Running, Fat, Scared + Solo
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.
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.
Learning that a woman stated that I was asking to be raped in my "dangerous neighborhood" simply for running at night time made me sick to my stomach. I placed my phone on airplane mode and tried to let go of my frustrations.
NOTE: SENSITIVE COMMENTARY IS LOADED THROUGH THIS ENTIRE BLOG ABOUT SEXUAL ASSAULT AND PHYSICAL HARM.
Embarking on this new career changed up a lot of my fitness routines. You would think that because you're in the sports industry, this means that you would have more time to focus on your personal health. Actually, quite the opposite can happen especially when you are an entrepreneur like I am. At one point, my times for working out were pretty predictable but these days not so much.
As a road and trail runner, I am not easily rattled by the thoughts of running solo -- particularly at night or during the wee hours of the morning before the break of light. Oftentimes I hear commentary from people who raise concern but I was pretty disturbed by some comments that came my way via inbox about my nighttime musings. Without disclosing the person or to go into other details, several followers notified me about a woman ranting that I was going to 'get raped' for running around late hours of night. Other things were mentioned as to elude that I should run with a male companion and even reaching with a wild attempt to weaponize my own words from media interviews describing my "dangerous neighborhood," hinting that I am too nonchalant about moving through the NYC streets familiar to me.
Initially it filled me with anger but I realize that there's a lot of people who feel this way -- and frankly it frustrates me to such a high level that these sort of scare tactics stop people from night running especially as a woman. A few months ago, I partnered up with HOKA ONE ONE, Runner's World and Garmin about street harassment that I experienced during the 2017 New York City Marathon. Fortunately I was not catcalled during this instance but was heckled from the sidelines by a spectator who didn't feel I was suitable nor fit to run a marathon. Speaking out about this occurrence gave me a lot of media attention but I am no stranger to unwanted commentary; I'm far from alone in this instance.
In fact, I am subjected to sexual harassment in my everyday life on a regular basis and you know what: It doesn't wait for the late hours to commence. I am a lot more level headed than years before and wanted to articulate my thoughts in a rational manner. The best way that I know how to do this is in the form of a letter -- here it goes:
Reintroduction to Running Fat Chef
Change is rarely embraced. If people were truly that open, we would not have wars trying to preserve old shit like traditions.
Addressing the Pink Elephant: Where Did You Go?
After spending four days in Fairbanks, Alaska and experiencing below twenty something degrees for the first time, I was reminded by my messy desktop that the other parts of my reality awaited me: Hate Mail. Although this is nothing that anyone should brag about, I can say that I have a metaphorical trophy the size of Texas worth of disturbing comments -- so much so that I've abandoned this very open ended diary for months at a time. It's hard picking up the pen or clicking away at a keyboard when your inspiration for blurbing shifts from wanting to talk about your many successes and failures without censorship to flicking off comments from yet another person who hates you. These calluses are so thick that I rarely feel the cuts anymore. Some would say that I am maturing; I think I am normalizing absurdity; perhaps I will know the answer to that in another decade.
The positives and negatives of being so visible and transparent about your adventures is knowing that with the power of anonymity gifted from the internet means you are opening yourself up to even more unsolicited advice and harassment -- even if you know who, what and where the source comes from. It's more of a shit show when people expect you to get over it because it's under the guise of "knowing what you signed up for" or it's easy for others to speak on something that they don't have to experience on a daily basis. In my worse experiences, I've been physically approached with more than just verbal lashings and vitriol. If you ever find yourself in my reality, I want to reassure you that you're not alone and there's nothing okay about these situations. Do whatever you need to do to protect yourself at the moment and when safe, report it in to the proper legal channels. At the end of this blurb, you can find a small list of resources that may be helpful for you.
No Turkey Trot Run for Me
If I signed up for a Turkey Trot this year, maybe I could replace this void with impostor syndrome. Instead, I opted to make dinner.
I didn't sign up for a Turkey Trot this year -- no big deal.
In October 2013, I went from looking at running as something that maniacs do for shits and giggles to something that I love and hate equally. I don't have a runner's background like some of my counterparts. In fact, I was the girl who grew up not knowing how to ride a bike, swim, never received formal lessons on double dutch (even though in seventh grade, a few girls taught me on the fly and I could only jump for speed) and don't even ask about makeup or hair. I watched boxing with my father with my dad when the other girls didn't think it was cool. Football was my jam for a bit until I realized a lot of people were fanatics and would end friendships over sports. And in ways, I revisit that feeling with running these days, pushing me to be an extroverted loner more than I care to admit. 2013 - 2018 me was psyched for a Turkey Trot Run. I would recruit every friend and drag my son and husband to the race; this year my mother and sister asked me to cook and it was the most normal thing I did all year.
If no forms of social or mainstream media existed, I think we wouldn't look for imagery of an athlete; we would just be one.
I haven't left my home since the NYRR 60K. Yesterday, I managed to get dressed for the gym, walked to my front door and turned back around. I curled up with a bowl of cereal, watched a video and felt like a failure. After two anxiety attacks between 6PM and 6AM, I practiced a failed attempt of corpse pose without yoga until 10AM -- thank you freelancing. Every time I go through an episode, I remind myself to question what triggered the anxiety. This time I allowed a bunch of insecure fuckers to make me question if I have what it takes to be an athlete. Typically I don't dwell on those things but I do acknowledge when the noise grows. I can usually link it to a source; this incident stemmed from my last two posts since returning back to this space. A few minutes ago, I made myself a glass of shut the fuck up to go with my coffee and thought out loud: What exactly is an athlete. If you can tolerate some non politically correct commentary, grab a bottle of Tequila and take a shot with me.
By mile 16, I wrote an irrational list of things I hated which included cold air touching my face and the person who made me laugh leading me to pee lightly on myself.
Any person who reads enough ramblings from me will notice that I love running no more than 4 times a week. On the fifth day, I want to murder everything moving. Despite it all, I find myself signing up for races at 2AM like I'm on QVC because that's how I avoid midnight snacks these days. I'm almost certain this is how I signed up for the New York Road Runners' Knickerbocker 60K. Somehow I managed to develop amnesia for the third time and thought running 37.2 miles two weeks after the New York City Marathon was a GREAT idea. If I could complete my first 100K last year six days before the NYC Marathon and do this race two weeks after, what could possibly go wrong this year? Every. Single. Thing.
How to Gracefully DNF Races
Most people sign up for races with a 90 percent certainty that they will finish; I'm not most people.
If it feels like it's been a long time since I've wrote anything consistent here, that would be painfully accurate. There's not one particular reason that I can give you but I can throw out a few:
Through one on one interactions with people in the running community and with loved ones reminded me about the reasons why I constructed this crazy website Running Fat Chef and it damn sure wasn't for internet fame. I truly love blurbing about the highs, lows, unstable moments and adventure that comes with fitness, particularly running. By having a honest heart to heart with myself, I buried myself under a blanket, wrote down a list with my insecurities, rolled it into a shape of a blunt and decided to say "fuck all of that shit-- I'm writing again."
With that said, let's talk about my 2019 highs and lows before the year is out -- and let's start with my DNFs.
Newbie Again: Pre-NYC Duathlon
My first duathlon is tomorrow and first raw open powerlifting competition is in a week -- no pressure?
Tomorrow morning, I will be in Central Park like most of my races but this one will be different. I'm doing my first duathlon. Maybe you think that I said TRIATHLON; nope -- duathlon. For anyone who isn't familiar with the term, a duathlon is a multi sport event that's typically comprised of running and cycling. Despite my loving pseudonym Running Fat Chef, I am a neurotic little adventurer who enjoys a good athletic challenge that makes my uncoordinated rhythmless nation body twinkle. And if I didn't give myself enough pressure, I quite literally woke up one morning and expressed interest in power lifting "one day" to a power lifting bad ass by the name of Morit Summers. Within a few days, I woke up freshly signed up for the Iron Maiden's Raw Open with only seven weeks to train versus most people's ten to fourteen weeks. Maybe I forgot to mention that these events are literally six days apart AND I have about 10 - 20 road and trail running events left on my calendar. I think it's safe to say that I'm a bit impulsive and extreme. This admirable quality has me shitting bricks as I nurse myself in Vicks Vapor Rub and a bunch of CBD based products from iKOR Labs because I'm sick. It's only been a week since I finished the Hood to Coast Relay. No pressure -- no pressure at all kids. Since I'll be limited in my fitness after Sunday, I'll blurb about my ridiculous anxieties about power lifting on another day.
Consistency is like the "fluffer" on a porn set and motivation is the star who gets all of the credit.
For the record, I hate the word motivation 5 out of the 7 days of the week.
"What keeps you motivated?"
"I'm inspired to be an athlete but I don't have motivation like you do."
Fuck motivation; be consistent. And when you cannot be consistent, reflect. In the running community and beyond, people toss around motivation like its something you can buy at the corner store from Papi. Go ahead-- pick up that can of fleeting motivation next to the Skittles and Starbursts but tell me how that scam works. If I could buy it on the shelf tomorrow, I'd return that can of shit back and ask for a refund. Just like anything you want in life, you have to earn it and the road to success is not a straight line.
Phobic Click Bait is the New Black
When life hasn't told you enough that you're not shit, literary publications are asking you to hold its beer.
As a plus size athlete, fatphobic comments run steadily like water. And being a black woman, I have enough traumatic stories to keep you drunk for an entire month. Bring the Johnny Walker and we could have a marvelous party in self pity -- but I prefer to not indulge. Instead, I love running or doing gym bro shit. Scaring the shit out of my 62 year old mom as I tell her about traveling to another trail in an affluent community that will try to search my locs as if I'm holding onto a special strain of marijuana is more of my thing. I know how harshly the world views me and others who share some sort of attribute that comes with living in this body -- and the media knows it too. Since they're so knowledgeable about it, these so called 'professional' publications and corporate companies found gimmicky ways of generating buzz. This weeks' anal chafing came from an opinion piece written by Tanya Gold posted in The Telegraph -- and I'd be dipped in hushpuppy battered shit if I'm posting a link on here.
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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