Achilles runners and sole mates gives Andrew a guiding light

RUNNING a half marathon is an achievement for any amateur athlete, but Andrew Van der Saag had the added challenge of finding his way around the Orange Colour City Running Festival 21.1 kilometre course while maintaining a competitive pace as a visually impaired runner.

Thanks to the help of his guide Brendan Belcher, Mr Van der Saag finished the course in a personal best time of 1:37:08.

Mr Van der Saag and Mr Belcher are members of the Achilles Running Club - a worldwide group that pairs up able-bodied volunteer guides with people with a physical disability to help them achieve their running and walking dreams.

"I can see enough to run and walk around without a guide, but I use a guide mainly for the pacing," Mr Van der Saag said.

"I really enjoyed the scenery as we were running along."

It was his second Orange running festival half marathon, but his first time running with Mr Belcher - a member of the recently formed Canberra Achilles branch - who he only met on the day.

"Andrew needed help spotting the speed bumps and the bollards," Mr Belcher said.

The evenly-matched pair were able to keep up a similar pace while running.

But fellow Canberra Achilles branch member Tony McDonald - who was guiding Eleanor Waight in the 5km event - said it could be challenging at times to keep up the same speed.

"To run the same time as who you're guiding you have to be even fitter because you're talking as well," he said.

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Sydney branch president Ellis Janks said it was the fifth year Achilles members had entered the Orange running festival since the Sydney group formed in 1996.

"The idea is to get everyone involved, to challenge them and help them get the benefit of exercise," he said.

The friendliness of the Orange running festival organisers, the atmosphere and the varied distances to suit all the club's members keep them coming back for more.

"It's a great way for our club to go away and socialise," Mr Janks said.

Mr Van der Saag said he enjoyed the social aspect of the being an Achilles member.

"Not everyone runs, some walk," he said.

"Some are really isolated from society so to have that social contact is great."

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