Is it possible?

Nearly 6 years ago I began a journey, I perhaps didn’t realize it at the time, but it was one that would push the boundaries of possibility.
Learning to run solo as a blind runner, was at times truly challenging and at others phenomenally uplifting. It was truly a difficult and long journey. Back then I had vowed never to compete as I wasn’t particularly interested in competition. However, as the idea of seeing how far I could run began to play on my mind, I decided the only way would be to compete at the ultra distance.
It was during this time, when I had entered a race and rather quickly lost my guiding team, that I came up with an idea. If I couldn’t run a 100 miles with a guide perhaps I could do it alone. I had planned on running my standard route repeatedly and then running the entire night segment on a 0.3 mile loop. Thankfully, I found a guide team last minute and didn’t subject myself to a nights torment on that tiny loop.
But it planted the seed of competing alone, it was something I hadn’t believed to be possible. But so was training alone as a blind runner. Surely all I needed was the right race.
Well I found it, 160 miles through the Namibian desert. What had once been a dream is now a reality, in 8 days I will stand for the first time alone at a start line, with 160 miles of possibility ahead of me.
Is it possible to cover this distance alone? The fact a question still lurks around this is what still attracts me. I don’t know if this is possible. I have been spending time with the IBM Bloomix Garage to develop the technology to give me the opportunity. But there remains the same question that always popped up during my original ultra training.
What will break first, the technology or me?
Neither have ever been tested in the desert, neither has ever had to survive for 7 days in a desert. I head out there alone once again in synergy with technology to advance the line of possibility.
I am thankful I have this opportunity and intend to push to my absolute limit to achieve something wonderful. 

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Boston – I just can’t stay away

The city of Boston has come to mean so much to me over the past few years. It is the home of RunKeeper and therefore, served as the jumping off point for my Boston to NYC running adventure. Starting the adventure from the offices of RunKeeper and having the opportunity to run with the team that enabled my running achievements was a great moment.

The first day running served as my introduction to the Boston marathon course. Running from the offices we quickly headed to the official finish line for an obligatory photo, as starting in the city meant the course would be run in reverse! I can safely say the course is far easier in reverse, after all Heartbreak hill becomes a breeze!

But it wasn’t until I ran the NYC marathon that the idea of running the Boston marathon entered my mind. It was pointed out by Andrea of Team with a VIsion, that after running from Boston to NYC and then completing the NYC marathon, I was only 13 minutes shy of qualifying for the Boston marathon.

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Raspberry Pi 2 – Improving accessibility

Technology truly is redefining what is possible for the disabled community. However, there always remains a barrier – cost. Often products designed for assistive purposes carry a substantial price tag. There are a number of reasons for this and I firmly believe the majority of these issues can be overcome through universal design.
For example, design a product with a universal approach and it has the possibility of longevity, improved functionality for all and scale. The great benefit of this is a reduced price tag, making it affordable and overcoming that greatest barrier of all – cost.
This made me assess what I would consider the most functional piece of technology I own from a price perspective. Thinking of this for a while the answer surprised even me. it is my Raspberry Pi 2, including the Pi, a case, power supply and SD card for storage the cost was around £50. This is incredibly low cost but what exactly does it offer me?
After all it isn’t the most accessible of products, as I run it headless and control it through a command line interface. But it just sits there stuffed down the back of my television quietly working at integrating all my other technology together.
It serves FLAC audio to my Sonos 5, a wonderfully accessible music player, it serves up my audio described content to my iPhone, iPad and Apple TV and it also serves as file storage for my iPad Pro. It truly does allow all my other accessible technology to work seamlessly, it is this little device that allows everything else to function.
Therefore, for its price point I class it as the most functional device in my house. It certainly couldn’t replace my iPhone or iPad, but those devices would not serve me so well without that cheap little Raspberry Pi.

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Google Cardboard – Adding vision to the blind

As Google Cardboard surpasses the 500,000 mark it reminded me of a possible interesting use for the VI community.

A big issue related to loss of sight is contrast, as vision deteriorates the outside world often lacks enough contrast to adequately identify objects. However, this can in many cases be overcome by observing the same scene through a backlit screen. For example, a couple of years ago my son received a Duplo train for christmas. Due to my sight loss I was unable to see the track. However, my wife used Apple’s AirPlay to mirror what she was viewing onto the TV screen. This increased level of contrast meant I could help build the track. It may seem strange that I cannot see the track when looking directly at it, but can through a screen. But thanks to the increased contrast I can identify outlines.

This is where cardboard could offer some interesting visual cues to the VI. Simply viewing the world through the screen may be enough to add increased contrast, or filters could even be applied to assist in increasing contrast. A step further and similar to augmented reality certain objects could be increased in constrast assisting in mobility or even enjoying a scene otherwise invisible.

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The adventure continues….

A little over 4 years ago I decided on a career change. The idea – to study psychology and begin a career within the clinical realm. This was a great departure from my previous career in network management and was something I was greatly excited about.

Slightly earlier in the year I had silenced the thoughts of quitting climbing the half dome, by learning to run solo outdoors. This was in part thanks to RunKeeper as well as my ability to memorise the feeling underfoot.

So the week my son was born, I thought it a great idea to increase my training to the ultra distance as well as beginning college to start my new career. I managed to juggle training between feeds, work during Grayson sleeping and spending time with my son. I managed to juggle this to such success that I began competing at the ultra distance and left college with the highest grade possible.

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Visually Impaired runner? Want to learn to be a running guide? Come join us!

Recently Braddan and I began a guide running project – guiderunning.UK. The simple goal is to raise awareness, point people towards guide running information and training and ultimately to connect as many visually impaired runners with guides as possible.

To promote the launch of guiderunning.uk we want to recruit a team of visually impaired runners and guides to compete in a 24-hour relay race. Don’t panic – this is definitely a sociable experience and not an all-out endurance competition. Pace and experience are certainly not an issue.

The race takes place in London over a 6-mile multi terrain route. It is not incredibly demanding. Trails are well maintained and relatively flat. More information about the even can be found at Spitfire Scramble

In true Spitfire spirit, guiderunning.uk needs YOU! – Just leave a comment below or contact me if you are interested.

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Like The Wind Magazine

I consider myself an emotional runner. As it is my emotional state that appears to dictate how far I can run. Whether it is riding the crest of a high, where running seems as simple as breathing, or the depths where another step seems a daunting task. It is perhaps those depths that offer the most interesting moments of running. The opportunity to overcome and push despite being emotionally and physically depleted. While in those depths I motivate myself by allowing my mind to wander. I recall stories of other runners that in the past have inspired and motivated me. It is those stories that pull me from the depths and allow me to continue.

So when I was asked to contribute to a new running magazine “Like The Wind” with a focus on runner’s stories, I jumped at the chance to contribute. I wrote a short piece that told the story of my initial steps into running solo. After submitting the article, I was asked if I had any photos of myself running. I rarely retain photos of myself, as I don’t particularly have a need for photos. Instead it was suggested that an illustrator could take my piece and use it as the basis for a drawing. I thought this a great idea as it would allow them to add their own take on my story.

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Passing an exam

Last semester I took the brave decision to add Visual Perception as one of my modules. The line between brave and stupid is often quite blurry. I thought the module would offer me a great insight into how the visual system works and it really did. But it meant some very special preparation in order to pass the exam.

The majority of the concepts were described diagrammatically on the course, something which meant I would have to take a slightly different angle to learning in order to achieve a greater understanding of visual perception as well as pass the exam. I had to try and visualise the concepts that were being described something that became quite challenging when you have never seen them represented in the real world. For example the visual illusions – I was fortunate enough to have seen some of these illusions while I had sight. But for others the concept of a visual illusion without actually being able to perceive it is quite odd.

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Text to speech on Kindle – A great accessibility feature for all

Expaning on my previous post about accessibility features being features for all and not just those that rely on them, I decided to highlight one of the features my sighted friends use.

Setting up VoiceOver to read Kindle books out loud. This is a great feature and one that can make reading a book a breeze. Want to have a book read to you while working at the computer? Commuting on the train? Well this will allow you to do it without purchasing the audiobook! This is the feature I use to read all my books. Without it I frankly wouldn’t be able to read.

This feature has been made far easier with iOS7 too. As the ability to activate VoiceOver and invert colours has been added to Siri. This alone is great for me, now I can pickup my wifes iPhone or indeed anybodys and with a quick Siri command be able to use it. This is great for doing quick things like making a call on someone elses phone, or quickly checking something on the internet. So lets get down to how its done!

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The cycle begins

For the past few months I have been running in maintenance mode. Generally managing to run around the half marathon length at the weekends and a couple of shorted distance runs in the week. However this week saw a foray into the start of an ultra training cycle. I have signed up for next years South Downs Way 50 so need to start the cycle now to get a decent finish.

So this week I had to do something I always like to believe I can but rarely do – the early morning run. I usually start running around 7am but if I am to fit my training in and university it means I have to run closer to 5am. I always tell myself I can do this but when the alarm goes off I switch it off and roll back over. I still did that this week but then after a few minutes thought “No, if I want to train I have to do it in the morning” and managed to yank myself out of bed.

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