Above is an image of the indoor track at the Toronto Track and Field Centre at York University. My plan last Saturday was to run that track for eight hours at the Run4RKids 8 Hour Ultra. The reality was that I bailed at about five hours, having completed approximately 38K. I was still feeling good, had no aches or pains, and was pretty much on target pace.
So what happened?
Long story short – Asperger’s.
As I’ve explained in a previous post (“Running and Asperger’s”), I have Asperger’s Syndrome. Two of the primary manifestations of that are social isolation and a sensitivity to sensory overload. That means I don’t function well in groups of people, and that I don’t function well when there’s a lot of sound or movement around me.
Think about that for a minute, and you’ll understand why I always run alone, and almost always without music. And why running in races is somewhat problematic. Sometimes I can manage races, sometimes I can’t. When I can’t, I simply can’t.
Last January, I ran the Run4RKids 6 Hour successfully, and had a wonderful time. I met a number of very friendly and supportive people (ultra runners are like that), and completed a respectable 52K. So I was looking forward to this year’s 8 Hour. In fact, I’d worked out some specific strategies, building on solid feeling, pacing, and psychological learnings gained in the past twelve months.
Some days you’re the bug, some days you’re the windshield. On Saturday, it was my turn to be the bug.
Above is a pre-race photo of the full field of runners. About 25 people were in for the 8 Hour, a few for the 6 Hour, and the rest for the 30K, marathon, and half marathon events. That’s yours truly in the back row, wearing a white shirt (and looking as apprehensive as always when in a group of people).
The five hours I ran went according to plan and were smooth sailing. I followed my usual drill for the race. Minimalist sandals and compression clothing, a short breathing exercise/meditation before the race start, an easy pace going out, low-carb high-fat fueling (a couple of handfuls of macadamia nuts, a couple of small pieces of salami, a couple of pieces of 89% cocoa chocolate, and water were enough for the five hours), and a Morton Stretch every two hours. For this race, I also added power-walking breaks of 400m every 90 minutes.
No problem. Everything felt good physically, and I was well on pace. But the feeling of dissonance was there from the start. And that soon grew into a familiar feeling of disassociation. Too many people, too much interaction, too much sound and movement around me. It’s hard to explain to neurotypical (i.e., “normal”) people, but, if you read though my ““Running and Asperger’s” post, you’ll get a sense of what I was going through.
So I decided to call it a day. I sat down at trackside to think it through, made my decison, and headed for the door. No regrets.
None of that took anything away from my appreciation of the race itself, nor did it diminish my appreciation of the friendliness and support of the other participants. I simply knew I shouldn’t be there.
I’m not sure what to do about my upcoming race calender. I’ve got two ultra races scheduled. One’s a 100K road event in June, and the other’s a 24 hour event in September. For the time being, I’m going to leave the calendar as it is. But I may revise my thinking, opt out of all organized events, and explore long-distance running on my own. I’m still passionate about running, but I need to do it the way that makes most sense to me.