“There can be be ability with endurance sports such as marathon running,” big-name AS expert Tony Attwood writes on the subject of movement and coordination in “The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. “Once the running movement has become efficient, the person with Asperger’s syndrome can be remarkably tolerant of discomfort and able to just keep running.”

I often think about this comment on my runs.

It is true for me that I needed to train myself to run efficiently. As a child, I had the kind of awkward gait that is often symptomatic of Asperger’s. In my case, it involved toeing in and a rather unfortunate shift in the hip joint that was only efficient in shifting and sculpting my shorts into some monumental wedgies. The issue had become almost invisible by the time I first dabbled in running in my late teens after becoming obsessed with Run Lola Run, but it was enough to cause all sorts of pain and frustration. If any boyfriend of mine had lost a bag full of money on the subway, he’d clearly have been fucked.

Since then, I’ve tried and quit a number of times, but it’s only within the past couple of years that I’ve become strong, muscularly balanced and bodily aware enough to run with any sort of success. My gait still isn’t perfect, but it’s only really noticeable if you study footage of me, and it’s been modified enough to take care of my chronic issues with shin splints and foot flop. It’s enough of a transformation that it could probably merit a Bob Lamonta-style Lifetime movie.

But “remarkably tolerant of discomfort?”

I don’t think I’m as sensitive as I could be. I did once compete in a jiu jitsu tournament after breaking a toe. But I did also flop around on the mat like Gollum and almost vomit after the injury occurred. So I’m not a complete wuss, but I’m not exactly the portrait of high pain tolerance that is often a symptom of AS. I’m high enough on the sissy scale that I consider myself cheated on this account. In fact, it’s probably third on my list of Cool Benefits Of Aspgerger’s On Which I Totally Burned, behind savantism and interests and abilities in subjects that actually make money, like maths and computers.

I have a bit of a mental advantage on long distance runs, because I actually really enjoy doing the same thing a million times in a row and I consider putting one foot in front of the other for miles on end to be soothing as opposed to mind-numbing, but it’s not exactly a fair trade. Yes, I can happily run without music. I can write entire articles in my head on the run. Hell, I can even get in some mindfulness meditation while I’m out there. But I’d give all of that up for even a touch of that remarkable tolerance.

You see, I ran my first race ever yesterday, a rather hilly 8k course. It went far better than I expected, especially considering the fact that my last few weeks of training consisted of messing up a tendon while moving and taking a week to rest and recuperate, the Chariots of Fail run detailed a few posts back, and another week off with a menacing cold. I came in a little under the 50 minute mark, which is about what I was hoping for at this point in my running career, especially with that elevation gain.

I’m happy with my performance. I’m very happy with my mental focus, especially given the fact that I’m not used to running in crowds. But I wasn’t thinking about my achievements, my burgeoning competitive spirit, or my “inspirational triumph over disability” as I struggled up the final hill, a 600m beast intent on turning my aching legs, asthmatic lungs and bowels against me. I was mostly thinking “Tony Attwood’s full of shit.”


Chariots Of Fail

March 27, 2011

I love a good repetitive pattern, but I also violently hated my old place, and I think that the latter has effectively canceled out the former in the case of my recent move. Whatever comfort there was in the routines of the old place had long been nullified by the accompanying resentment of having to do them in such a stupid, tiny place with a paint job and structural integrity worthy of any building you’d find in a fascinating but poignant photo essay on the urban decay in Detroit. And now, it seems, any stress involved in having to establish and navigate new, unfamiliar habits has been mitigated my fondness for the current place and the new/old neighbourhood.

But there was one thing I did genuinely adore about the old place: my running route. It was the first thing I ever ran and, in true autistic fashion, I went back to it over and over and over again. As I’ve become fond of saying, why do anything once when you can do it six million times? Even when I loathed running, I adored my little loop through the cemetery, which was exactly half a mile from my door. I liked knowing the specific distance markers along the way,watching the same sights coming up at the same times, and I loved engaging in the constant repetitive motion of putting one foot in front of the other and navigating through the same tried and true pathways. For almost half a decade, it was My Route. A really crazy new run consisted of adding an extra circle through the cemetery or, when I was really feeling bold, running the loop in the opposite direction. I can probably count the number of runs I’ve done somewhere other than the cemetery on both hands, and only one of those was in town.

Now, I still live within running distance of the very same cemetery. I’m just a little farther away than I used to be, and I have to enter through a different gate. I fully realize that these differences are pretty minor, but they’re driving me to untold heights of melodrama. I cried like a baby when I ran my original route for the last time. And my first attempt at the new route earlier today was, well, let’s go with “unpleasant.” It was a lot like that special brand of unpleasant that unpopular and awkward kids experience on the first day at a new school.

Unused to having so many people on the sidewalk because I used to live in a boring and dead neighbourhood, I began the whole unfortunate farce by pretty much bolting out of the gate in a misguided effort to get past the meandering sidewalk hogs and impress them with my “No! I haven’t been sick or injured and it totally hasn’t been over a week since I laced up my shoes!” speed. It’s bad enough for a normal runner to do this, as it leads to premature exhaustion and a generally shitty run, but it’s particularly wretched for someone with asthma. I avoided an actual attack, but there was a whole lotta wheezing (and coughing up and spitting of phlegm) going on for the rest of my journey.

Then I got lost and ran through a church parking lot that was located on a small but slippery hill. I did my best to descend it carefully, but I wound up on my ass in the mud. Then some asshole who was out walking her dog actually stopped, stared and laughed at me. Why do people do shit like that? It seemed to me like she really wanted me to know that she was laughing at me, and her reaction was quite audible and in my face. What does someone get out of an interaction like that? Maybe she could read my mind, and she felt that my school metaphor wasn’t obvious or literal enough? Sometimes I just really want to ask people: “I have Asperger’s. What’s your excuse?”

Anyway, I considered myself lucky that my pride was the only thing injured in the fall. I considered myself less lucky that I would be running eight more kilometers along one of the busiest streets in the country with a large brown spot oozing on my ass.

The rest of the run was a sea of winded horking, furious clock-watching, burning legs and an internal monologue of whining and nostalgia. On the way back, I had to change my plans on the fly because the road home was blocked off by a series of police cars, ambulances and fire trucks. When I did make it back to my new door at last, I had problems unlocking it because my fingers wouldn’t move. That was when I looked down to realize that my hand and arm – which had been exposed to the elements up to the watchband level to accommodate all of that clock-watching – were swollen and covered in hives. (Among my many quirks, I am also allergic to the cold. What can I say? Some people just win the genetic lottery.)

Then I had a lukewarm bath because I don’t understand the temperature control on the new tub just yet. Finally, my Garmin GPS and heart rate monitor decided to add a cruel epilogue to the whole tale by refusing to upload the sad activity properly.

I’m grumpy because it sucked. I’m double grumpy because it sucked and new patterns suck even when they’re good. And I’m on a grumpy loop because I can’t let go of things.

And yet I’m already considering doing it all again tomorrow. I’m just not the kind of girl to try anything once.