide, Catherine, and regularly trains with another friend and guide, Ricky. If you are a keen runner and would like to become a sighted guide, a quick google search will bring up an application process in your local area. You can then be matched-up with a visually impaired running partner. Sighted guides are a resource than offer hope so that blind athletes can participate in an activity that they love. “I was constantly asking Catherine, ‘are we ok’,” says Crompton, describing the London Marathon run. “Catherine was constantly pulling me left, right, or straight forward, and (verbally) cueing me in, checking behind and checking forward. She needed eyes on the back of her head!” he laughs.
Crompton trusts both Catherine and Ricky implicitly, and has built up these partnerships through short runs, all the way up to marathon level. Still, running a marathon as a blind person is a serious quest. Not being able to see things coming up ahead often means that he has to react sharply when obstacles approach. This didn’t halt Crompton however, and he is already planning to enter future marathons. Learning from the London experience, the runner says that he’ll now build mobility exercises into his training to deal with those obstacles better next time around. “I think lunges and exercises for your hips and legs would give you that extra support and strength,” he says.
“Do it, because it’s such an amazing experience,” says Crompton. “If you can, and you like running, just go for it, and do it. The crowds are shouting your names and calling for you. It was such an amazing boost.” In recent years the London Marathon, and its sponsors have made great strides to help all types of people feel included in the proceedings. In a world first, sports retailers; Wiggle and New Balance brought specially created braille banners to the event in partnership with the Royal Society for Blind Children. The banners, placed between miles 20 and 23 included motivational messages like “This is Your Race” and “Get a Wiggle On” just 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 over and having a feel of the banners,” he says, finding the initiative to highly motivating.
For Crompton, the physically challenging moments were often offset by the surrealness of the race itself, where both regular runners and blind runners regularly opt 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 over the finish line with a more than respectable 6 hours and 3 minutes completion time and was over joyed to find that, just like the banners he had experienced during the race, the marathon medal itself was also given the braille treatment. “Everybody’s medal had braille on it this year,” he says. “It was a real nice gesture.”
So, what did the medal say? “We run together,” shares Crompton.