I’ve entered a race called The Hebden which takes place in late January around the Calder valley area. The race has two distances 15 or 22 miles and is tough because the Calder valley is made up of rolling hills and vast expenses of open moorland. It is a very popular race because the checkpoint times are very generous. 6 hours for 14 miles and there are 6 checkpoints which are well stocked with cake and water. This makes it doable because it is an event that has been designed for the long distance walker but that is not to underestimate it in any way. There are tough ascents and descents which at that time of year are usually wet and muddy at the very least. It is an event that is not to be underestimated but there is a real sense of achievement when you finish and tuck into the free food at the end.
I’ve run the 15 mile course before and I’m pretty confident I could run it on my own now. The 22 mile course is an entirely different matter. 7 miles doesn’t sound a lot but when it involves 3 tough climbs, more mud and more chances to take a wrong turn and end up miles away from where you want to be it is not to be taken lightly. Another consideration that needs to be taken into account is the fact that at the 14 mile checkpoint you have the option of doing the 15 or the 22. Most people enter the 22 and end up doing the 15 as after 14 miles they’ve had enough at this point. Because of this the extra 7 miles are not as well known as the other 14.
So when a friend of mine Andrew said he was organising a recce of the 7 miles I jumped at the chance to run it and decided to invite someone I’d only met once before Louise along as she is on the waiting list for the Hebden and I was fairly sure she would enjoy the run too. Louise asked if she could bring some friends along too and I said ‘of course’. I know what it is like when you turn up to something and you only know one person and they ignore you and you feel left out and alone. The last thing I wanted was for Louise to feel left out and alone so I was happy for Louise to bring some friends even if I was nervous about meeting them!
On the day I managed to arrive n time just as Louise and her friends had arrived. I parked up and introduced myself. They introduced themselves as Sharon and Michael and they seemed really nice, just decent normal people who enjoyed running off road. I met a lot of runners now and the majority of them are decent, normal people but as with any group you do get some that aren’t for various reasons so it was a great relief to meet them and instantly like them and Louise was as nice as I remembered her.
We set off with Andrew leading and chose to do the hardest route which involved a steep climb off road to the top of the moors where we ran to the checkpoint so we could start the run proper. And it was a good taste of what was to come. We all gelled. Of course some were faster than others but not so much to make you feel a burden to the rest of the group. It gave me a good feeling and boosted my confidence for the day. I felt a part of the group and felt that I was among people I could rely on. This helped me relax and concentrate on the run rather than worrying about keeping up with the others and pondering about what I can and cannot say.
And then I remembered Louise saying in the carpark that she was a special needs teacher with an interest in autism and on a flattish part of the route I mentioned that I was autistic too. She seemed surprised by this but it is a reaction I am used to now from people. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome in October 2008 but people don’t always see it because I am defined as high functioning within the autistic spectrum. People see a normal person and don’t understand why I have problems with communication and understanding of social interactions and they don’t see the turmoil that is going on inside your head as you wonder what to say and when and end up feeling lost and not a part of the interaction that is going on, so it was nice to meet someone who knew about autism and understood the condition and was happy for me to talk about it with them.