Just one week before the race, I did not know if the Galena Sky 8-hour trail event would happen for me because my daughter, Kala, had emergency brain surgery. Luckily, surgery went well, and Kala is smiling and enjoying cuddles. The surgeon said we should still go on the mini vacation we had planned around my race and I was over the moon. As an autistic runner, it is hard for me to give up a running event. Running is how I care for myself. The movement is important. My daughter Kala is also autistic with Cerebral Palsy, and I share my self care with her by pushing her in her Chariot. Although, the Galena Sky Trail Race was for me alone, and I had been looking forward to it for months.
I started my adventure by working packet pickup on Friday night. Being autistic makes me have extremely high social anxiety, so I like to have time to adjust to new environments. Working packet pickup is my favorite way to acclimate to the race experience. I love being a part of the community and getting to say hi to everyone before their race.
Being an active member of the online running community also helps with the anxiety. It has given me a chance to share the unique challenges I have as an Autistic Runner with friends. For example, how I handle anxiety over making social mistakes or educating the community on how an Autistic runner feels in these situations. I was ready to finally meet friends “in person” after the long year of virtual races.
Saturday morning, I headed to the starting line and was able to catch up with some more friends. My “A” goal was a 50k in 8 hours and my “B” goal was to never give up. The race is an 8-hour timed event. The course meanders through the top half of Chestnut Mountain Resort trails through single track and open vista views of the Mississippi River. This mountain was going to challenge me on my goals, but I was determined to give it everything I had.
My trekking pole broke around mile 8, so I dropped them with my gear and pushed through. My friend Tara surprised me by fixing my poles with a popsicle stick. Then around the 4-hour mark I started cramping. Fortunately, I was introduced to the magic healing powers of pickle juice, and I charged on.
I finished my sixth lap and I knew it would be a challenge to complete the next loop before the time ran out, but I went for it. Runners passed me and gave me words of encouragement. I felt like I belonged there no matter my pace. I am part of this community. I am 40 years old, and I have not always felt part of a community. The ultrarunning community has welcomed me and it feels good.
My victory lap pushed me past the cutoff by 20 minutes. I could hear the end of the race countdown in the distance. With .5 mile to go I had reached my limit. I stopped and yelled, “I just want to be done!” This was a battle cry meant only for me, but a response came anyway. “Ryan is that you? I’ve been waiting for you!” My friend Cristina was waiting to help me across the finish. The race was over, but the friendships were still there. What an epic day! I got my finisher medal and since I also completed the Ornery Mule Racing “Run My Ass Off Series,” I earned a belt buckle. Next was the race finisher party. I worked the head table where age groups and overall race winners were announced, and I handed the runners their awards. This is where I belong, and it felt so good.
Thank you to the trail and ultrarunning community for being trail running superheroes in my life.