Simon Wheatcroft should be familiar to anyone who has ever said “I can’t”… and let’s face it, that is pretty much everyone in the world. I think next time you are about to allow the words ‘I’ and ‘can’t’ to cross your lips, take a look at this video and rethink what you think you can and can’t do:
I was very fortunate to meet Simon recently along with Jay Watts from Born To Plod which is really worth a read as soon as you have finished here! We were invited to meet Simon as guests of ASICS, but it was not like any PR stunt or event I have ever been to. It was one of the most inspiring and heart-warming afternoons I have ever spent for one thing – no disrespect to PR people and the events that put on, of course!
Jay and I were collected from Doncaster station and driven to Simon’s house. He is happy to have complete strangers in his house asking him daft questions because – as you will now know from having watched the video above – Simon needs to be in familiar surroundings (just in case you haven’t seen the video, the most amazing thing about Simon – aside from taking on ultra marathons whilst studying for a degree and supporting his wife and child – is that he is registered blind).
Whilst in the house I had a chance to ask Simon a whole range of questions before we were due to go out for a run and Simon was happy to answer pretty much everything!
I started by asking Simon if he had always been a runner and his answer was not what I expected. Simon told me that he has only been running for two years and before that he wasn’t really into sport although he did train in a cross-fit gym and lift weights. Like so many people, Simon started running because it is cheap and accessible and it was something that he could enjoy by running with friends. When it came to choosing ultra marathons, Simon said that the last book he read before his sight deteriorated to the point that he couldn’t read, was Dean Karnazes’ book and that was an inspiration to him.
I asked Simon if Karnazes was a personal inspiration to him and he said that he was along with athletes such as Jenson Button – the Formula 1 driver and accomplished triathlete, Randy Couture and George St Pierre, from UFC and indeed any all round athletes.
One of the most amazing things about Simon – and let’s be clear there are a few! – is that he has memorised a route that he can run unaided. I asked Simon how he memorised the route and he said that he started running the route with a guide and was familiar with the area as he has lived in that part of the country his whole life.
As we would see later, Simon uses this uncanny ability to remember every inch of a 6 mile route along with physical clues like the grass verge or the change in texture due to the paint used for yellow lines on the road, to get around his route. He told me that he also uses RunKeeper which provides audio feedback on distances covered. Stuart Miles at Pocket Lint (@stuartmiles) wrote a brilliant piece about meeting Simon and his use of technology that you can read here.
I asked Simon what his favourite and most useful bits of kit are. Obviously he said that his iPhone, loaded with the RunKeeper app, are essentials. He is also a big fan of the ASICS 33s – of which ASICS were kind enough to send me a pair, so there will be a review coming soon – which Simon loves because they offer sufficient cushioning whilst being lightweight and low-profile enough to allow Simon to get the feedback from subtle variations in pavement surface or yellow lines, that is so essential for his non-guided running.
The other bit of kit that Simon is reliant upon is his treadmill that dominates the conservatory at the back of his house. This allows Simon to do speed sessions and intervals and even hill sessions and frees him from the need for his wife to drive him to his route or for him to call on friends to accompany him.
Pounding the pavements
After a really lovely opportunity to ask Simon all our questions, Jay and I, along with Mark from the PR agency, headed off with Simon to accompany him on a run along his memorised route. We drove to a parking spot on a turning off a very busy country road. From there, Simon was really unerring.
He runs with a very economical style – perfect for ultra marathons but also the perfect stride for someone who has to feel the ground as he runs. But unless you knew that Simon was blind, there really is no indication that he can’t see anything: he never faltered. Indeed this is part of the reason that Simon developed this route which involves quite a bit of running on the road – when we ran in populated areas and along busy pavements, people had no clue that he was blind and would expect him to get out of the way, which of course he didn’t.
As Jay and Mark and I ran with Simon, he kept up a stream of conversation which only goes to show how well he knows this route, but I can only imagine how scary it must be to be running completely alone without being able to see and not knowing if there will be bags of rubbish or road-cones or lumps of wood on the pavement. For Simon he only becomes aware of such obstacles when he hits them.
As we ran Simon talked about what he has got planned – a sandwich run where he was going to run 26.2 miles, then a local half marathon and then another 26.2 miles to make a sandwich, all in aid of a local charity.
Simon is also in a team for the Thunder Run because a woman called May asked Simon if he would like to make up a team with her. Simon obliged and now there are 9 runners of every ability.
And further into the future, there is Simon’s ultimate ambition – the record for the fastest Badwater ultra by a blind runner. At the moment two US-based brothers, Geoffrey and Miles Hilton-Barber, hold the record at around 40 hours. Simon wants to lower the record to more like 30 hours.
Badwater is a huge undertaking, whoever you are. Hours and hours and days and days of training will have to be done. Hard choices will have to be made. Deep fatigue and injuries will have to be endured. And that is before you consider doing the race without being able to see where you are going. It seems like a monumental task.
But you know what? I don’t think Simon Wheatcroft will ever say “I can’t”, in fact having spent just a few hours in his company, I am firmly of the opinion that Simon Wheatcroft probably can’t say “I can’t” and I for one will remember what he told me at the end of our few hours together for the rest of my life
a little bit of belief can do amazing things
Well, it has certainly allowed Simon to do amazing things and I think that is a lesson we could all do with learning from time to time.