Tips for Guiding Athletes

Achilles guides serve as the athlete’s eyes, ears, guide, motivator, and most importantly…trusted running partner!  Guides help to welcome Achilles athletes to the wonderful world of running, by promoting friendship, encouraging the athlete, helping them build self-confidence with running activities, & having fun!

When you ask a guide how they feel about guiding they generally always respond that they get back much more than they give.

Things to ask your athlete prior to guiding

Achilles athletes have a wide range of disabilities. It is critical that guides and athletes have good, open communication. When you are assigned to an Achilles athlete, don’t be afraid to ask the following:

  • Have you been exercising/walking/running? What is your exercise experience?
  • What specific challenge(s) do you have related to running, walking, cycling?
  • Do you use any special equipment? If so, what equipment or adaptations do you use? (ex. tethers, quad canes, braces, crutches, prostheses, wheelchair, handcycle)
  • What do I need to know about your equipment and how to best help you?
  • What are your goals and how can we best help you meet these?

What you will do as a guide

Guide BibAs an Achilles guide, you might do the following:

  • Help an athlete with a disability become familiar and proficient with any special equipment if needed (e.g., using a tether, using a handcycle)
  • Participate in training workouts with the athlete; consistency helps.
  • Provide companionship and positive feedback.
  • Provide guidance and running advice during workouts and/or races if you are comfortable and knowledgeable doing so; generally this is left to the team coaches.
  • Help with race-day or day before logistics (e.g. packet pick-up, attaching timing chips).
  • Participate in the race alongside the athlete with whom you’ve been training
  • Carry the snacks or nutrition for the athlete during a run.
  • Get water/ Gatorade at water stops as needed.
  • Provide encouragement and positive feedback. Your job is to ensure that he/she has a positive experience.
  • If your athlete becomes tired, encourage him/her to walk or take a short break.
  • Provide course navigation.

If anything else is needed or requested, bring it to the attention of your chapter leaders. (Note: Guides for travel races might have more responsibility, and these will be clearly outlined before trips).

Running with a visually impaired athlete 

  • Run beside your athlete. If you are in front, even slightly, the athlete can trip on your feet.
  • We will give you a tether, which is simply a shoestring with a loop on either end. Athlete Christy Ray being Guided by JanaHold onto the loop with your hand. Do not tie it around your, or your athlete’s, wrist, which could be dangerous if either of you fell.
  • In the beginning, have your athlete hold your elbow, or hold the tether closely to your athlete’s hand. As you get more comfortable with your athlete, you may loosen up, allowing more distance between you.
  • Give an estimated distance to the top or bottom of a hill, bridge, curb, etc.
  • Otherwise, just look at the landscape, and tell your athlete what you see! Bridges, trees, golfers, other runners, bikers, creek, sunset, etc.
  • Offer key directional verbal support such as:
    • “Gentle right/left” to indicate a gentle curve in the path
    • “90 degrees” or “sharp left/right”
    • “Tighten up” tells the athlete to get close, and hold your elbow as you navigate a narrow or congested passage (bridges, runners coming towards you)
    • “Stop” when guide and athlete need to stop quickly (dog/car/obstacle darts in front of path)

Click here for more information on running with a visually impaired athlete

Running with a wheelchair or handcycle athlete

  • A flag at standing eye level height is required.
  • Safety helmets must be worn by Achilles athletes on wheels.
  • Pushrim wheelchair and handcycle athletes are generally fast, especially on the downhill. They will likely get ahead of you. You can catch up on the inclines.
  • Some races do allow guides on bicycles on the course.  Contact the race director at least 6 weeks prior to the event to inquire…never assume!