A deep dive into my love and hate for the running community.
Sometimes I feel as if I’m a runner with Stockholm’s Syndrome. I’m deeply infatuated and in love with a sport and community that leaves me feeling invigorated, inspired and broken. My limbs gleefully seize up from each extension; my thick legs reverberate the sounds of an internal protest – this is oftentimes welcomed and expected. I didn’t account for the sounds of my peers telling me that I am not wanted here or how my body is a force of repulsion. My thoughts are not always welcomed in spaces that I once considered safe. I don’t know exactly when I shifted from being a person once invited to join a collective of asphalt clapping runners to being a nuisance in the community but I know how it made me feel once I acknowledged the shift. Despite my treks through unfamiliar terrains, this void feels foreign. These days, I don’t find solace being in a group with like-minded strangers. I learned how to run alone and at times, I find it hard to muster the courage to not feel broken in my solitude.
In a perfect world, we would all be viewed as one race -- but we're far from perfect. Discussing race politics and safety, especially in fitness, is long overdue.
Becoming a traveling athlete changed my entire perspective of the world. I am still learning new things on this journey. I transformed from a person exploring ways to get my health back in order to becoming an accidental activist by sharing some of my experiences as an endurance runner. In a matter of a year, I learned the fundamentals on how to run, breathe, open up my stride and all of the technical bells and whistles. Thoroughly engulfed myself into the sport so much that I pushed past my fear of flying and traveled to other states; sometimes I left the country for the love of new adventures and food. Most times I navigate the world solo. This act is looked at as admirable, brave and inspiring; truthfully I am always excited, nervous and cautious. Close friends and family express their fears to me on a regular basis; I tend to brush it off but it's not because I don't hear them. I'm a strong believer that nervous and scary energy will attract scarier situations faster. Most people reduced down their rambles to "have fun", "bring back a key chain", "take pictures for me" and "be safe." People like my husband and my mother almost always let me know their fears, even when it's not verbally expressed. Perhaps you think I'm nervous about traveling solo as a woman -- sometimes but not that much these days. At times, our conversations delve into race, perceptions and other people's reactions to "fears." And like clockwork, I tend to pause, breathe and press forward but I never take these conversations lightly.
Restructure your outlook of what "outside" looks like and maybe we can start having some fun again.
Some of the quarantine memes are funny and restrictions definitely suck but did the outdoors really close? Perhaps the rules just changed a bit. If you're not living near Central Park, Union Square or Prospect Park in New York City, your playgrounds are possibly chained up. In my neighborhood, the NYC Parks Department took an extra measure by removing the basketball hoop across from my home several weeks ago. But let's be frank for a few minutes: If you're living in the United States, the outside never closed but it's doing a great job limiting our options on how we play on our free times, particularly in the fitness community. It might be safe to say that you're tired of this quarantine life because it's been at least six weeks. We've groaned, threw tantrums, experienced depression and mourned the loss of loved ones and things -- but when are we going to go back outside and possibly do something else?
Some of your fitspos may not be as inspiring if they elected to be fully transparent about their reasons for movement during a pandemic.
Every morning for 34 days, I woke up and made up my bed. The sheets aren't always perfectly tucked into the corners and the pillows are unkempt. Despite the imperfections, my bed is always made before I brush my teeth, use the bathroom or turn off the lamp in my son's bedroom. COVID-19 stripped practically every norm that's in my routine and I've been trying to make peace with the obtrusive disruption placed in all of our lives.
Living in the heart of New York City doesn't make it easy for me to be an adventurer at this moment. I've followed indoor training plans from my coach and at times, deviate to create my own workouts. Many watched and gave me endless kudos. "Great work." "Powerhouse." "Outstanding." "Incredible work ethic." I've heard every compliment extended under the sun and at times, they're accompanied with questions or those seeking guidance on how I power through. I kindly remind people to do what they can and not to compare their motion to their counterparts, including me. It's hard to dissect my logic but your admiration might be of someone openly grieving and on auto pilot-- actually I am one of those people.
Battling a reproductive condition can feel isolating. Pressing through my athletic adventures with endometriosis is humbling, exhausting and a test of my mental grit.
Signing up for a virtual duathlon almost a week ago seem like a good idea until my menstrual roughly cleared its throat Saturday morning. I was on day two and shamefully I woke up questioning if it was going to happen. This morning's wake up call stemmed from a burning sensation that rushed from my vagina, past my rectum and traveled up the lower parts of my back. My hands and face are slightly swollen and feet grew angry once touching the cold laminated wood floors in my bedroom. Without hesitation, I pulled back my covers while my husband was nuzzled inside and checked the white sheets -- there's no trace of my pain on the linen today. While wobbling past a hairball gift wrapped in my hallway from my cat, I started seeing doubles on the way to the bathroom. My pride wouldn't let me ask for help even though my husband would understand. Before sitting down, I checked out my blue and black checkered pajamas and felt defeated; they were not as fortunate as my sheets. I spent 45 minutes in the bathroom asking myself if doing a virtual duathlon during this pandemic and an endometriosis flare is even possible. After showering off, I reminded myself that this is not unfamiliar territory. I took two acetaminophen, allowed my husband to supervise as I made old fashioned oatmeal and glanced at my road bike on the kickstand. My virtual duathlon happened but not for a number of hours.
COVID-19 can make you a bit paranoid and of course, sick. Race cancellations and a wave of paranoia might have you questioning your athleticism or reasons why you move. Remain resilient during this pandemic by revising your goals.
Admittedly, I have trust issues with my entire calendar at this moment. Several races were cancelled and I've been playing it by ear with the swimming facility that I use. As of this morning, I lost 4 paid gigs and nervous about booking any flights until the dates are closer -- and who knows if I'll have the money to finance it by these dates. At the moment, COVID-19 is wreaking havoc on the entire world and people have justified reasons to be nervous. Watching how organized events start to unravel over the course of a few weeks, my feelings shifted from disappointed to numbness. Within a month, a great chunk of my scheduled races are gone: Tokyo Marathon, New York City Half Marathon, a change of date for The Love Run and my Hot Chocolate 15K in Philadelphia is officially a virtual run. With the exception of the Tokyo Marathon, I feel like all of these places handled it the best way that they possibly could -- I'll be kind and reserve my feelings since we're kinda going through a pandemic.
Surely people are hurt from the change in events and this goes well beyond running. New York City feels eerie from the lack of people populating the gym or local pool. Restaurants are thinning particularly Asian establishments -- thanks xenophobia. Pictures of Times Square surfacing the internet are being compared to every horror movie or crazy book known to man. And because I'm a fitness aficionado, I am loaded with questions about what I will do to press forward. After all, fitness is not just something that I do for fun. I am a freelancer who uses her platform to speak about these adventures -- which requires for you to be around people. At this moment, my social media accounts are bogged down with concerns about their training going to the wayside to questioning how will people maintain their marbles as the world goes COVID-19 crazy.
"I felt like a walking contradiction fueling people in the restaurant industry and restricting myself down to 1200 calories daily while training for a marathon. I envied people for enjoying the dishes I created."
Public speaking jades you a bit. It makes you feel like you've told the same story thousands of times and for me, I worry if I sound rehearsed or if I am fit to tell my story -- what's poppin' imposter syndrome. But when those thoughts creep into my head, I remind myself that there is someone who doesn't know my story and it may help another. It's easy to get wrapped up in this idea that we need to possess a certain look or feel to be qualified to talk to others; I am reminded daily that most of us are struggling together and through open communication comes healing.
Last Sunday, I traveled to the University of Alaska Fairbanks to speak about one of those painful topics that I don't think I will ever be fully comfortable discussing: My battle with an eating disorder. Contrary to the nonsensical commentary that's thrown my way, I do not have a problem with overeating; i am a work in progress from an anorexia nervosa diagnosis in 2015. When I think about the discussions held from Monday to Wednesday, I realize how many people walk around with this perception that eating disorders have a stereotypical look and only stemmed from this desire to look pretty. I can attest this was not my case. And the way that most public service announcements post up advertisements about the uncomfortable topic, I don't see a version of me in most places. It is not typical to see a black, plus size woman in athletic clothing as one of these people who might be afflicted by an eating disorder.
To close out National Eating Disorder Association week - or otherwise hashtagged #NEDAweek - I'll dissect my bullshit relationship with anorexia and how the fitness industry helped and hindered me.
Latoya Shauntay Snell
For my pretentious ass bio, check out the about me page but for anyone interested in who I really am, make me a good meal at your house and I'll tell you a dope ass story.
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