Hazel McFarlane is aiming to be the first blind runner to complete the Glasgow to Edinburgh double marathon on 6 April. Having lived with a degenerative sight condition all her life, Hazel is running the 56 miles to raise funds for Ayrshire Vision Appeal - an Ayrshire-wide service that supports people diagnosed with sight-loss.
The 46-year-old works as a development officer for the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) Scotland and spoke of the effect the condition has had on her running: "When I had residual vision in one eye, I had been advised to stop, but when I became totally blind five years ago I was able to return to it. I joined Troon Tortoises Athletics Club and, with assistance from a group of fellow runners, I have now done five marathons. In 2011, I ran my first ultra marathon, the River Ayr Way, which was 42 miles.
"On the day my sight went down I had to take in the news in a very busy eye clinic waiting area. Although all the staff were fantastically supportive, I had nonetheless to sit in a very public environment trying to keep my emotions in check. Although I had known for a couple of years my sight would go, I was prepared on a practical level but not emotionally."
Hazel then decided to write a basic project proposal for a Vision Support Service covering Ayrshire and supported by the local sight loss group, Visual Impairment Ayshire. RNIB Scotland developed the idea further and the service has now been established in Ayr and Crosshouse Hospitals.
"We need funding to develop it. We estimate there are around 4,900 blind and partially sighted people in Ayrshire and Arran and a further 20,000 with significant sight loss. But without our service, only a tiny percentage will be offered support and counselling, despite the devastating impact sight loss can have on people's lives. We have a target of £150,000 and it would be brilliant if we could raise this money.
She discussed how training had been going for the race and the time she is aiming for: "On the Glasgow-Edinburgh Double Marathon I will be supported by a team, each running with me for approximately 14 miles. To remain in the race, you must finish within 13 hours. I have been running 20 miles on Saturday mornings and 10 on Sundays, with two club training nights during the week. I would absolutely love to finish within the 13 hours and I'm optimistic that my own determination, plus the support and encouragement my guide-runners give me in spade-loads, will get me through."
To sponsor Hazel, visit her Just Giving page.
Main photograph reproduced courtesy of the Scotsman newspaper.