We were ready for our run around the banana plantation – laces tied, route mapped and dog ready. That’s when Adam told me his last marathon time was 3:15, over an hour faster than mine.
‘No problem,’ he said. ‘You set the pace. I’ll just hang on your right shoulder.’
I ran that first lap too fast. Then halfway around the second, I turned left instead of right.
‘This way !’ chided Adam mildly, racing down another, seemingly identical trail between the bananas.
And if that was at all remarkable, it was only because Adam is blind.
It was a divine rebuke, really. There I was, just a few weeks ago, bemoaning the state of my running. Complaining about getting older, and slower. How much of a motivational struggle that was, now that I wouldn’t be breaking any personal bests in the future.
But why should that worry me ? Such things are just unimportant, since you must take what you get.
It was ten years ago when Adam lost his sight, at an age not much younger than I am now. In a few short months, his vision receded to a tiny scant window showing a fuzzy and unfocused light somewhere down in far bottom left.
Unimaginable. Simply unimaginable.
So what would you do, and just as pertinently, what would I do, if that happened ? Cry in a corner, get very depressed, go and kick the cat (if you could find it) ? And, yes, Adam did all three.
But Adam had no choice but to get on with life as it was. He knew that life was for living, whatever he had. So he learned to use a guide dog. He learned to read braille. He remastered his computer, when he can’t even read the screen. No mean feats, any of those, for someone losing their sight in mid-life.
But most remarkably of all, Adam took up running again.
‘I ran quite a lot when I was younger,’ he said, ‘but I’d let it slide. And now I wasn’t sure if I could do it at all.’
But he did it alright, and he did it in style. At home in Germany, his sparse residual vision lets Adam run with friends familiar with his disability, on trails he knows well. He’s run almost a dozen marathons in the last eight years, each time with a guide. And he’s run them well, too.
On holiday in Tenerife, he runs with his guide dog, on this familiar lap.
Down amongst the ripening bananas, alongside the basalt boulders on the beach, smelling the spray of the Atlantic breakers in the evening air.
The dog is only here today, I realise, in case I can’t find our way home.
Adam knows where he is much better than me, discerning a direction within the weak shades of light, the feel and bearing of a breeze on his face, from the lie of the land beneath his feet. And surely from intuition as well.
When the weather is fine, back in Frankfurt, Adam runs twice a day in summer, around 110 km a week. In the winter, he cuts back to a more gentle 70 km. In between, he visits the gym. He takes trampolining classes, to strengthen his ankles for the inevitable punishment he takes when running over those bumps which he doesn’t actually see.
It’s now I remember with shame all that stumbling and cursing along my favourite Wey towpath on a hot summer’s night, earlier this year. And I try to imagine a world where the fading light of dusk were so much brighter than any day I could see.
After taking medical retirement from banking, Adam taught English for many years. Now he helps other new guide dog owners – an impressively understated description for inspiring others who have to face the same hard situation he lived through a dark decade ago.
But that is just vision, and there’s so much more to a man. It’s great to run with an experienced runner like this – someone who reminds me to start out more slowly. Not just so that I can converse comprehensibly, but so that I can finish my runs more strongly.
And it’s true, Adam explained, that running within yourself is the best route to aerobic fitness, and the only way to lose weight. Training too fast simply defeats the object. All of that I knew, and yet all of it I’d forgotten.
In the space of a week, we ran four times together. Every single time, I got lost at that same junction. Adam never did. And as I was driving back from dinner one evening, he pointed out the road home. It was dark, the streets in the village all looked the same, and there was no way for me to tell that direction as the right one. But it was.
And I realised that two paths amongst the bananas or in the village might look alike to you or me, but to Adam, any crossroads on the island was far easier than the one he had come to and conquered ten years ago.
Because sometimes, he told me, there are no answers. Just run, and you’ll find your way home.
129. Tenerife – 1: the light at the end of the world
121. Hot in the city – Billy Idol at Guilfest
31. Running slow
127. Altiora peto, and other Latin lovers
98. Off the shoulder of Orion – Costa de la Luz
90. Iberian chains – Tierras del Cid, Spain
Thanks for that post. We all need a shift in perspective every now and then.
Adam is an amazing tribute to the human race. Thank you so much for this story.
Terrific story; thanks very much. Although it is really difficult to complain about a little ankle or knee soreness during a run after reading something like this.
I am enjoying your blog a great deal.
Yes, I learned a lot from Adam, and not just about running.
A short break in roads of stone transmission looms, as work intervenes.
Currently marooned in a hotel amongst the sand dunes on the northeast coast of Scotland. A 70 mph wind is rattling the window panes at midnight as a winter storm is coming in.
A run awaits at dawn, most likely in horizontally lashing rain.
Thanks very much, Ian.
And do please say hi to all my good golfing friends in Stratford-upon-Avon for me … !
That’s a great story and very inspiring. It makes me feel very lazy too, as I’ve been putting off a return to the gym and running for a while, but am going back this week.
I think you find your real strengths in the face of adversity. I almost went blind 3 years ago but recovered, and found it very scary just walking my dog, so I’ve a lot of respect for what Adam is doing.
Welcome, funnyoldlife, to Roads of Stone.
I thought you’d like that story. Running with hearing impairment as you do must be extremely challenging, too, particularly where there is stupid traffic (in other words, just about everywhere).
I hope you won’t find it insensitive of me if I jest that there might be just a tiny and unexpected advantage though of not hearing quite so well in the later stages of a particularly messy bad run. I must say that I sometimes have had to turn my iPod up loud specifically so that I can no longer hear the sound of my distressed breathing. I seem to run much better in extremis when I don’t have the sound of this bloke who’s just about to expire constantly rasping in my ears…
The threat to your sight must have been very scary. I’m glad you came through that. All best wishes and much admiration.