Adventures from Arizona's Javelina Jundred 100K to the TCS New York City Marathon
Last year, I told myself that the NYRR 60K was my last hurrah and the world was ready to make me a liar. A heckling spectator, 50+ douche bag messages and an endless list of supporters later, I find myself being a weekend warrior with tan lines, an endless pie of blisters and 88.3 miles covered in three days in ode of change. Somehow I thought signing up for my first 100K and doing the NYC Marathon a week later was a good idea.
A Year's Reflection From a Viral Heckling and Moving Forward
Who knew a cantankerous spectator would be the catalyst of keeping me here in fitness? Five years ago, I started my fitness journey as a weight loss journey. These days, that almost sound like a dirty term thanks to Instagram models squatting deep into the camera or enough Slim Tea advertisements to make you sprout a senna leaf from your anus. As I stated several times before, running was supposed to be a one time thing; I just wanted to knock off this bucket list item that came in the form of inspiration from a MySpace buddy and never do it again. Somehow my mind and body hasn't caught up to the finish line as of yet.
Last year was a springboard of highs and lows: I generated a decent amount of new followers from a feature on BuzzFeed Health and then I experienced a miscarriage. Two weeks later, I was diagnosed with endometriosis -- a condition that makes you want to kill everything moving while your insides make you feel like you're an intruder. Combining it with a growing list of hecklers who accused me of being everything from a fat bitch to a race baiter, I wasn't sure if my mind was equipped for much more of this. Nobody asked me to put myself out there but this space, Running Fat Chef, allowed me to find a balance between my very conflicting inside thoughts and releasing it on a space that I use as an open ended journal; it was never with the idea of making me hood famous or a fantasy of living out being the popular kid in school.
Since then, I knew I wanted to do a few marathons this year; with enabling, I chose to take on the longest distance that I ever attempted: 100K. Realistically, this plan was insane considering I signed up for several events - mostly marathons - and sandwiched a 100K somewhere in the mix. Out of all places that I chose, I elected to go to the desert with cacti, bugs that scare the shit out of me and some snakes. Yes, Arizona sounds perfect! But to compile the crazy, let's do the NYC Marathon the following week because insanity is clearly the best way to go. Most of this doesn't make sense to many people but to a community of ultra marathoners, ha -- hold my drink.
My fitness journey has grown on such an extraordinary level. Through running and obstacle course races, I’ve traveled several parts of the United States and even outside of the country. Since 2013, my friends and family traveled with me less than a handful of times. People expressed an extreme amount of fear for me for a multitude of reasons. And in ways, I cannot say that some of these things are irrational. Reading this post, you may not be able to place yourself into any of these categories -- that’s actually fine. Perhaps this will help a loved one or even you - a curious reader - understand why I find joy and a bit of hesitance as I travel while under one of these categories.
Traveling While Woman
I’ve gone to a number of states throughout the United States alone and know absolutely nobody. These days since going viral, I’ve met up with Instagram and Facebook followers who proved to me over time that they’re not on the cuckoo bus. If you find yourself as an explorer and adventurer like me, I’m certain that the first thing thrown your direction when doing such things is being reminded that you’re a woman. Frankly, I had a vagina since the day that I was born - and this is certainly not a shot at anyone - but some people treat me as if I don’t know the stereotypes of being a woman with a vagina walking around in a city that is unfamiliar to me. I’d be damned if being a woman will be associated with being naive, requiring the escort of a man or limiting the things that I enjoy and would like to venture off to just because I’m a woman.
And yes, I’m not oblivious some areas run rampant with high statistics of sexually related offenses and crimes -- but this can happen absolutely ANYWHERE. Instead, I prefer to be aware of my surroundings, study the areas beforehand and this may mean, talking with some people who visited or a few locals. The latter part is something that I would suggest taking with a grain of salt. What one’s experience is doesn’t necessarily dictate another. Nevertheless, grab your crown and travel the globe. And yeah… your male bestie doesn’t have to be your security guard if you don’t want him there. Don’t believe the hype. In most cases, I am the person who is side by side with my male counterparts kicking ass.
After mile 13, the Chicago marathon was a running metaphor of barriers presented throughout my life. At times, I felt like I couldn't pace fast enough to keep up with the pulled down signage and SAG wagon. Being a back of the pack runner requires a grit that surpasses all of the convenient goodies that typical Google searched articles can provide. When the crowd dissipate and the tables that once housed water and fueling is gone, all you can rely on is your breath, a nervous mind and your training.
With enough time to shower, I performed a simple glance over in my suitcase and kissed my family before bolting off in my Lyft to Newark Airport. Hours before, I fell asleep fully clothed with one shoe still on my foot from attending the No Barriers Summit in New York City. Earlier on in the week, I participated in a branding conference in Santa Barbara and when I look over at my calendar, I realized I staggered my races in an exceptionally sadistic way. Realistically I haven't stopped training since last year; my overzealous calendar requires me to hover somewhere close to 40 miles a week for my running, 3 - 5 hours of cycling, a minimum of cross training twice a week at the gym and whenever I can luck up, an occasional swim practice. Coach Megan Roche managed to maintain my hefty load by weaving my endurance races as part of my training for the Javelina Jundred 100K -- a race held in Fountain Hills, Arizona with a 30 hour cutoff and only a few weeks away. The Chicago Marathon would serve as one of my longest training runs; I was looking forward to taking home a finisher medal for the third year in a row from another food capitol.
Clearly someone talked to that metaphorical person in the sky on my behalf because I actually have a lot of my friends from last year still lingering around. Every time I delve into hardcore marathon and obstacle course race training around this time, I dig out seven plots to bury thoughts of another friendship or family relationship that's gone to shit. Summer's still here so I shouldn't speak so soon.
In some strange way, I managed to hold onto three quarters of my marbles this year through peak training time. For people outside of the runner's community, this time of year is known as marathon training season. If you want to chop your significant other into sections of eight on the counter top and braise them at 275 degrees, I completely understand. Naturally, I'm not cosigning homicide but I can respect the thoughts while being incredibly nervous.
I pack my suitcase at least two weeks in advance just to check it four more times. Trust myself? Absolutely not. I can only imagine waking up on race day sporting mixed matched sneakers - both of which are my left foot - and praying to someone's Jesus that jeans and a crop top are suitable for a marathon.
The countdown is in full effect for my trip to the UTMB in Chamonix, France -- and I'm not running it. Although I will be a media correspondent courtesy of HOKA One One (pronounced Hok-Ah O-Nay O-Nay), I will be taking advantage of the views, inclines and hiking before work. When returning back to the states, I will unload my suitcase for a day simply to do it over again close to seven or eight times over the next several months. The remainder of my out of state travels are dedicated to marathons, ultra marathons, obstacle course races and of course, an Ironman 70.3 thrown in the mix. Although it sounds glamorous, it can be taxing to remember the simplest of things. The last thing that I desire is to make it to another state and freak out about buying new shoes and wardrobe for race day because it's sitting back in NYC -- assuming that I can actually afford it.
At some point, you have to ask yourself if you're doing this for you or for everyone else -- and honestly, there's no shame in either response. The key is to not allow your goals to consume you into such a dark hole that you cannot see beyond the moment. There's life before, during and after these events. If your sole reason for participating in a race is to send out the biggest middle finger to the fucker in aisle three for taunting you about your weight, then that's cool; but after it's done, what's next? Even my Petty LaBelle ass cannot run strictly on arrogance and egotistical moments.
A month has flown by and my training is pretty intense. My schedule is loaded with three to four gym days, back to back long runs over the weekend, cycling when the weather is cooperative and of course, shitty swimming practices. Quite recently, I announced on The Long Run podcast that I'd be doing my first triathlon -- Ironman 70.3 Arizona; the feedback was a mixed bag of M&Ms. And since my really fun interview with SELF Magazine - The Weight Issue, the hecklers, concerned trolls and all people in between gave me a congenital heart failure load of unsolicited advice, horrible feedback and projected fears. For the average person, this might make you want to lose your shit. Extreme personalities like mine view moments like this as a make or break to their day; I had my share of both.
Around mile 15, I truly questioned if I wanted to continue on with this race and if I would make it as a trail runner. I managed to accidentally kill a baby snake by mile 10, get lost for two hours and the temperature jumped from 72 to 91 degrees within hours. What did I sign up for?
Operating on weekend warrior status for the last two months has been an incredible experience. I am both exhausted and filled with an incredible surge of energy. My body feels like a brick most days and my weight has been going through a rollercoaster ride, despite my dress size remaining the same. On Friday morning, I weighed in at a solid 233 pounds—typically I only use the scale when I’m either expecting my menstrual or my endometriosis is flaring. Entering week ten of my Javelina Jundred 100K training, I am experiencing a wave of drastic loss and gains in weight. Not sure if I should be concerned but I’ll chat with my doctor and sports nutritionist before the end of the month.
NOTE:I must mention in the age of the Internet’s love of giving unsolicited advice, don’t send any suggestions or speculation my way.
Inspecting my packed bags are a regular part of my routine for any race that requires me to leave NYC. As an ultra endurance runner, one of the worst things to go through is having the wrong gear, particularly sneakers, and waking up the morning of in a panic. By 4pm, my husband and I left our home to go forth on my adventure to do the Finger Lakes 50K/50 miler.
Just when you thought the asshole in the banana costume passing you during a race as you gasp for air was bad, there's a person like me taking a selfie, doing Instagram stories and Facebook statuses on their phone. How much is truly too damn much?
Allow me to have an airhead moment but I had no idea that so many people were on the fence about taking selfies during a race, particularly marathons. Perhaps my ignorance comes from being in the back of the pack and anytime that I do it, there's typically a gang of exhausted runners viciously pulling out our phones to take that unnerving "please send help and give me cookies" photo while on the course. Frankly I find it a bit comical that some people become infuriated by the site of your phone zapping away at your pores while running but I wouldn't be me if I didn't give it some heavy thought.
Years ago, I never pictured myself traveling to most states on the West Coast of the United States outside of California but I found myself being swayed into going to Colorado. For months, I wondered if I’d be bored to tears by a state that I envisioned only having country music, snakes and dirt. Thankfully, five years of embracing a fitness journey and my newfound joy in traveling opened up my once judgmental views.
Leaving New York City
It was less than 72 hours that I found myself venturing off away from my family once again. Honestly I feel a bit guilty sometimes leaving behind my son and husband. Although I know it’s not true, I often feel as if I’m turning my husband into a temporary single father but I try not to divulge into the rabbit holes of guilt. Thankfully, he’s wholeheartedly supports my journey and with his blessing, it makes it slightly easier to venture off to various events, speaking engagements and of course, fitness nut adventures.
I left Brooklyn around 4AM in a Lyft to go to LaGuardia Airport. Every time I prepare myself to fly, I get a nervous energy that fills my arms and legs as if I have to use the bathroom. At the airport, I positioned myself by two gentlemen who were no older than 25 who annoyed every blood vessel in my body. I silently prayed not to be seated near them— If there’s a God, he or she is cruel because I was a row behind them. It wasn’t five hours of pure hell but I did enjoy the douche bag who tried to blame my boiled eggs on his incessant flatulence. A bit over 8AM MST, I landed in Denver International Airport safely and preparing myself for a world of possibilities, trying not be overly critical due to my jaded views of living in a major, fast paced city.
I knew the course limit was six hours and my fastest marathon to date was roughly six hours and thirty minutes. Who am I kidding? I’m not going to be able to shave thirty minutes off of my time but am I really in it for the medals anymore?
My backpack has been packed for a week. Who the fuck am I trying to kid? I started packing two weeks ago and didn’t come to a resolve until the day before departure. Looking at my race calendar for the year is exceptionally exhausting as it is ambitious. I don’t know many within my inner circle who would sign up for as many events as I would—but I have even less who would sign up for a 100K due to peer pressure and extended opportunities. I chose one of the latest flights possible to leave New York City almost two months ago to avoid skipping swim classes. Who knew that would be done in vain considering my neighborhood recreational center is now temporarily closed due to construction, putting a dent in my swimming instruction—but that’s a separate conversation of its own. My husband Eric thought it would be great to hit the movie theater for the matinee with the kid to see Deadpool 2 (and yes, I’m aware it’s not a kid’s movie—sue me!). My nerves started to wreak havoc on me horribly and my family could feel my anxiety from a floor above. Captain Bad Ass - affectionally know as my son - and my husband sent me with well wishes and good footing. My traveling has become a slight norm for them at this point. Often times, I find myself feeling a bit guilty for indulging in these races. Race day is huge but the training is not only mentally and physically taxing but can create an extrovert like me into a loner; it is something that I worry about with my training for the Javelina Jundred 100K and setting up a sleuth of marathons before and after I beatbox with the devil of a course. By 10pm, I was leaving NYC and because Vermont is like a beautiful neighbor, I landed by 11pm. I promptly checked into my hostel - a very cheap and reliable option for the traveling hippie on a budget or a procrastinator on hotels - and pulled out my race gear.
While some of my runner buddies and fitness enthusiasts are nervous to admit this out loud, I can honestly say that at times, I need a break from running miles on top of miles. For four years, I find ways to cheat on my loyal sports bae, running, for a dirty adventure with obstacle course racing. I had an incredible opportunity to try an obstacle course race with a different venue--City Challenge Race in Jersey City, NJ.
Prior to taking on the Saturday, April 14th event, my obstacle course racing experience was almost exclusively done through chasing the world known Spartan venue. Most times, I’m conflicted on how I will travel to remote areas throughout the US just to enjoy anywhere from 3 to even 30 miles in the woods. Hearing about the City Challenge Race being located in accessible areas of different cities that I can gain entry to by public transportation made me excited to take on a new journey.
I'm convinced that endurance runners are absolutely nuts--who gets off on running for miles in the most absurd of conditions for personal bliss or at moments of vanity, a goddamn medal?
Sometimes I think I need to get evaluated for my sensory overload and ability to test the waters on things people tell me I'm not capable of doing. Perhaps it's my ego trying to tap into a level of arrogance that I was scared to embrace years ago or my constant semi-unhealthy relationship with remaining humble from a strange fear of forgetting my past. No amount of medals on the wall can compensate years of self inflicted damage and I came to this reality years ago. Conversely, through my shortcomings and ability to stop blocking my own blessings, I'm learning how to embrace opportunities as they are presented to me.
A former Facebook friend - he deleted me after a string of haikus - asked me the following:
"Shauntay, your workout videos are really challenging. I can't do some of these moves and I'm in the most pristine condition that I've ever been in my life. Why are you still fat but you're an endurance runner? THAT really makes no sense to me. Are you remaining fat to be relevant to other fat people? Your story is inspiring but you have to know that eventually your knees will give out. From following your page I know that you don't like this stance. Plenty of credible studies show that obesity is an epidemic to communities of color. I watch your content and I know your son is a diabetic. Surely with great effort on both of your parts, it can be reversed.
I'm from Staten Island, by way of the Bronx and if you need for me to create a meal plan that's under 2000 calories, I can do that for you. I work for __________ in _________, NY and it's a top of the line facility. Heard your last podcast on body positivity..... the very first thing you said is that body positivity is not promoting obesity. Okay fine..... but you are doing it.
This is not a jab but more of a concern for you and your family's health. I used to be fat too and I felt downright awful. My black wife was obese too so don't think I'm trying to be a racist. You have a responsibility to your platform to reeducate them on the proper ways of nutrition, fitness and their bodies. Being fat doesn't make you fit.....period. I'm not being a 'concern troll.'
If you watched myInstagram stories enough, you'll know that I listen to a range of music, particularly when I'm cooking. After a year of being inboxed about my musical selection, I created a few stations via Spotify that might give you an idea of things that I love listening to while on the move.
Remind me again that it’s women’s history month. Tell me that International Women’s Day eliminated injustices committed to people who identify as women. Excuse my eye roll...
“You should smile more often.”
“Don’t be so mean beautiful."
“Goddamn goddess! You’re colder than the snow outside.”
“Ugly bitch.” “Damn girl...I was just giving you a compliment. They making y’all hoes fragile in 2018.”
Matter of fact, in the middle of my Instagram story, my viewers watched me curse off a guy who blew a kiss at me and said some pretty disturbing commentary about what he would do to me. What’s the solution? The first five statements were just a fraction of the commentary received by walking a twenty block radius andnotresponding. Perhaps, I should smile and act like it’s okay, right? But then I’d be justifying his -or her- behavior and if I do, I might still be called a whore after I turn down their advances. I am humored when another human, despite their gender, asks me what didIdo--I existed in their same space. Over the course of four years, women asked me how do I feel running alone and what should they do and I find myself aggravated giving my most honest responses.
Without being long winded for a change, I don’t have a proper answer. Running while being a woman or even a person with a disability, looking different from others or anything in between is an express pass to idiots to harass you. It’ll be close to five years since I thought about training for any type of race -whether it was cycling to road events - and I’m loaded with mediocre ways of ‘reducing’ the loads of street harassment that I get while running. Here’s my response: