By Ruth Moyse
My thing is running. Well, running and then walking for a bit when I feel tired.
I wave and say hi to everyone I meet on my runs, because it amuses me to count how few people actually reply. The myth is that autistics struggle with social communication, but I can run for a few miles without reciprocity. Which makes me smile.
Sometimes I take the dog (welcome breaks to stroke her, give a treat, pick up poo). No conversation. I play music through my earphones if it’s a short run, or if I’m very emotional; if I’m cross or excited!
My favourite thing to do on a long run is to head for country roads or woods, and listen to stories; to lose myself in the scenery and in the words, crafting images in my head. Margaret Atwoods’s The Testaments was gripping.
Why running? Mainly because it’s so time efficient. I can just step outside my front door and start. I used a training programme called couch to 5k to get me started – a voice in my earphones that told me what to do, for how long. No thinking, clear instructions and up-front expectations. I couldn’t run for more than 30 seconds at the start. The day after my first day on this programme I could hardly walk, but I persevered. Because that’s what we do; I had a plan and I followed it.
It works because it’s immediate respite – time that is uninterrupted and without external demands. It’s something I can do on my own (please let me do it on my own), at the time that works best for the family. This tends to be the morning, often when the children are still in bed.
As my pace and my breath settles into a rhythm my thoughts organise themselves into ideas of how to tackle that piece of writing or identify the key point for a presentation I need to give. Plus, I love running in the rain, so winter is my friend. The quickest way to get me up at the weekend is tell me it’s only going to rain for another hour.
Running gives me a complete break from any struggles I may have going on at that time. Though I’ve virtually given up twice over the last couple of years when life was so crushingly hard, I always end up returning to running. I now have another running app that talks to me as I’m running and tells me what speed to run at and how long for; when to run slower or longer or harder. It means I don’t have to think about it. I just put my shoes on and go, I follow the plan, no thinking required.
I like a challenge, with a beginning and an end, I like following training plans for race distances, and I love a bit of medal bling at the end. Though I am much more comfortable with virtual racing. Completion, not time, is the aim; the sense of achievement. I’m not running to be fast, but I slowly improve. I’ve lost weight (a good thing). I’ve got my son running (he’s so much better than I ever was). I’ve got running clothes with pockets and proper trainers that I love lacing up on my feet (so good).
I’m currently training for a half marathon, raising money for a local charity. I have more motivation to keep going out and to keep going, my mental health is benefiting, and I can do my jeans up now when I’ve washed them, without lying on the floor. Plus, it’s so good to give. At a 10k race recently I struggled over the finish line then won £5000 for the charity of my choice in the prize draw (I have glitter on my face, because of course, glitter).
Ruth Moyse is a doctoral researcher at the University of Reading, charting the experiences of autistic girls who are currently absent from mainstream schools. As well as being an #ActuallyAutistic trainer for local charity, Parenting Special Children.
She describes herself as a non-domestic butterfly wife to a great oak tree (perfect blend of strength, calm and flexibility) and mother to an autistic whirlwind and a grounded neurotypical schmoozer.
Ruth’s twitter account is mum2aspergirl