Guest Post: To cope, to survive, to thrive - running 870 miles in 30 days
To celebrate World Autism Awareness Week, Shaun Faulkner tells us about his story of transformation from housebound person with phobias and anxiety to running Ultramarathons; in particular running 870 miles of the whole Wales Coast in 30 days.
I have suffered with panic disorder, social phobia, stress and depression and all of this was a result of the struggles I experienced due to being on the Autistic Spectrum. But through the power of running, I have been able to turn my life around. I have got back into employment, studying for my degree, running and just feeling capable and happy.
I am going to be running the Wales coast, I will run further than a marathon a day, every day for 870 miles. I thought I would try and answer the question “why do I do it?”
It may surprise you that this is a very hard question to answer, like love, words do not always capture how we feel.
I’ve always had social difficulties, I didn’t quite understand why or where they came from, I find it hard to have meaningful relationships, even with family, which means I rarely feel able to talk about it with people. It is hard to be social when I often can’t comprehend people and they can comprehend me, words often don’t help as they don’t always represent the world we live in or the emotions we feel. I obsessively think about everything, my mind, it delivers a never ending stream of thoughts which can be a curse or a great tool.
When I run, I can visualise routes where there are none, my eyes sees it, my mind mentally rehearses the moves, and then when the route becomes apparent to me, I am unable to contain my hunger and excitement, muscle memory takes over and then I just naturally do what I do best.
In those moments there is nothing for people to get confused about, to misunderstand or misinterpret, that moment my joy and passion is expressed in a universal language. I often remember my friends stepping aside and saying “go on”, that moment of mutual understanding, willing me on, to do my thing. The enthusiasm must have showed but all the while it was unspoken.
A rare moment of meaningful interaction for me.
I proceed to dance through the landscape like an artist, I literally dance through those stretches, I don’t just put one foot in front of the other in a monotonous predictable fashion, the terrain is too varied for that, I transition from a metronome like rhythm to one of chaos, bouncing around my stage like a dancer, zig-zagging my way all over the mountain trails, too quick for the mind to process, I just trust myself, using trees to swing around sharp bends, using bankings to contain my speed, by hitting them almost horizontally, I’m like water being contained in a bucket by centripetal force, running unconventionally.
I don’t like to be conventional all of the time, there is few genuine rules in life and in running, instead of letting others define how we should live life, we should do it our own way, it maybe this unconventional nature and lack of desire to conform that is the cause of some of my social struggles, but true freedom is to live life how you want to, not how everyone else expects you to, more importantly it is in my unconventional behaviours and ideas that I express my true self.
In that moment I can socially interact as well as anyone else, out on the run it doesn’t matter what car you drive, how big your house is, how successful you appear to be or how judgemental people are, whether you are shy, confident, none of it matters. A challenging mountain run scrubs away all of our falsities leaving us bare naked in a state that is universal, sometimes a quick glance at your running buddy will reveal their pain and suffering, whether they like it or not… in that moment you understand, you offer to get them some food, a drink, or warm layers from their pack, because you know that feeling, when you are too exhausted to even look after yourself, that is where I create bonds unlike anywhere else in our society.
On those mountains it is a level playing field, it is where I am at my best and all of my character traits and strengths show, it is where people learn more about me than any other interaction, because like them, I will hit the wall, run out of energy, have to rely on the character within me to carry on. It’s a reciprocal experience, I get to see their universal truth, their natural selves away from the virtual societies and they get to see mine, to see what I am all about, to realise that the difficulties I have do not define me, that in the right environment I have something inside of me that shines bright and when I am fighting the big fight, the one inside our heads.
I am able to stay strong and in the words of Winston Churchill “I like a man who grins when he fights”
When we’re smiling through a
hard run we each know something deep about each other’s character, there is no
need to assume things about their abilities, we see it in that moment when you
can’t run away from the hardship, we see how each of us deals with it and it
brings a level of respect and admiration that is great, but only earned through
effort, you can’t fake it or blag it, you either do it or you do not. It is
hard not to like someone who shines brightest in those darkest of moments.
That strength, passion and confidence people see on the run, it has started to overlap into everyday life, I am starting to be able to be my best on and off the mountain. And this is why I must run 870 miles of Wales so that I can be the best I can be, on and off the mountain, to be able to grin when the going gets tough and most importantly to be happy.
This post is about sharing my story, so that others can benefit from what I have learnt, that exercise can be key for helping people to cope, to survive and most importantly, to thrive!
For more information on Shaun, take a look at his website AspieRunner.