Simon Wheatcroft previously ran several marathons. Even attempted a 150-mile ultra marathon in the Sahara Desert.
But this one was different. Last Sunday, Wheatcroft set out to complete his third New York City Marathon, but his first without the aid of a guide runner.
Wheatcroft, a 35-year-old Brit who has been legally blind since age 17, took off on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in Staten Island wearing two pieces of technology.
Bands around his chest and his upper left arm would guide him among a sea of runners — around 50,000 start this race annually, making it the world’s largest marathon. Over five bridges and around more than a dozen turns of 90 degrees or more.
“Seven years ago [when I started running], I never thought I’d get to the point where I could run solo the biggest marathon in the world,” said Wheatcroft, who was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa as he entered teenage years.
Wheatcroft wore a band around his chest with ultrasonic sensors triggering different vibrations when detecting people around him based on the distance. He wore an armband to help navigate the course, such as notifying him when to turn.
“Traditionally to compete usually there’s a guide runner, someone who runs alongside,” Wheatcroft said. “Whereas now, if I choose solo, I can just start entering races and trying to win them all alone.”
Light rain during Sunday’s race caused his technology to malfunction. Wheatcroft finished in 5 hours, 17 minutes, 40 seconds, completing the final several miles in Manhattan with the traditional aid of guide runners.
In May 2016, Wheatcroft reportedly covered about 100 miles of the 150-mile Sahara Race in Africa using a smartphone app as a guide.
In 2014, he reportedly ran 240 miles in nine days from Boston to New York City — and then ran the New York City Marathon in 5:13:18.
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