He’s legally blind — and running in the SLO Ultra 50k trail race

Kyle Robidoux, center, is presenting at the U.S. Trailrunning Conference on Thursday in San Luis Obispo. The 42-year-old Robidoux, who is legally blind, will run the SLO Ultra 50k Saturday morning.
Kyle Robidoux, center, is presenting at the U.S. Trailrunning Conference on Thursday in San Luis Obispo. The 42-year-old Robidoux, who is legally blind, will run the SLO Ultra 50k Saturday morning.

Kyle Robidoux considers his first trip to San Luis Obispo to be equal parts work and play.

The 42-year-old Boston native is among the hundreds of running enthusiasts who have descended upon the Central Coast this week for the sixth annual U.S. Trail Running Conference.

The interactive three-and-a-half day educational conference is being held in conjunction with the SLO Ultra trail event Saturday at the Dairy Creek Event Center in El Chorro County Park.

Robidoux, who is legally blind, will give a presentation to trail running industry leaders, race directors, sponsors and fellow athletes Thursday afternoon — then he’ll set out on a 50k race first thing Saturday morning.

“I think the conference is a great opportunity to increase awareness about athletes of all abilities, and the number of folks who are running trails and ultras,” Robidoux said in a phone interview Wednesday with The Tribune. “The race is an opportunity to get out on what sounds like some beautiful trails, meet some great runners and put the words from the conference into action.”

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Kyle Robidoux, left, completed a six-day, 120-mile race in Colorado less than two weeks ago. Courtesy photo

Robidoux was born with a degenerative eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa, which over time impairs an individual’s field of vision and in most cases results in total blindness.

Robidoux said he still has some usable vision — about 3 to 4 percent — but he is unable to see contrast, making it almost impossible to differentiate some of the complex terrain often associated with trail running.

It hasn’t slowed him down in the slightest.

Less than two weeks ago, Robidoux completed the six-day, 120-mile TransRockies Run through Colorado.

In July, he ran the Vermont 100 Endurance Race, one of five 100-mile races that comprise the Grand Slam of ultrarunning.

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He’s qualified for and ran in the Boston Marathon five straight years.

For most races, Robidoux relies on sighted guides to help him navigate the course.

“They essentially call out any tripping hazard for me throughout the race,” Robidoux said. “It’s mentally very challenging for a guide. They both have to, you know, run the race, but also have to be mentally strong to be able to run and guide me as well.”

Robidoux helps train guides through a program called United in Stride, which matches visually impaired runners with sighted partners.

A map shows the courses for the half marathon and 50k, with 11 aid stations set up along the route. SLO Ultra

Robidoux said he will run with two guides during the SLO Ultra on Saturday.

His sponsor, Topo Athletic, put him in touch with San Luis Obispo native Kelsey Lakowske — the 2017 SLO Marathon winner — who will serve as Robidoux’s guide for the first 10 miles of the race.

Sacramento-based Eric Schranz, who hosts the popular Ultra Runner Podcast, will take over as Robidoux’s guide for the remainder of the race.

Saturday’s 50k course consists of mostly fire roads and some technical single track, and will feature 11 aid stations along the route. The course limit is 10 hours.

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In addition to the 50k, Saturday’s races include a half marathon, 5k and kids race. The associated Race SLO Dirt Festival will include BBQ, beverages and live music from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is free to the public and participants.

Race SLO Founder and CEO Samantha Pruitt said Wednesday there are 650 people registered for the races.

Pruitt added that new partnerships with SLO County Parks, Camp SLO, Cal Poly and Miossi La Cuesta Ranch are “invaluable to us and truly show how a shared love of the outdoors and building an active community together can create magic.”

Those interested in becoming or being matched with a sighted guide can visit unitedinstride.com for more information.

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