She Runs: Whilst Autistic

I’ve had a few forays into running in the past. Between the ages of fifteen and eighteen I was in Army Cadets and participated in Cadet Cambrian (the toughest competition in the Army Cadet Force with a lot of running during training), but I tore my meniscus and had to have an arthroscopy at 17, so I paused my running to recover. That pause turned into quite a long stop.

I started running again semi-properly in 2016 after seeing the benefit it had on a good friend’s mental health. I even ran the Cardiff Half Marathon that year. Unfortunately, injury struck again – this time with plantar fasciitis – and as with my last recovery pause, it turned into a stop.

The thing is, I’m both Autistic and have ADHD. I’m not going down a road of generalisations and clichés, but for me I get very intense interests in things, but if I can’t (or don’t) focus on them for a while they end up dropping out of my life entirely. This is what happened with running. 

I’d been wanting to get back into it for a while because I know how good it is for my mental wellbeing. However, my brain operates in two modes: 1: do everything I think of right away without considering potential outcomes or consequences and 2: ruminate and overthink everything. Running fell into category 2, and I spent my time between February and April this year in a ‘Shall I? Shan’t I?’ battle. 

‘Shall I’ finally won and on 15th April I found some old running shoes in the cupboard, put on my sole running bra and leggings, and went out for a run. It was exactly what I needed. Lockdown while Autistic and being a carer for two disabled children was mentally exhausting and a constant sensory bombardment. That run was my first period of solitude for a month, and the frustration that had been building was released in every step. I posted about it on Facebook (I mean, is it even a run if you don’t tell someone about it?) and my friend Sara added a comment about She Runs: Cardiff, a supportive running group for Women in Cardiff.

I followed her advice and joined, but I didn’t expect to be there for long. Running was quickly becoming my intense interest (if you want to read more about that, you can do so here) and I already knew how this would go. I’d join, I’d post too much, I’d overshare, I’d empathise and celebrate by writing about my own experiences (therefore ‘making it about me’), people would get fed up with me and I’d leave. This is how it always goes, right? Wrong.

I do post a lot, but every single post is met with open arms, likes and comments. I do overshare, but this is met with kindness, advice and (when injured) sympathy. I do write about my own experiences while empathising with others (it’s the only way I really know how) but nobody has become frustrated with me, and mutual sharing is a big part of what makes She Runs: Cardiff so great. The most striking difference I’ve found so far is that despite being on my second injury, I’m not losing my running spark because I’m part of a community.

When I approached Myfanwy asking if she would like me to write about my experience for the site, I said this: 

She Runs: Cardiff is the first non-Autistic space that I’ve immediately felt comfortable and welcome in. 

Not once have I felt like an imposter, and I’m genuinely looking forward to meeting my fellow She Runners in person once we’re allowed. I can’t promise I won’t be awkward and talk too much to fill any potential uncomfortable silences, and I also can’t promise that I won’t be too loud and say the wrong thing. What they can promise is that they won’t judge me for it. That I’ll be welcomed with open arms and accepted for exactly who I am and how I communicate. They don’t even need to tell me; it’s shown with their actions and interactions.

If you’re a woman who runs – be that day one of couch to 5k or an ultrarunner – I can’t recommend She Runs: Cardiff enough. If you’re also neurodivergent, I honestly don’t think you’ll ever find a better club to join. Part of my job is to deliver neurodiversity training with a message of acceptance. This group is the first collection of neurotypicals who I can state confidently don’t need it.  Support, acceptance, and mutual respect are what’s on offer, alongside an awesome purple running kit and an eclectic Spotify playlist.

Kat Williams, She Runs: Cardiff Member

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