I first got to know Kyle when he was emailing me with a question about a qualifier race for Vermont 100 - he wanted to know if running 45 miles at Ghost Train would qualify him. I get so many of these emails, so my response was fairly standard 'you've gotta at least run 50 miles, especially on a course that easy!'. His response got my attention 'no problem, I understand. I've just got to find a guide for those last 15 miles'. I looked at the signature line and saw that tag 'Blind Beer Runner', and everything clicked. Congrats Amy, do you want some salt with that foot in your mouth? Kyle's a runner who is visually impaired, so his ability to participate in races is dependent on his ability to recruit guides to quite literally be his eyes out there. I immediately felt horrible about this, and offered to guide him myself if he needed. I told him I had no idea what I was doing, but I was willing to learn. Ultimately, he took me up on my offer to guide.
(Kyle and I ready to run at the Vermont 100 start line)
I was a nervous wreck at last year's Ghost Train (don't know if I ever told Kyle that). I felt like his fate was completely in my hands. He's an extremely patient and gracious teacher, yet when he fell I felt like I had failed him. I felt like my knees deserved to be bloodied rather than his. Luckily, we only had a few falls in the 15 miles that I guided him for. Even better, we had plenty of flatter and non-technical miles where we got to chat and get to know each other.
The idea of having an Athletes with Disabilities Division at VT100 was the byproduct of our miles together last year. Kyle was incredibly understanding as I asked a series of ignorant questions to learn about how this could even be done, and how it should be approached. Thank goodness Kyle is extremely patient with me!
Kyle has partial vision - it's like he is looking through a straw, so he sees a very small area and has almost no periphery vision. Some of my most memorable moments with Kyle were when he would use the little bits of vision to his advantage. 'Amy, the sign says 25 mph, we better slow down.' 'Yeah Kyle, good one!' I responded, having no idea what he was talking about. A minute later, when we passed the sign he was referring to, I wondered who was the one with vision issues between the two of us. Then again, I had the opportunity to give it right back - I wore a tutu to guide him last year. When folks commented on how dumb I looked, I told them 'at least my runner has no idea how dumb I look'.
After last year's Ghost Train, folks were so generous with their praise for Kyle. It's certainly deserved, he's awesome - but folks often focused on his ability to be a visually impaired trail runner. What impressed me the most is that Kyle is an incredible athlete - he ran even splits for all 4 of the 15 mile segments, which is such a rarely achieved feat. His smart and consistent pacing was truly inspiring to watch! I wish more folks focused on is athletic abilities rather than his eye sight.
(Kyle with his guide team at Pineland Farms 50)
Flash forward, and Kyle and I have shared many more miles over the year, as well as numerous emails and text messages. I guided him at Pineland Farms, did a VT100 training run with him on the last 18 miles of the course, and guided him through the first 15 miles of this year's VT100. I still feel like I have a lot to learn to truly be a top-notch guide, but we seem to do ok together. We also have a TON of fun along the way, we've share so many miles that Kyle has become a true friend.
One of my favorite (funny) moments was guiding Kyle at VT100 this summer. It was my first time guiding by headlamp, which made me nervous - especially since I would be guiding him off the starting line where there were so many runners around. The course turns to trails after a few miles, and the trail basically had one good path and one gully. While we tried to stay in the good path, at some point we got into the gully - and I couldn't find a way to stop the stream of runners next to us to guide Kyle up to the good path, so we just continued along. At some point, Kyle chimed in 'Amy, are we the only ones running in this ditch?'. Dammit! Totally caught in the act of being a poor guide, we finally figured out to how halt the other runners to allow us to step up and onto the smoother terrain. His words echoed in my head for a while after that - again, I just wish I was a better and more experienced guide so I could do a better job for him.
(Kyle, with his crew and guide team, at the finish line of Ghost Train 100)
I watched in awe as Kyle crushed the 100-miler at Ghost Train, finishing 4-hour faster than his Vermont 100 finish time, inspired (as always) in his grit and determination, as well as incredibly smart pacing. Most impressive is that he picked up the pace for the last 5 or so miles - he looked so strong crossing the finish line! And as I was waiting for Kyle to finish, I marveled in the fact that only a year ago I had never guided a visually impaired runner and I had never met Kyle. That 'foot in mouth' comment last fall solidified an awesome friendship, a mutual respect, and ultimately resulted in the Athletes with Disabilities Division at Vermont 100 (that started a trend of inclusion at other trail and ultra races).
Happy Friend-adversary Kyle! I hope we share many more miles in the future!!!