Denis Kelleher is used to running long-distance as sighted guide to a vision- impaired athlete but the shoe will be on the other foot when he runs a marathon blindfolded.
The 51-year-old east Cork man takes to the wild west of Connemara next Sunday where he will be guided by another experienced marathon runner, Tim Twomey.
However, the Leevale Athletics Club runner will be taking on the role usually adopted by clubmate Denis, who has previously trained vision-impaired runner Sinead Kane for the 2014 Dublin City Marathon.
At the Connemarathon, Denis will be blindfolded for the entire 26 miles, adding a major twist to what will be his 20th time to complete the distance. He only took up running 10 years ago, but his accomplishments since then include two ultra-marathons. The idea of taking on the challenge was to gain an understanding of the concentration needed by somebody who runs without the same distractions as most athletes.
“I really wanted to understand what it feels like to run without visual distractions, no looking at birds, trees, what’s going on around the marathon course,” he said.
The original plan was to enter a short race but he soon set his sights on the Galway event in which he has already participated three times.
“I’ve trained with Tim just twice on track and we ran one road race together and left it at that. I decided there would be no more training until the day of the big race,” said Denis from Macroom, Co Cork, and now living in Midleton.
“I want to be nervous on race day and get the real feeling of what I might face, and deal with whatever comes my way. I feel what may ultimately catch me is concentration.”
As his fellow marathon runner takes on his usual role, landscape gardener Denis is encouraging other athletes to give it a try.
“I have found guiding a wonderful and rewarding experience. For one day only, I look forward to seeing it from the other side,” he said.
Find out about guiding vision impaired sportspeople from Vision Sports Ireland: www.visionsports.ie
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