Go the Distance
Blind athletes share the apps that help them compete.
When Simon Wheatcroft began to lose his sight in college, he searched for new ways to, as he says, “do pretty much everything.”
That included exercise. At the time, Wheatcroft had an iPhone 3GS, the first phone with VoiceOver, the screen reader built into iOS. He came across Runkeeper, an early adopter of that new technology, and got into running.
Today, he’s really into running. An accomplished ultramarathoner, Wheatcroft credits tech with helping him achieve something that wouldn’t have been possible even 15 years ago. “I’ve had a lot of frustrating moments,” he says. “But I’m so thankful to be living in this time, because until a decade ago I couldn’t do any of this.”
We talked to Wheatcroft and other athletes from around the world about the apps that have helped them stay active and achieve even their most ambitious goals.
Simon Wheatcroft, UK
‣ Wheatcroft has run 100-mile marathons, traversed the Sahara Desert solo, and competed in the Boston and New York City marathons. He’s pursuing a master’s in computer science.
I was born with sight. With my sight going away, I was looking for new ways to do pretty much everything. Runkeeper was one of the first apps I came across that supported VoiceOver, so I started running.
Now I’m mostly using Wahoo Fitness and the Workout app for the Apple Watch. Wahoo Fitness connects to a line of Bluetooth accessories that offer audio feedback in real time. And I love that when I start running, my Apple Watch automatically asks me if I'm on a workout—I can just give it a tap to start tracking.
I ran from Boston to New York in 2014 using Runkeeper, and the company used social media to invite people to run with me along the way. I wasn’t sure anyone would show up, but hundreds did. And getting to meet all these people of different ages, backgrounds, and abilities was amazing. I still keep in touch with people that I met.
Elena Fedoseeva, Russia
‣ Fedoseeva is a marathon and relay-race runner, triathlete (competing in running, swimming, and cycling), and new mother.
I consider myself an amateur athlete. Soon I’ll run my first half marathon in Berlin, and I’m planning to run a marathon next year. In October 2019, I’ll compete in Sochi’s triathlon relay.
For running I use Nike Run Club. It lets me know my speed and pace with voice coaching, and after finishing a training session I can get my heart rate at each kilometer and a full analysis of my run.
For cycling and swimming I use the Apple Watch’s Workout app, which tracks pool training. I swim in a “free mode” without setting a goal, but the app still analyzes everything and differentiates swimming styles. I recently discovered that it vibrates to let me know how long I’ve been working out—even underwater.
The coolest feature of Nike Run Club is guided runs. They help me not get bored, especially on a treadmill, and improve my technique. For example, recently they released “Running as Meditation” and “Running on a Treadmill.” In general, the Apple Watch rocks. No other device “talks” to you or guides you as easily.
Nike Run Club
Run Tracking & Training Plans
Richard Hunter, U.S.
‣ Hunter is a marathon runner, triathlete, and U.S. Marine Corps veteran. He works with other athletes who are blind or have low vision through the United States Association of Blind Athletes and is the founder of United in Stride, an online tool that unites guides and runners across North America.
When I first became blind, I didn’t know anyone who participated in endurance sports who was blind. As I figured out what resources were available, I vowed to ease the learning curve for others. Once I started meeting other blind runners, I felt very empowered by simply getting to know others on a similar vision-loss and endurance journey.
Strava allows me to record my runs and get audible feedback about my pace and miles. Since there are still plenty of real-world barriers in terms of accessibility, I use an app called Aira that provides real-time, one-on-one assistance using the iPhone’s camera with a real person who can assist me when eyes are absolutely critical.
I felt very empowered by simply getting to know others on a similar vision-loss and endurance journey.
My iPhone is my single most important tool. As long as developers program their apps to work with the accessibility features built into Apple products, I can access the world like any sighted person. Thanks to VoiceOver, I can do things like listen to books in Audible, arrange for a ride in Uber, and keep track of all of my runs through Strava.
The biggest challenge for runners with vision loss is finding running partners. In 2017, I ran 2,056 miles, including a 100-mile endurance run in North Carolina. I didn’t do a single training mile on a treadmill—every mile was with my running guide dog, Klinger, or with a person serving as a sighted guide. In 2018, I ran with 50 different sighted guides.