Next time you are out on a trail run, imagine navigating an unfamiliar section by looking through a paper-towel roll without the ability to differentiate between roots, rocks and dirt.
That’s what ultra runner Kyle Robidoux faces each and every step. Robidoux was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) at age 11 and was declared legally blind at 19.
“I have never had any vision in the dark or dimly lit areas,” he explains. “I currently have corrected 20/40 vision (I wear glasses) and my field of vision is about 3 percent to 5 percent. Also, although I am not color blind, I do have a difficult time telling the difference of like colors. So when trail running roots, rocks, and dirt all tend to blend in with each other, which is why I run with sighted guides.”
To learn about becoming a sighted guide, visit www.unitedinstride.com.
Running to lose weight
Robidoux was active as a youth, playing various sports and running to stay in shape. As an adult, he became more sedentary and packed on the pounds. That prompted him to start to running again about nine years ago.
“I decided I needed a lifestyle change because I had become very sedentary and weighed over 250 pounds,” says Robidoux, who has lost more than 70 pounds. “I have always had issues with my weight, health and eating. I am a self-diagnosed food addict and recently began looking into meeting with a behavioral health specialist/therapist to address my binge eating issues. Running and eating healthier has helped me lose and mostly keep off the weight but I need to figure out how to manage this outside of running."
He gradually moved up from a five-minute run to 15 minutes to a half hour. “When I hit two hours, I decided to sign up for my first race, the Portland (Maine) Half Marathon.”
In time, he became bored with marathon training and “needed a change to keep engaged and motivated.” That’s when he signed up for a 12-hour timed race and he became engaged in the ultra running community.
“Running has made me a much happier person and really impacts my mental health,” he says. “It is a time when I get to think, or not think at all. And the running community has given me so much and has become an important part of my life.”
It takes a village of volunteers
Sighted guides, crew members, accommodating race directors, volunteer drivers and other all provide invaluable support for blind runners.
“Runners are an incredibly giving group of individuals and always willing to support,” he says. “Rare directors understandably have an initial set of questions, often related to liability and safety, but once we talk through things all they want to do is be supportive.”
Ask Robidoux what he wants other runners, race directors and others in the sport to know about blind runners, and it’s essentially the same as sighted runners: just let us run.
“At the end of the day all we want to do is to run and participate in this great sport and community,” he says. “To do this sometimes requires a small amount of flexibility from RDs — letting us run with guides. Beyond that, engage with us just like you do with every other runner.”
‘A special experience’
He says that some races are “steeped in a tremendous amount of history. And sometimes this history can impact decisions around inclusion and accessibility. While it is important to honor and recognize our history it is also important to evolve and when needed make some changes.”
Robidoux was able to participate in the most historic 100-miler in 2019 when he DNF’d at Western States.
“Overall, Western States was a special experience,” he says. “Of course I will never forget having my race bracelet clipped off at mile 15.5 due to timing out and seeing my daughter running toward and embracing me afterward. But I promised myself and my team that I would get up every time I fell and run until they pulled me.”
He praised the Western States race committee and its supporters.
“We received so much support which allowed us to raise an incredible amount of awareness,” says Robidoux, whose sponsors include Squirrels Nut Butter, Topo Athletic, Athletic Brewing Company, Clif Bar and Ultimate Direction. “I am thankful to Clif Bar for the opportunity. I have three qualifiers in 2020 (Umstead 100, Miwok100K and Vermont 100) so I hope to be back in the lottery in 2020 and get back to the start line.”
Looking ahead, Robidoux focuses on becoming a better runner, not necessarily tackling bucket-list races.
“I need to become a more complete runner and really learn to train and just not go through the motions,” he says. “In 2019, while training for WSER I made significant improvements in focusing on quality of miles over quantity. Now I have to focus on dialing up the intensity during training while remaining smart.”
Name: Kyle Robidoux
Number of years running: Nine years
How many miles a week do you typically run: 50 to 80 depending on the type of training cycle.
Point of pride: Finishing my first ultra which was the TARC 100K. I promised my daughter that I would finish the distance regardless of my time. It took me 25 hours but I got it done.
Favorite race distance: 50 miles. Long enough where you have to train for it, and be smart and disciplined on race day. But you are not destroyed post-race day.
Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: PB&J with bananas is my staple pre-race food.
Favorite piece of gear: Patagonia Vermont 100 finisher shorts — a ton of small pockets to stash food in!
Favorite or inspirational song to run to: Too Legit Too Quit
Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: Keep Moving Robidoux
Where can other runners connect or follow you:
• Instagram: @blindbeerrunner
• Twitter: @kylerrobidoux
• Website: www.kylerobidoux.com