New App Helps Visually Impaired Runners Find Their Way

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Inventor wasn’t blind, just directionally challenged.

When Craig Slagel launched RunGo in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2014, he had no idea he’d eventually help runners who are visually impaired, REI reports. It was an unintentional side effect.

Slagel was working in the visual effects industry for Hollywood movies, living in Canada and traveling a lot. When he went running in foreign cities, he often got lost.

Once, on a business trip to Tokyo, he set out on what he hoped would be an hour-long run with a map provided by his hotel. Two hours later, he was lost and late for his morning meeting. (He admits he doesn’t have a great sense of direction.)

“I’d spend all this time trying to figure out a route, memorize it and still get lost anyway,” Slagel said. “I was an early adopter of car GPS systems and I thought there should be something like this for running, too.”

So he built a first-of-its-kind hands-free app with turn-by-turn voice navigation, designed for runners.

Then Slagel adopted a retired guide dog, and he realized that maybe his app could be useful for other groups. “I built the app more for myself, so I wouldn’t get lost while traveling, but I realized it could be beneficial to visually impaired runners as well,” he said.

Today, RunGo has more than 100,000 trail and road routes around the world, and Slagel is now working on a second version of the app designed for multipurpose use, like biking and hiking.

Runners like Rhonda-Marie Parke, from Kitchener, Ontario, are grateful. Parke, who’s legally blind with about eight percent vision, started running 10 years ago. A few years later, she decided to try ultramarathon distances, mainly with guides to help her navigate.

In July, Parke ran 314 miles across Tennessee to complete the Vol State ultramarathon to celebrate her 40th birthday. She had a support crew but ran most of the course entirely on her own, with help from the RunGo app.

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