ACHILLES GUIDING TIPS
Our volunteer running guides are a vital part of what Achilles NZ is able to offer disabled athletes. Following are a few tips for volunteer running guides to consider as they work with their runner.
In workouts, no runner should be out of sight of a volunteer unless that runner is very experienced. Volunteers do have the right to tell runners what to do when it comes to safety. If you are accompanying multiple runners be sure you know how many people are out there and have someone bringing up the rear to make sure they all get in.
The greatest danger is from traffic, especially at twilight and night. Volunteers should: run between the runners and the cars; look back to see when a stream of cars is coming and wave them to the side if necessary; and remind the runners to be careful. Cars do tend to cut corners, swerving into the runners’ lanes, and they may not expect the pace that some of our runners use. People in wheelchairs who like to ride the crest of the road should use flashing lamps or be very, very careful.
Help to establish the feeling that every person’s achievement is as stunning as every other. Short races are as important as marathons (maybe more, since they don’t interrupt training with a long recovery period) and a 10 minute workout is as important to a beginner as a 10 kilometre workout to the experienced; probably more so.
Do your best to accommodate the workout wishes of the runner, but not to the point that you end up coming back too late or becoming too individualistic. There is great benefit in having group workouts rather than everyone going off doing their own thing. You do have a right to put your foot down about the route and time.
It is important that volunteers too have a good time: everything depends on the enthusiasm and mood we establish. If anything is interfering with your enjoyment, talk about it. We are not martyrs or even do-gooders; we do this because it is a lot of fun and we enjoy each others company.
Do not be embarrassed to ask about the disability and how it came about; it’s more comfortable for people to talk about it than ignore it, and it will help you understand peoples needs. The athletes understand that to some extent they have to train the volunteers and coaches in what their needs are.
Some people like to joke about their situation, others may be offended. We have to play it by ear, put ourselves in their shoes (or shoe) and be natural.
You or your runner should start a stopwatch when you cross the starting line and stop it when you cross the finish line; do not expect race officials to do special timing for early starters. And don’t count on the published results to be useful, because you won’t have any way to know when the pack actually started.
If your runner wants to go for a fast time, help in the calculations of pace per mile, and keep him or her down to that pace (ie no faster).
Most of our runners, once they can do five miles comfortably, need to be encouraged to run a little faster. Blind runners are especially timid (understandably), but many others too are unfamiliar with the pleasurable sensation of moving fast.
A few on the other hand, have systemic diseases and should be encouraged to rest or slow down whenever they need it. A volunteer running with a new person or a person with a disease should be familiar with heart monitoring techniques and use them.
Don’t scare off new people by pushing them too hard. The first workout should be part observing, part participating, lots of talking and getting familiar. Ask them what training they do outside of our fortnightly workouts. Three times a week for a minimum of 20 minutes should be the minimum; if they have trouble arranging this, help them think creatively about the possibilities.
Try to get to know different runners rather than working out with the same person or several people each week.
ACCOMPANYING IN RACES
Get to the starting line about 15 minutes before the Achilles start (which is about half an hour early), so you can help if there is any confusion about picking up numbers, timing, starting location, etc. In most races there will be not problem with water, but if you are accompanying someone very slow, you might want to bring some. If you know ahead of time who you will be with, ask what he or she might need (extra gloves for wheelchair pushing, food, adhesive tape, etc.)
In the early part of the race, you will be helping to set a steady, easy pace. When the pack catches up, you will protect your runner from the gung-ho by keeping him or her to the side, especially when drinking water. If you are with a wheelchair runner, you may have to run ahead on up hills so you will be together again at the bottom of the downhill; you may also have to discourage dangerous down hilling.
Do not give any bodily aid, unless the person is hurting or exhausted and stops by the side. This is just a commonsense rule of running competitions, but it applies especially to the disables; it is far more satisfying to push a wheelchair 2 miles alone than 5 miles with help.
Do run through the finish line with your runner, and afterwards make sure the baggage is found and there is a way home.
You report to the coach. For heavens sake don’t hesitate to ask about anything that is bothering you, whether it relates to your runner’s well-being or your own. No one knows the individual runners as well as you do, and though your questions might seem silly to you, they just might point out a very important point that we have missed. Better safe than sorry, and better happy than disgruntled.