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Running blind, zevenheuvelenloop, November 2017

How did it go? I was asked about my first running blind race over 15 km.

Tiring”, I said, “Not for the legs, 15 km in 1:20 h is easy, but for the brains, I watched him too closely, next time I should be more relaxed.”

A very good cause, amazing blind persons are running”, was a standard comment.

You need a lot of spare capacity and it helps you knew the route by heart”, was another comment.

The seven hills

Running blind buddy

Lesley asked me to be a back-up buddy for two running blind persons at the zevenheuvelenloop so I registered. He always talked about it at oiur fitness club, and I met him and Theo, a nearly blind person, once on the monthly Friday run at Phanos in Amsterdam.

I was curious, running with someone using a leash, how this would work, and, it is for a good cause.

At Lesley’s birthday party, attended by 4  blind runners, I was assigned to a third blind person, Jeroen. 

Of the three runners, Jeroen has very little eye-sight in the distance and he also needs someone to guide him in unfamiliar places. Theo has some eye sight and Rogier a bit more, they can walk by themselves but they all need a buddy to guide them when running. 

The train in the morning on running day

We met at the Amsterdam Central Station and tried to take the direct train to Nijmegen. This one was cancelled as someone “was walking on the rail track between Amsterdam and Utrecht”. I know what that means, suicide attempt.

Using the next one we would have to transfer in Utrecht and potentially losing a seat, as it would be busy with the 25000 runners and plus spectators going to Nijmegen.

In Utrecht we changed trains at the same platform, and I dashed off to find 5 seats in first class at the back of the train. Blind persons are slow to follow and I had to call them, not to go to second class. “Lesley, this way!!!”. We were also close to the toilet and on this side of the train it was not busy. Luckily, for Lesley, he went three times.

Lesley was the lead guide, but knowing his style, extremely relaxed, you better assist. But, he will always get there, usually just in time. Not my style, and not when guiding three blind persons.


I assisted Jeroen leaving the station, walking arm in arm. He instructed me how to handle stairs and sidewalks. “Stairs up, 3, 2, 1; “Stairs down, 3, 2, 1; sidewalk up, 3, 2, 1; sidewalk down, 3, 2, 1.” Now you start to realise how many obstacles exist in stations and cities, numerous.

We were running on HEMA bib numbers and they rented a party centre for the day near the start area. Lesley only had a faint idea on the location of  the party centre, “somewhere near the start?”, but luckily I had a map. It was raining, 8 Celsius, windy, and this saved us three times the distance in cold and windy weather.

Around 100 runners were in the party centre, mostly young HEMA girls. We got a T-shirt with a HEMA sausage, a treasure with a smile. I also discovered a box with plastic disposable rain coats to keep warm, a typical € 1.00 HEMA product for tourists in Amsterdam and very common on marathons. I handed them out to the group as it was chilly outside and a high chance of cold rain showers at the start.

We changed in the back area, had drinks and waited for the 13:30 h start.

We met Lesley’s brother Ricardo. He used to live in Nijmegen but after retiring moved to Curacao. He came over for the run, keeping his record, running every time since the beginning in 1984. This will be his 34th time, see interview LosseVeter en Omroep Gelderland.

To the start area

Lesley said it was only 10 minutes to the start area but I already checked this and noticed that the brown area was the farthest distance of the side corrals, twice the distance of the green area of the main corrals, so Lesley was half right, being used to the main corrals. We decided for half an hour leaving at 13:00 h. 

There were thousands of runners on the main round-abound at the Keizer karel Plein walking to the start area and we moved slowly.

I practised with Jeroen, “stoepje op, een, twee, drie; stoepje af, een, twee, drie”.

At the start area you could drop off a bag with clothes which is a good idea for after the run to stay warm.

We followed the signs to the brown area and indeed it was a long walk. We arrived at 13:25 h, with only 5 minutes spare.

Last time I started in the 1:05 h corral at 12:00 h, the official start time of the run, and I was assigned to a nearby parking garage so I did not notice the 20000 runners behind me.

The run

The first km I was out of sync running arm in arm, then we found the right ritme, like a Wiener waltz with a partner.

I tried to find Jeroen’s pace but he said that this was his role. I was leading, he would follow.

Lesley passed with Theo, doing 12 km per hour, we did around 11 km/h.

The first 5 km is a wide two lane road with very gentle up en downs, barely noticeable.

After a sharp left turn, we enter a local road, only one lane wide. We pass a few slow runners and creates problems as we run two and two.  

Running blind, please move over”, Jeroen reminds me to shout. Few runners react irritated but change their mind when they see us.

We get compliments for running blind every few minutes. Some runners have been a buddy as well, they tell us.

After a km we make another left turn and are again on a wide two lane road. This is much better.

I warn Jeroen for the three serious hills to come. He is able to make out the vague contours of the forest on top of a hill and reminds me on telling him if we go up or down, and for how long.

I missjudge the distance several times as well as the two time recording bumps at every km, “timer bump, 3, 2, 1, timer bump, 3, 2, 1”, but Jeroen tells me not to listen to his complaints, part of the game. I will learn. 

After the first hill and on top of the plateau we are hit by a heavy and very cold, horizontal rain shower, it is around 8 Celsius. Luckily it is just local rain shower and after 5 minutes the rain stops. I am dressed warmly, additional long sleeve shirt under a T-shirt of Running Blind and long lycra pants. Jeroen is dressed more lightly, in a T-shirt and short lycra pants.

Just before the 10 km

10 km

We reach the 10 km in 55 minutes, so far so good, around 11km/h average.

Jeroen (blind) and Jean (buddy), somewhere half way, after a cold horizontal rain, checking the 10 km time (55 min.).

At a right turn the roads narrows again to one lane and this causes problems. We run in the middle to pass slow runners, but faster runners sometimes pass Jeroen on the right. Given his running deviation direction to the right and long legs, he is hit a few times by passing runners but luckily no serious trip.

The sixth hill is fine, a gently up and then we come into town again on a wide road. Now we will go down over the last 3 to 4 km except for a little hill.

I aks Jeroen if he wants to go faster the last 3 km, but he doesn’t react. Instead we will have to concentrate on the numerous speedbumps which I did not remember from the previous run when I did 15 km/h average on this stretch, “Bump up, 3, 2, 1; bump down, 3, 2, 1”.

The road surface alternates between tarmac and cobbles, “I hate cobbles”.

Finally the finish is in sight but Jeroen keeps the same pace and ignores me when I ask if he wants to accelerate, instead he concentrates. 

The speaker announced our finish, “Jeroen and Jean from running blind are finishing” and we get an applause from the audience, an emotional finish.

After the finish

We did the run in 1:21 h, around 11.1 km/h average, no record unfortunately, Jeroen said, just a few minutes slower.

After getting a medal we go back to the party centre, a 10 minutes walk. Jeroen puts on the second HEMA rain coats as he only wears a T-shirt and short lycra pants and was doing his best so sweating. I am dressed much warmer but I also have damp clothing, not from sweating but mostly from the rain shower. 

We run back to the party centre, and along the way, Jeroen notices a smoker, foul air. Same idea, “hey you idiot, stop smoking in public spaces”.

Back at the party centre

At the party centre we change and have a big “broodjes” lunch with lots of pea soup and beer (not me). “Why does beer taste so good after a run?” I ask. No objective answer. 

Lesley's brother also arrives, he did 1:20 h, despite his overweight. His 34th run, has done it every time since 1984 and his record is 52 minutes, when he was young. He is a local celebrity, see [1], just gave an interview on the local TV and radio stations. He complains about his sore back, worked in the garden on Curacao,  and …. getting  old!

Going home

Again I take the lead, using 20 minutes to go to the station. Leslie and Rogier walk very slowly, we wait for them at the station entrance. Rogier feels sick but he ran anyway. We board the train in time and again use first class.

A cheerful and loud men’s party of 5, we finish my box of Bastogne cookies. Theo explains that he tried  to wear out Lesley. 

Blind people are good talkers and good in teasing.


Lesley and Theo did 1:15 h, 12 km/h average which is very fast.

It turned out that Theo was exhausting Lesley, he was pulling, not Lesley, as it was suppose to be.

The first few days when I was asked about the run, I was a bit emotional and said, “this was a special run”.


Finish (Jeroen with his typical right deviation)

Lesley's brother on the local TV station, finished for the 34th time, did them all. A local seven hills VIP.