Although she wavered between “I got this,” and “No way, what the heck was I thinking?”, and hurt like she had never hurt before, on September 11, 2015, Tracey Cohen, a woman diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome at age 39, and author of Six-Word Lessons on Female Asperger Syndrome, ran and finished the Woodstock Hallucination 100 mile ultra marathon at Hell Creek Ranch in Pinckney, Michigan. The race started at 4 p.m. on September 11, 2015 and had a 30 hour time limit. Tracey finished the race in 29 hours, 23 minutes and 57.6 seconds. She finished 85th out of the 91 runners who started. I asked Tracey about how she accomplished this incredible feat.
Do you think your Asperger’s affected your ability to accomplish this? If yes, in what ways?
I’m not sure because all aspies are different and certainly not all or even most are long distance runners. But for me, I love the independence, the very movement, the solitude and peace of running. I went for so long being undiagnosed I really don't know what is in part due to my Asperger's and what is just “me”--maybe both?
What made you want to do a 100-mile race?
Though I truly love to run and had been running marathons since I was 18 (1989 I ran my first - Detroit Free Press) but never had the desire to race further until I learned about the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon in Cape Town South Africa when I was serving in the Peace Corps in Namibia from 2003 to 2005 My supervisor had a friend who lived in Cape Town who was running the race and was willing to give me a place to stay and transportation to the race. At the time they had a 56KM race and a 21KM race. I had never run further than 42KM (marathon) but taking a 23 hour bus ride to get there I definitely knew I wanted to run the full 56KM The race was as beautiful as advertised which I ran in 2004 and completed in 5:49:55, 10:03 ppm. From there I gradually continued to build my training, miles, experience and passion for the longer miles, bigger, different challenges, only deciding to go for it when I knew I really wanted to commit, physically and mentally.
What kinds of things did you do to prepare for the race?
Anything and everything you can think of, such as running miles, including speed work, long runs on and off the trail; lots of strength work; walking, hiking, running in the dark; swimming and otherwise on off days to try to continue endurance and fitness while giving rest to running muscles and building others, which I had to tailor and modify to my own life demands and time restraints. I tried to make sure that I went for quality over quantity with my training. My training might be nontraditional for some but it works for me and I continue to try to learn and improve and adjust to life circumstances.
What kind of encouragement or advice, if any, did you get along the way?
I am a “doer” more than a “talker,” so I didn’t tell very many people about my goal, in part because some I knew would be discouraging and in part because some people are more talk than results and I try to pride myself on being the opposite, and am just not much of a “chatter.” That being said, I am fortunate to have some very good and generous people in my life who welcome me to train with them and sponsor me to help keep injuries at bay. One friend gave me the push I needed in asking me, “What are you waiting for?” regarding my sign- up commitment and others telling me, “You got this,” and “Just put one foot in front of the other!”
How did you feel as it was getting close? Did you feel ready?
I wavered between feeling like, “I got this” and “No way, what the heck am I thinking?” but knew that I trained as much and as best as I could despite family health issues and other stressful time-consuming issues, and was just going to give it my all. Also, whether inspired by my autism or otherwise, I am the type of person who needs a great deal of time by myself which I certainly do not get; I tried to keep in mind what a privilege it would be to have 30 hours of “selfish” time (outside of checking my phone after each loop to be certain of no family emergencies), my only responsibility being to put one foot in front of the other fast enough to finish within the 30 hour cut-off time. I also felt privileged to be outdoors on the trail/in the woods, my very favorite place to be.
Did you ever doubt that you could finish?
Yes, but I am a pretty stubborn person and was determined to keep going unless I was risking serious injury, was not going to make the cut-off, or had a family emergency. Though extremely difficult (I hurt like I've never hurt before) and frustrating at times (I brought three sets of battery changes but my headlamp--one I use all the time--kept failing), it was great fun, and I can't say enough good things about the race organizers, volunteers, competitors and spectators.
Was your time and overall success pleasantly surprising, disappointing, or about what you expected?
I did not have expectations; so much can happen, especially in a race of that distance. My goal for this race was to put it all out there and finish within 30 hours. I’m so happy that I did and believe that I can build on this race and improve.
What advice do you have for other people with Asperger’s or other autism spectrum disorders who have dreams and goals that they would like to accomplish? Or anyone who wants to accomplish a huge goal?
If it is something that you really want to achieve, do not let anyone discourage you and know that if it is something that you want enough, you can absolutely achieve it so long as you are willing to be consistent, put forth the effort and work no matter the frustrations and obstacles that will undeniably happen along the way.
Is there anyone you want to thank for helping you achieve this?
Yes, I would like to thank RF Events with special props to my friend and race director, Gary Veen; Tri-Covery Massage & Fitness, who kindly sponsors me and helps me to continue pursuing the sport I love so much; my friend Bill Fuchs for his advice and willingness to accept me for exactly who I am; my friend, Jeff Watters, owner of Watters Performance Enhancement who allows me to train with him and gave me the push I needed to “bite the bullet” and take on the challenge. And I could go on and on with many thanks to the volunteers, spectators, and Running Fit.
Some final tips from Tracey:
- Have a plan but don't be so rigid as to not deviate when needed due to unexpected circumstances or obstacles. The plan can be modified, it does not have to be abandoned.
- Be grateful for the opportunity to train and strive for a goal.
- It's OK to not know if you will succeed. I love to quote Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own, "It's the hard that makes it great."
Learn more about Tracey’s book, Six-Word Lessons on Female Asperger Syndrome, available on GrowingUpAutistic/Tracey.