I Ran the Boston Marathon as the Official Guide for My Fellow IBMer

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(5 min read) By Bhumika Patel

In May 2019, we shared the story of Erich Manser, an IBMer who ran with a fellow IBMer as his Guide Runner at the Boston Marathon. Now you can read about this experience from the perspective of Bhumika, who volunteered as a Guide Runner for the 2019 Boston Marathon.

The Road to Boston
In January 2019, I was just recovering from my first 145-mile ultramarathon run, where six of my visually impaired mentees successfully finished, when I received the confirmation that I would become a Guide Runner for this year’s Boston Marathon. Initially, I was overcome with nervousness but resolved to take on the challenge. I realized that this would be the most important milestone in my Guide Running experience and that I would be able to help bring greater awareness to the cause.

Being a running guide is not new to me. I have run many races as a Guide Runner and mentored a number of visually impaired athletes and their guides in long-distance running. But this race event was different. I knew it would be a special one, both because I would be running at the world-renowned Boston Marathon and because I was guiding Erich, a fellow IBMer and an Ironman World Champion!

Erich and I started out as digital friends, occasionally meeting online to discuss work. But when he discovered my interest and experience in mentoring visually impaired runners and sighted guides in Bangalore, he offered up his invaluable advice. The knowledge and insight I received from Erich are priceless, not only because of his role with IBM’s Accessibility Research Team but also because of his personal experience as a tech-savvy marathon runner.

Getting Ready to Run

I met Erich face-to-face for the first time in Boston when we picked up our race kit. We did a shakeout run a day before the race and we quickly got in sync. During the run, we discussed usage of the tether – a short hooped cord that connected both runners by the hand to help negotiate the course – and agreed on pacing. We had to decide beforehand how we would handle things such as adjustments to the tether, water station stops, effective communication, and managing crowded sections of the run.

We had the chance to meet other athletes at the team dinner and brunch organized by ‘Team With A Vision’. They organized a marathon information session, providing guidance on the race, guide running tips, and other event logistics. But more importantly, it was also a stage for the athletes to share their previous experiences. Hearing other people’s stories helped clear many pre-race doubts and fears.

In addition to preparing as a team, I also had to get myself ready for the race. I knew the previous year’s run took place in heavy rain and severe cold, so I took precautions, with acclimatization runs in Boston, immunity boosters, and weatherproof running gear. Prior to the race, I also did a marathon bus tour to familiarize myself with the route and two days before, enjoyed a rainy Boston 5K with my daughter and husband.


The Day of the Marathon

Even though the route and the weather made the run more arduous, I could clearly see how prepared Erich was for this race. The tough ascents and mercurial weather did not seem to affect him at all. On the other hand, the steep ascents were difficult for me, but Erich motivated me to overcome the challenges, and later when Erich encountered fatigue, it was my turn to encourage him. With a good mutual pace, we pulled through, chatting and cracking jokes the whole way. Towards the end, we were able to pick up our pace, boosted by the crowd’s and fellow runners’ support. My family and friends from India cheering close to finish line made crossing it an easy but emotional ending.

In my years of running and training, there have been numerous stories to tell, but none of them can beat my experience at the Boston Marathon. There was an amazing amount of encouragement from IBM and colleagues across the world sent many messages of support. Inspired by Erich’s story, I would like to end with the same thought: “Kindness is a very powerful thing. Though we are from very different places, we will now be forever joined by kindness.”

About the Author:
Bhumika Patel is a Global Program Manager for Cybersecurity with IBM India. She has been recognized in India’s #IBMWomenWhoInspire 2017 and featured by Women’s Running as one of the “21 Women Transforming the World Through Running“. Bhumika has been training the visually impaired and running as a guide to them for many years. She has been involved with the Samarthanam Trust to the Disabled and Mitra Jyothi Institute for the Blind, as well as a Head Coach for Pinkathon training.

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