Running With My Ears…

If I don’t shake your hand, it’s not because I’m rude, it’s because I probably can’t see your hand as you’re extending it.  If you try to hand me something, and I don’t take it, it’s not because I’m ignoring you, it’s because I can’t see that you are handing me something.

When I was younger, I was a klutz (still am), and, until a few years ago, I didn’t know why. At first, I thought it was because I’m left-handed. Lefties are notorious klutzes. However, here’s the real reason why: I have what is known as Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), which is a degeneration of the retina.

Symptoms of RP include tunnel vision, bad night vision and in some cases, poor “central” vision.   Long story short: My field of vision stinks.  I trip over EVERYTHING, especially small children in crowded places. I apologize to your kids ahead of time.

Being a runner (heck, even a walker), RP has posed some challenges. My shins are usually bruised or scabbed.  The most painful object I have run into so far has been a fire hydrant.  I did this during my first group run with a local running club (slightly embarrassing, but more painful than anything…OK, very embarrassing).

Many of you might have had someone accidentally bump into you during a race. Some do it because they are jockeying for position, being aggressive, impatient, etc.  I do it because I can’t always see that you are there (OK, sometimes I’m jockeying for position too).

Despite the added challenges, I have made it my mission not to let this “annoying” condition affect me, or any aspect of my running.  Well, it affects my running a little bit, but not enough to stop me.  I will say that I am most anxious about RP when a race is about to start (as if I’m not nervous enough for the race itself).  I worry about tripping and falling, but more so, I worry about tripping someone else.  Therefore, if it is crowded at the start, I will go out slightly slower than I used to, especially in longer races.

I have learned to live with RP. One of the techniques I have come to rely on is “scanning” which involves not only moving my eyes to see things, but moving my entire head with my eyes.  It’s often difficult to remember this trick, especially when running, so I utilize some of my other senses to assist me, especially my keen sense of hearing.

My ears help me when my eyes cannot.  For example,  I listen for the sound of another runner’s stride or their breathing to judge how far away they might be.  If I’m training on the road, I’ll listen for cars in addition to “scanning” for them.  It’s common sense, survival-type of stuff.

Thank goodness for my ears. This could explain my love for music; however, at the same time, I have had to limit the use of running with music, partially because of RP. As much as I love running to music, I need to concentrate on what’s around me.  This is ironic, given the name of my blog.

I have been fortunate that RP has not significantly affected my functioning or my racing yet.  The only time I noticed my limitations while racing has been during the Disney Marathon, in which a portion of the race is carried out in the dark.  Darkness is not kind to me.  For that race, my wife was my eyes (although darkness is darkness…and she struggled with that at Disney too!).

I’m fine with all of the above.  Thankfully, RP doesn’t affect my ability to do my job.  I count my blessings, and I understand many others have it MUCH worse than me.

I’ll keep running, but, as I mentioned, I am conservative at the start of a race.  Don’t feel sorry for me because I’ll eventually pass you (and I’ll try not to bump into you while doing so).

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