How One Blind Marathon Runner Is Using Technology To Run Solo

Of the 27,487 runners who traversed the city of Boston this year for the marathon, 39 were visually impaired.

Running a marathon blind can be terrifying: Hordes of runners are bolting toward you, crowds scream from the sidelines, and you have no idea if you’re about to crash into someone ahead of you. But for 31-year-old Simon Wheatcroft, a blind Englishman who completed the marathon on Monday, there is nothing more exhilarating.

“I want to take it all in,” he tells Fast Company. “I want to enjoy the sounds of the other runners and the people cheering.”

Marathon organizers pair blind runners with guides who run at the same pace, sometimes even connected by a rope. While Wheatcroft ran with two guides on Monday, eventually he would like to be able to run a marathon independently.

“The idea of running solo has always been in the back of my mind,” he says. “I’ve been dreaming about it for four years. It took me some time to become mentally comfortable with the concept. ”

He believes that technology is the key to making this happen. He points out that there are already many different tools on the market—like sophisticated GPS navigation and motion sensors—that could help visually impaired runners. It’s just a matter of putting them together into a customized tool.

Over the last month, Wheatcroft has been collaborating with IBM to develop an iPhone app allowing him to navigate a marathon course without help. He tested it out for the first time at Monday’s marathon. Little signals alerted him whenever he veered too far to the right or left, so he didn’t worry about going off course.

“I could enjoy the race. I could listen to the crowd,” Wheatcroft says. “The app only alerted me if I went wrong. The rest of the time, it was completely silent.”


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