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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Autism Awareness Day



Pearl and Papa

In two days time it with be World Autism Day. So, what does that mean to you?

To me it means a radical change in a life that until last summer knew as much about Autism as I did about running. I , like many I am sure, was blissfully unaware of what so many families (more than you think) go through every day in order to stay together. I am not joking, the survival rate of relationships that involve an Autistic child are quite frightening. The current projection is that between 70-80% of couples do not last, this obviously varies from country to country but it does seem to be the generally accepted statistic (don't even get me started on the cases of parents who murder their Autistic kids) I can say that through attending the many therapies with Pearl each week these figures seem to be not far off the mark. I have spent afternoons talking to mothers, fathers and grand parents either taking their kids to therapy or picking them up and the story is usually the same, "whats the situation with your child, how severe is his/hers handicap etc etc?". But more than a handful of times I have been asked if it was I alone who was taking care of Pearl. I have to inform them of our situation, that my wife works and we relocated here from London and that I am Irish not English, as most of them seem to think. The people who ask this question are the ones that have fractures in their family lives and in a way are probably reaching out to someone in search of comfort or consolation. Because to do it by yourself has got to be beyond difficult. I have seen the pressure it has put on myself and Alicia, the tiredness and frustration that sparks off arguments, the sidelining of your couple to fight for your child's rights and everyday well being. That Autism does not get the care and attention is needs is a tremendous weight on any family and as little support as their is for Autism in many places, there is no support for the parents except from other parents in the same boat.
Now, that support community is something else. It is a group if people who become inextricably intertwined through their hardships and their success stories. We have been able to share the pitfalls and the milestones with people, some of whom we have only met online, because we are untied by a deep, deep bond of wanting the best for our little ones. I always draw the parallels between this group of people and the runners I know because until you know the pain and effort it takes, you can't ever understand it. But you can help by educating yourself and the people around you, forwarding this to a work colleague, organising a fundraiser, going to Running for Pearl and signing the guestbook. Just do what you can because even a little bit helps. We never thought it would be us but that's the way the chips fall and we will do whatever it takes for Pearl........if I have to run around the world to get it noticed, then that's what I will do.

So wear blue on Friday 2nd and spread the word. We cant do it without y'all.

See you round the bend.
Mally.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Why Run? Why Not!!!!

I recently set myself up on Facebook to try and help publicize this blog and our site. Well, you could knock me over with a feather due to the support we have received. I have met some new people who seem genuinely interested in helping us out and have gone out of their way to advise us. Some are high profile athletes, others are well known in Autism circles, to one and all I say thank you. Then there are the people I have lost touch with and not heard from since my teenage years, these folk all seem to have the same pondering question..... "Mally, why are you running?" Boy that's a long story.

Rewind to my school days. In our school if you played football or hurling, our national Gaelic Games, you were part of the in crowd. Yes, this is a familiar story in schools no matter where you live. I did attempt football just so I wouldn't feel as ostracized as I already did, this was not a good move as the coach informed that watching me kick a ball was akin to "watching a newborn foal trying to walk after birth", a comedic way of telling me I sucked while making him look like the big man and me the fool(not foal ;-)..... So the only thing for me to do was gather a posse and form a band. Only one of us could play an instrument and that was not me. I decided I liked the look of the drums and proceeded to massacre a friends kit with no sense of timing whatsoever. Things gradually improved and we stuck at it for a few years. The trouble with rock n roll is that it needs sex and drugs to be complete, or in my case drugs and alcohol. I was what Bill Hicks used to call a "weekend" drinker (start on Saturday and end on Friday) I spent so many years in a blur from drinking and smoking too much. Every available moment was spent in a pub, from opening to closing time. Of course you say to yourself its all part of growing up and that you will mature and outgrow it. That was not the case for me, I grew into it. Before I knew it a decade has passed and I found that there was much more I could have achieved, don't get me wrong I had a lovely family and great jobs but the bottle always had me right where it wanted or vice versa.

When I reached my thirties I longed to give it all up, when Pearl was diagnosed with Autism it felt like an excuse to keep on sipping but I had had enough. I had to face this down and be able to look at myself in the mirror and be proud. So I kicked the cigarettes and a week later the alcohol was gone too. A bit dramatic? Not for me it wasn't. I got tired of being tired, of feeling lethargic and negative each morning. I had been running for a little bit but usually no more than twice a week. Back in the old days I hated runners with a passion because I could not see the logic in it at all. I used to think that they needed their heads examined, was it a deep down jealousy? who knows?! But when I changed my ways everything started to fall into place, I found myself being able to take my time in life. To appreciate, as cliched as it sounds, the simplest of things that I had been missing out on everyday. Now when I run its not that I am running from something, I am running towards a better understanding of myself and a higher appreciation for the wonderful gifts I have been given. The family and friendships I hold dear to me have blossomed and everyday I am grateful for the generosity that others show me. Running is not the be all and end all in my life, but the addictive approach to it is in my blood and it is an outlet which enables me to reflect and helps me to be a stronger man. I have met a community of people who inspire me with their stories and bravery. I also dedicate my running to the little girl who is sleeping in the next room right now. After three nights of very, very little sleep due to her ear infection, I rose this morning feeling exhausted. She was feeling a bit better and after dropping Dylan off at school I dropped her off at the creche, much to her delight(she loves it there). I needed a pick me up so on went my gear and I was out the door again. After an hour and a half on the forest trail I felt like a new man. A man who is glad to be able to share his story with you today.

See you round the bend.

Mally.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Autism Parenting IS a Marathon

The more I think about the two the more I find similarities between them. Being the parent of an Autistic child and running a Marathon.

When you start out as a runner you know how to put one foot in front of the other right?? of course you do. It's daunting in the beginning because you are unsure if you will last the distance or not, because running a marathon requires planning and a knowledge of exactly what you will be getting yourself into a few months down the line. So as you look towards the race day you start to educate yourself. You go online and check out what the experts say, you look at various training programs to see which is the one that is the most suited to you because odds are that you will have to fit in all this training whilst working a full time job and/or looking after a family. Then you get in touch with other Marathoners, whether they are first timers, novices, regulars or fanatics, any wisdom they impart will be taken on board because this is alien territory to you and knowing a little bit more keeps the goal in focus and the nerves at bay. So all this new info is stored and you are now ready for the hard part. The WORK. The hours have to be put in because you know you can only bluff so much, you cannot bluff 42.2 kilometres. So time has to be made to run. Do you get out of your womb-like bed 2 hours earlier than the rest of civilisation (as your brain screams "You lunatic, stay in bed") or do you put on your kit when you get home after a hard day at work? (as your brain screams "Are you crazy? Its raining outside, sit down and have a glass of wine") You have to do it regardless of when it suits because if you don't you are going to pay a heavy price come D-Day. You will be left behind or worse still you will not make it to the end. Then of course you have good days and bad days. You wake up in stunning form and head out with a spring in your step only to have a niggling little injury a few kilometres in hamper you day. That may follow a few weeks of frustration, a situation that you seem to have no control over and you are left with no choice but to feel like things are just not going your way. Other days you may feel rusty and once in the swing of it realise that you are flying along. You take the good with the bad and as you arrive at the starting line you only remember the good, because its the journey and the commitment that matter and no-one ever feels bad if they have done the required amount of hard effort. After the gun is fired its a mixture of providence/faith/karma (delete where applicable) that will take you to the finish line, and when you hit the last few kilometres and you feel like walking or just lying down, you remember the inner strength that got you this far. So you dig deeper and finally there it is, the finish line. Once you cross it you are elated and emotional and reflect on your ability to keep going when every part of you said "Stop, enough already" And in the days and months that pass you find yourself getting restless and being drawn into doing it all over again. Why? because you feel like you have to, because moving forward is the only way to keep your fight and your spirit alive.

I found all those parallels in dealing with Pearls Autism. The hurt at the start, the feelings of "will this ever improve?" The good and bad days and the looking towards the future wondering how it will all pan out. But the more we as a family work on it, the better we are getting and we most certainly only remember the good days. The future looks good because at the core is a dedication to doing everything we can to make sure that Pearl finishes her Marathon.

I have added the video below because it highlights the great work Autistic people have done in the world and the enormous contribution they have made to society(the tune is just the greatest). I put it on our facebook page earlier today but not all the readers here are on the book of face. If you don't know anyone with Autism it will open your mind, if you do know someone with Autism it will only affirm this .... that they are truly amazing and deserve to be nurtured in every way possible.

See you round the bend.

Mally.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

We are now on Facebook

We are now on Facebook with Running for Pearl, we are hoping that it will bring even more exposure to this great cause. Click here for the link. With just over 8 weeks until the 100km we need all the support we can get. Please spread the word via the web to everyone you know, we are still looking for major sponsor (or lots of little ones) for the race, so if you know any one who would be interested in some great exposure please get in touch. We have our t-shirt printed and my training continues to improve week on week. I ran a steady 29km's at 5 am Sunday morning, pounding along the forest trail with just my headlamp and the singing birds for company, sublime.



My Mum and sister are also running a 10k race in Dublin on June 7th in support of Pearl. I am so proud of them both. Alicia is rallying support from all over too but we need your help folks, lets make it happen for Pearl and all the other Autistic kids that touch each of our lives in some way.



I was lucky enough last weekend to come into contact with Irish Ultra running legend Tony Mangan. Tony is the world 48 hour treadmill record holder with a distance of 405.22 km, thats over 200 km a day. He also won the Across The Years 72 hour race in 2007 covering a total of 440 km, this is not a stage race either its a non-stop event around a 500 metre track. Not forgetting to mention the world indoor record in the Czech Republic in 2007, 426km is a world record for a 48 hour track race, no one has ever run over 200 km on two consecutive days. Tony has been giving me words of advice and encouragement ahead of the 100k (which would be a breeze to him) and it's a major boost to have such a great man guiding me. For Tony's site click here. Tony also tells me that a 1000 mile race has been launched in Greece today. There are no limits!

See you round the bend.
Mally

video
Pearl Language (answers on a postcard please)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Spirit of Ultra Running

I was having a discussion on the phone with one of my closest friends just a few hours ago and he decided to tell me, mid sentence, "I think you're mad". We were catching up on life and kids and I was telling him about the effort we as a family put into doing the best we can for Pearl (and Dylan too) and how running has opened up a new journey for me. The reason I am "mad" apparently is the direction in which the running has taken me. You see for me running a Marathon was an amazing experience and just about anyone who has ever completed one will tell you the same. No matter how fast or slow you do it, its the same for the winner as it is for the person who crosses the line last......it's a battle of will. The true test of ones spirit and an endurance challenge that most people can participate in given the right training. I mean in what other sport do you get the worlds greatest athletes on the same playing field as someone who is running dressed as a chicken? You don't see weekend cyclists mixing it with Lance Armstrong and the boys at the Tour de France, no, no ,no. The Marathon hooked me and my first reaction was "what can I do next?"

I became immersed in the world of running, magazine subscriptions, reading runners blogs, checking out the latest running shoes, started a training log, making it the corner stone of our web site and this blog you see here before you. So naturally it wasn't long until my attention was grabbed by Ultra-runners and I started to read stories of some staggering achievements. People who have ran across deserts, ran 300 miles non stop, ran Marathons in the North and South poles, 100 mile mountain races in under 24 hours, ran on treadmills for 48 hours.... seriously the list goes on and on. I decided that I was going to up my game too and take on a 100km run, which most readers here already know, and see if I had the cojones to push myself further than I thought possible. Well I have never been more confident that it is possible and this is due to a few factors. The most important one for me is the psychological aspect. I think ultra-running is a state of mind even more than it is about the training, sure you need your body in good shape and have laid the foundation for your endeavour, but I think that when I hit km #90 I am going to have to dig deeper into my psyche than ever before. I guess I will know in nine weeks time.

The other reason people may think these Herculean undertakings are bonkers is because of the way our lifestyles have changed and we have forgotten that we ARE capable of so much more than the daily grind. Exercise has become less a part of our natural lives. The video games, take out meals, technological evolutions, modes of transportation etc etc have all had an impact on our bodies, lets face it everything has become much more disposable and access to a world of products and materials is usually no further away than pressing a few buttons. Yes I may typing this on buttons myself and opening up a whole other can of worms but you get the drift. What really galvanised this train of thought was reading a book called "Survival of the Fittest" by Dr Mike Stroud. He has walked with Sir Ranulph Fiennes, unaided, across the Antarctic and ran 7 Marathons, 7 days, 7 continents to name just a few of his many impressive triumphs. In the book he explains that our bodies are meant to run long distances as our ancestors were hunter gatherers and had to travel great lengths to hunt, often during times of extreme starvation (no double-boar-burger with cheese those days). Obviously the domesticated lifestyle of today is a far cry from thousands of years ago but our bodies have not changed that much. I highly recommend it for anyone considering a challenge of any sort, its an inspirational piece of work and might be just what you need to make a change.

I now have running in my blood and never been happier and, take it from an ex smoker and former beer guzzler, the grass is definitely greener on this side. I think I've finally found my path.

See you round the bend.

Mally.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Tractors, Dogs and Men with Guns.

Fartlek. A word that is immediately understood by runners the world over and one that is met with a "Huh!?" by non runners. Fartlek is a Swedish word meaning 'speed play'. It is a fairly unstructured form of training over natural terrain and can include bursts of running at full speed, longer periods of sustained effort, easy running, jogging, and walking. Which basically means you pick your route and let rip at whatever speed suits you. It is a fun method of training and really improves both aerobic fitness and anaerobic fitness. Its a method I don't employ as often as I should but after a week spent in the French countryside, Fartelk will never be viewed through these eyes in the same way ever again.

As previously mentioned my week was to be spent at the mother-in-laws with the kids at her home in the country side. My goal for the week to clock as many kilometres as possible and I wasted no time in lacing up my trainers not long after arrival. Day 1 was a nifty 18k tempo session run at about 90% effort, I was really pleased with my stamina levels and thought to myself "this is going to be a good week". For day 2 I decided to head off in the direction of the path less travelled. I packed my water and some snacks and headed out for a long, steady run. Little did I know that I would, involuntarily, be doing my Fartlek session that very morning. Following these one lane roads my nostrils notified my brain that I was indeed heading into the heart of farmland. And that's where the fun truly began.

My first sprint of the day was away from a dog that decided to run parallel to me for about 200 metres, nothing dividing us but a flimsy fence. Now I'm not talking about a Paris Hilton type dog that fits in a hand bag. No, this was the type of beast put on the earth to devour the carcasses of runners like me. So as I was hammering away he was barking like mad and I started to think to myself "if there is a hole at the end of this fence I am in some bother". By the time my pedigree chum got to the end of his yard he could go no further, much to my relief as the size of his gnashers could have taken a sizable chunk out of my derriere given half the chance. As you can imagine I wasted no time hanging around.



Obstacle number two was a flooded road. It had been raining constantly the week before and the route was definitely not passable. As I approached I saw two guys with their tractors parked nearby, they were discussing the best way to get around this lake in the middle of the road (more a lane really). I decided to hang a right and head up a hill which I was sure would give me a decent vantage point in figuring out the next step. It was muddy, slippy and waterlogged so bad that I was reduced to a mere crawl to reach the top. But it was worth it for the view and after descending the other side I found another road which I was sure would take me back home. I had been out for two and a half hours at this stage and my legs were getting heavy from the sprinting and slight detour I had to take. Just as I was leaving the forest I ran into about twenty five guys with dogs and shotguns who were all looking at me kind of strangely, bizarre considering they had pheasants hanging from their belts. Some of the dogs decided to run after me and I had to stop for five minutes so the owners could call them back and put them on leads. It was quite nice to see as it reminded me of growing up in the beautiful Irish countryside. That happened to be my last odd encounter and before I knew it three hours had passed and I was approaching home. All I can say is that it was definitely a Fartlek session like no other and gladly the rest of my training that week was less intrepid. I managed to cover 91 km's in six days and a cheeky 16 k this morning. Hopefully the legs will stay injury free and the 35k trail race in 4 weeks time will be a good precursor for May.

On another running note I must say well done to Martin Fagan (pictured) from Co. Westmeath who finished 4th in the New Orleans Half Marathon last Sunday week with a time of 1:02:11. This was no mean feat considering that Martin Lel and Sammy Wanjiru were 1st and 2nd respectively and are considered two of the greatest Marathon runners the world has ever seen. Your day will come Martin, you did the Irish proud.
That's it for the moment y'all. I will be writing on Pearls latest activities in the news section of the website later today or tomorrow.

See you round the bend.
Mal.

Running for Pearl

This blog is dedicated to my daughter Pearl who was diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) in August 2009. My goal is to raise funds and awareness by doing what I love....Running.