Wales Coastal Path Challenge Launch Party
Good evening everybody
I would like to thank you all for being here tonight, it is great to see so much support.
I’ll cut to the chase, I’m sure by now you have heard I am going to be running the Wales coast, I will run further than a marathon a day, every day for 870 miles. Well, by itself this may not mean very much too many of you. So to give it meaning, I thought I would try and answer the age old 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. For example, the idea of love is universal but when we try to define it, we discover there is no universally accepted definition, while these definitions are very nice, do not do our feelings justice.
One thing you may learn about me is that I obsessively think about everything, my mind, it delivers a never ending stream of thoughts which can be a curse or a great tool; for example; a random thought I had about speeches, while writing this one, is that when people give emotionally charged speeches, it seems the words don’t affects the audience, but the memories that we have anchored to those words. It is those memories that make the emotions well up inside us. As well I find it is the expression on the face of the speaker that influences the audience, science has shown that emotions are catching, we literally learn to fear things from seeing expressions of fear in others. So during speeches, personally I notice the looks on the speaker, who are often having to fight back powerful emotions to be able to finish their speech and it is there that we understand each other, in that raw state, not in the words but in our expressions, not the face we put on in public to hide behind or pretend to be, that just hides your personality from me, I mean your true, natural state of being.
It would not be possible to share all of my story with you tonight and words may not meet your expectations, so I will attempt to show! you my passion for running, through my self-expressions.
For those of you who get to see me run the coast, I am sure you will get to see me express my love for running, but for the rest you, I hope tonight that my passion will show.
I have friends here tonight who I am sure, understand exactly what I am talking about, while we do not speak of these things, I am sure they see it, my love for technical, difficult terrain and challenging runs. Like in many other sports, mountain biking and rock climbing, 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 my, 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.
As my friends let me pass, I feel like I am being let loose, like a blind person who has been practising to see through their fingers, imagine the feeling, the moment it finally happens, they can finally visualise mentally what their fingers touch physically… well I feel through my soles.
Now try and imagine it, seeing through your fingers and being given a material so smooth it is impossible to distinguish any part from the other, all much of the same… sounds pretty boring right! Now imagine running your fingers along the most fractured jagged, pointy surface that comes to mind, to our eyes it may seem to be full of imperfections, course and ugly compared to the smooth material, but to the fingers it is a treat, to be spoilt with so much sensory stimuli. Your fingers enjoy running around the protrusions, rising up to the pointy edges, or your finger exploring a little hole, your tips rising and falling with the contours just like the uneven surface of the landscape, that rough material is how my feet feel about the terrain, they don’t want smooth or the path of least resistance, they want to feel their way around a rich tapestry, discovering all its rugged imperfection, that it is my delight… and it shows.
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 or get talked over by the alpha socialite, 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.
There is not much you can do for your friend in that moment, crack the odd joke maybe, but at the end of the day they must grit their teeth and fight their own battles, at that moment our status symbols won’t help us. It is those moments I can learn more about a person’s character, it takes minutes instead of the years it can take in the real world, full with its facades, this world often feels so far from natural it’s more like a virtual world than the natural one, maybe my issue is that I just don’t have the software to render this virtual world comprehensible.
This shared hardship always reminds me of a speech, I’d like to quote some of this speech for you, it symbolises these rare, running induced social interactions. It is St Crispin’s day speech… “He can strip his sleeve and show his scars, But he’ll remember, with advantages, What feats he did that day” and “he to-day that sheds his blood with me, Shall be my brother, We few, we happy few, we band of brothers”.
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 my friends… 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.
However! that is not the end of the story, that is just why I do what I do! but tonight is about sharing stories like mine, 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!
I would like say thanks to the Autism Directory, specifically Nadine, Justine, Sue and the team for all of your hard work.
to SoulMateFood for my nutrition.
to Inov8 All Terrain for my kit.
The Screen Fix for your support.
To all of you who have supported us.
To my running buddies, my band of brothers, with whom I have shared some very real moments with.
and finally to my wife, the one who understands me most! and for encouraging me to be me.
Supported and sponsored by the Autism Directory…