It was one of those mornings when the whole world, at least the one we live in, needed a reset. The only remedy I could think of was to head to the track.
For the past two seasons Harrison has run the 400 and the 800. Now he’s interested in the 1600 — a sort of a double-edged sword. We know from cross-country that he does better at longer distances, but in track there’s the monotony of going around in circles four times and the opportunity for distraction is greater.
With the spring track season just around the corner we’ve started to mix some practice track sessions with his off-season training program, which also includes trail runs, hikes and cycling.
Neurodiversity is more than just autism. It also includes things like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), sensory integration disorder and Tourette Syndrome. In Harrison’s case he is diagnosed with autism and ADHD, but he also has some sensory issues and blurts out random thoughts often unrelated to the task at hand.
The track at Custer County school, at about 8,000 feet elevation, is surfaced with uneven sand and gravel, and overgrown with grass and weeds. It’s also a quarter-mile track rather than the metric standard 400-meters.
We’re obviously not going to run any world records here, but it’s good-enough practice for the meets which are held on some pretty nice tracks around the region.
I typically draw a line in the gravel to illustrate the “waterfall”-style start that the longer track events have. Then we do a mock start just like it’s real thing. I typically run along to encourage and help him develop a sense of pacing.
We ran a warmup loop, then some strides.
After getting a really good start, he started scratching his legs on the first curve, and then freaking out over this. It’s sensory issue he developed back during cross-country season.
Due to this sensory problem he lost his focus. He weaved back and forth, on and off the track, jogging with a discombobulated gait. I swear anyone could have walked that lap backward faster.
Then it was OCD time, as he started obsessing over what time it was, and particularly in relation to lunchtime. We had to check the watch several times as I assured him there was plenty of time to run a 1600 and still get lunch by noon.
It took him a whopping 5 minutes to do that first lap, then he veered over to the car. I told him we should just go home and forget it. That’s when autism tantrum time kicked in. He started acting out, yelling, swinging and grabbing at me, pulling on my shirt.
Somehow in all this he decided to give it another try. So we returned to our line in the sand and started all over. This time he still had problems with the sensory stuff (itching) and focus, and blurting out random thoughts about electronic devices and phone numbers. But he did it. It was his slowest 1600 ever, but afterward he seemed like a different person, almost like we’d pushed the reset button.
I was not thrilled with his 11-minute mile. I think he’s quite capable of running under 7 minutes even on this track at this altitude. But instead of focusing on this I realized everything he’d pushed through — the mental-emotional equivalent to a Spartan obstacle course.
So I praised him for his Herculean effort. We jogged another quarter for a cool-down and then headed for lunch.
He promised to do better next time.