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.
Despite how politically incorrect and vulnerable that I can be at times about my inside thoughts, I will admit that this year truly pissed me off with the levels of hatred thrown my direction. Honestly, what pissed me off was reading what others endured. My mileage in the scorching direct heat was fueled by three elements:
A generous fuck you to all of the naysayers who have something to say about people who are trying to live their lives the best way that they can;
Rocking out a 100K in the desert for all of the back of the pack people who don't think it's possible -- whether from ideals of being 'too slow,' 'too fat,' 'too many disabilities' or simply not being enough for anyone or themselves;
A love letter in the form of blisters to myself: A high school dropout who is constantly seeking a redemption for flunking out because of gym credits, societal pressures and not thinking that I was anything more than a failure to so many.
Most runners are either running towards something or running away from a few demons; I am no exception to this rule. From participating in the Aravaipa Running's Javelina Jundred 100K, I learned about layers of myself that I didn't know existed:
I am not as much of a New York City stereotype as I thought existed in my head. To some, they placed me in other parts of the country because my 'accent' didn't sound too strong with the exception of a few words to being 'extra nice.' Listen, NYC residents aren't always a bunch of jerks unless you're walking painfully slow in Midtown or decide to be that one awkward tourist who likes to stop in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge to take a picture of the cityscape in the bike lane.
There's just as much love and festivities available to the back of the pack as it is for the front if you choose the right race. Some race directors truly get it. I had the opportunity to chat with Jubilee Paige in a private message and she truly gets how easy it is for people to get discouraged. Jamil Coury, generous sponsors like HOKA ONE ONE and the gang truly know how to put on a party in the desert. There's nothing like running 14 hours and dancing with skeletons with a strange boner, tossing back shots of Fireball and drinking coffee, chucking back a few IPAs and burgers before torturing yourself for 10 more hours. Did I mention that there was an actual designated dance area? I need the East Coast to catch on this.
It is quite possible to run while dozing off to sleep. There's parts of the course that I cannot remember because fatigue set in pretty bad. Clearly I was cognizant enough to remember most of the people who I said hello to AND had a full conversation with on the trail. Thankfully I didn't talk to any tarantulas, javelinas, scorpions, cacti or snakes. At mile three, I did see a few coyotes AND heard them singing sweet nothings to each other throughout the night.
Sunrise and sunsets are magnificent in the West Coast. I tend to run during these hours anywhere I go for peace and sanity. I have conversations with my dad whose been gone since the day before Obama went into office. In my mind, the butterflies and moths are his way of communicating with me. I saw colors that even binge watching enough Bob Ross episodes cannot get me to paint. If there was a golden point of running a 100K, it was that brief moment of calm that I absorbed in seeing those colors.
The human mind is the hardest muscle to train. I've been training for a growing list of fall races since April and yet, this course tested my mind way harder than my body. I've done a handful of 50 - 60Ks yet I was ready to leave after 22 miles (1 loop) because of a combination of heat and rushing thoughts of every terrible comment thrown my way. I didn't think I was Ford tough y'all.
People can truly move you to great distances. I always knew words house power but experiencing the unity on the course made me a true believer. The washing machine style setup on the Javelina course made it easy to talk with faster runners. I had others who asked if I was okay, countless 'good job' messages thrown my direction to pep talks about not giving a shit about being last.
Speaking of DFL, being dead fucking last is a honor sometimes. I don't think I ever experienced being DFL on a road race to date but I had moments of coming dangerously close thanks to endometriosis and sciatica flare ups to just having a shitty day. In the trail community, there's just as much love for the person who can pull through hours of what can feel like beautiful torture on your body and mind. Our medals are just a muse for a conversation but the experience is the thing that makes the event worthwhile.
Although I knew this one, never judge a book by its cover. I had moments of questioning what the hell pushed someone to dress in full costume on these races and worried that they would get pulled off because it may cause chafing or tire them down. I ran with hot dogs, Fred Flinstone, fairies, the devil, people with assless chaps and a bunch of characters from different genres: This didn't slow them down. In fact, my basic ass running in a cute skirt made it in last for the 100K. Your version of smart running is not going to work for someone else.
Remain open minded about the race in front of you. My inside thoughts that might make some of you squirm: Most times, I'm typically looking for other minorities or fat people at races. It may sound fucked up but it's my personal truth. I'm very comfortable in my own skin but I know the stereotypes that I once conformed to and the ones that still exist: 'Unless you're African, black people don't run like that' -- especially not a 100K in the desert. I used to believe this for a long time and unfortunately there's a lot of statistics to support this level of thinking. Compiling on my own truth of being 5'3 1/2 and 240 pounds, I sometimes look like an anomaly. I've been to races where people KNOW that the shortest distance is a marathon and someone will make a cute remark like "...you're here for the 5K" or "...are you volunteering" despite having a bib that says marathon or whatever ultra I signed up for. I have friends who STILL think I'm nuts for being a fat, black girl running around in spaces that are predominately white. As a 'joke', I'm reminded of Get Out or horror films on how the black and fat people die first. Funny but not funny--and it's not something you want to hear from loved ones before heading out on trails that you never touched before. Even when your mind is strong, you're reminded by others of some of the painfully obvious because they unknowingly project their fears. Through Javelina Jundred, I truly stopped giving a damn after a few MINUTES. If you need to drop some stereotypes, run in the Arizona heat for a 100K and know that even if you bathe in sunscreen, someone's bound to be your complexion VERY SOON. It doesn't make me forget that I'm an African American woman with a couple of extra pounds but I don't let it weigh me down like an ankle bracelet. There are truly people out there who can acknowledge that you're a person of color BUT doesn't make them treat you any differently. P.S. I hate phrases like 'I don't see color.' Newsflash: Even people who are color blind can see fragments of color; my right eye was practically a kaleidoscope for years before surgery.
When I reached the last quarter mile, I was a blubbering, hot mess. In my mind, I thought I was going to find a burst of energy with a smile on my face for the end. Instead I was trying to suppress a forming snot-stache in front of a group of people who I now embrace as family. I didn't expect to see so many people wait for me at the finish line. I was certain that the banners would be pulled down and a possibility that my finisher's medal would be in the mail in a couple of weeks. Even after four years of running, road races made me a bit of a pessimist about what the finish line look like. Plenty of 'Slow AF' runners settle for just making it through and personal triumph; we have no choice but to come to a peace in our minds of what pushed us out there in the first place.
Being welcomed in by my ultra running family is a feeling that I'll never forget. It's rests heavily with the pain that I experienced only on my feet the next morning. It's strange of how my entire body felt great except for my toes. At the airport, I tried to pay for my luggage and immediately started crying. The Delta Airlines associates felt so bad that they actually placed me in a wheelchair to get me on my flight, as well as leaving out of JFK Airport when I made it back home to New York City. Thanks to a great tip from Catra Corbitt, I wrapped my feet in tape and felt great after a few days. Plenty of first time experiences thanks to the desert.
Sayonara Cacti, Hello Verrazano Bridge
For a whole week, I sifted through countless messages and friend requests that surfaced on my social media. Believe it or not, I'm still on a high about the Javelina Jundred 100K and my pretentious race calendar. There's a gift and curse about reading messages; sometimes you catch ones where it's laced with a bunch of personal fears, injecting stuff that you never thought about before.
I had worry worts about my feet and suggestions that I should stop. For some reason, people thought I needed a good reason to do what others coined as a 'marathon tour.' It almost baffles people to tell them that I'm on a Forrest Gump high and I just felt like running. When Elle Magazine asked me to calculate how many miles I was doing in races from the end of September to early December, it scared me to think I'm knocking out over 200 miles. I didn't think about it when I signed up for these races; frankly I didn't want to know. Perhaps it's my hippie ways but I just wanted to feel the experiences.
READ: Elle Magazine - Ultramarathoner Latoya Shauntay Snell Leads From Behind
This was my fourth year doing the TCS New York City Marathon and in hindsight, I find it to be the most rewarding one thus far. Let me get all of the technical stuff out of the way: I didn't finish until 7 hours and 45 minutes -- and this was by choice.
Call me foolish but I knew early on into my race that I wanted to spend more time with the back of the pack. I plan on doing this race for at least ten years -- whether it's through the NYRR's 9+1 program or I luck up one of these days and get an invite (not holding my breath).
My podcast partner in crime Martinus Evans of 300 Pounds and Running confirmed that he was running the NYC Marathon this year. He's been training for almost six months to make it across the finish line. Not only is his journey inspirational to thousands of people but I wanted to see my friend finish. He represents the voice of countless men who don't fall into adorable categories of having a 'dad bod' or convenient labels that even I had to think twice about like 'teddy bear.' I cannot nor pretend to act like I know what it's like to run around at 300 + pound nor can I respectfully preach about the male perspective -- but he does this unapologetically. This year, he's had his share of hurtful comments thrown his way, particularly when he wrote this open letter to race directors from the back of the pack -- something that I must mention Elle Magazine gave me unjust credit for on their article. Although I contributed a blurb, this was a development that was crafted from pure frustration, tireless hours and a lot of thoughtfulness that he put together. Sure, this conversation has came up several times on my part but I could never take full credit for something that someone else has done, especially not one from a friend.
When he arrived, I greeted him to Brooklyn after he sent me several direct messages around 11pm while making a compilation of what I coin 'hood Ramen' via Instagram. It's one of those meals that college students create when they're broke but my family happened to request because well... I put my culinary touch on it. For the week, we exchanged several laughs until late at night over food, wine and having loads of fun at the expo. While there, we took pictures with avid followers of the podcast and talked about race day nerves. In one of our episodes leading up to the NYC Marathon, I made a promise to listeners that if they saw me on the course, feel free to give me a hug, talk or even ask for help -- our listeners made a honest woman out of me.
The other person who made the NYC Marathon special was one of my best friends Sydney Hall. I watched her running journey flourish over the last year and in ways, I felt responsible for making sure she saw this completely through. Watching her journey reminded me of what I somewhat lost over doing so many races -- a genuine fear of the unknown when doing such a daunting distance by foot. Thanks to Black Girls Run, she gained an entry to the race and she started training immediately.
Witnessing both of my friends line up on the same starting line as I did years before gave me a sense of joy that I needed to fuel me for the rest of this year. As a person who tends to bounce from one thing to another, I feel blessed that I haven't grown bored from running yet. Maybe because it fucking hurts and different terrain brings a different lesson but I'm still here.
On race day, Martinus, Sydney, one of my favorite back of the pack girls Janelle Hartman and I lined up in the Wave 4, Green Corral and listened to the song that set us off like laboratory rats breaking loose. All of us chose to take it easy on the Verrazano Bridge but I departed around mile 2 opting to run most of the Brooklyn route.
When I peered at my times on my worn down Fitbit - I need a Suunto y'all - I noticed that I was on the road to getting a PR; this was originally last year's goal. My feet felt surprisingly fresh and I had to remind myself to slow down countless times. The roars of cheers from Brooklyn after mile 3 places runner into a terrible illusion that it will be this flat for the entire race. Upon slowing down, I started running into followers on the course. Some people wanted to say hello and others actually sought out advice. After mile six, I realized this wasn't going to be like the previous years before: I actually have people who made signs for me on the course that's not my family members.
Slowing down was the best gift that I could've given myself. Through watching first timers to people recovering through injuries, a part of me felt humbled to be invited to their journeys. At one point, I did too good of a job running that I actually missed my mother and sister who waited for me on the course near Barclay Center -- sorry fam.
Sydney wrote me several times via text and I felt bad for abandoning her on her first marathon. In ways, I knew that I wanted to be there for her but didn't want to take away from her experience. Depending on the person, some of us have to experience certain things - particularly the hard parts - in solitude. I happen to be one of those people. I wasn't sure what person she would be but thanks to countless followers who kept up with the tracker before it conked out, people alerted me that Martinus wasn't too far behind. In turn, she wasn't too far from him. It gave me the confidence that I could go on but I slowed down a bit.
By mile 13.1, I reached Queens; the peak of the Pulaski Bridge is the key way of knowing where you are on the course at any given time. I cruised through parts of Long Island City and saw a group who was awaiting Janelle's arrival. A lot of us were incredibly excited about seeing her reach the finish line this year. Janelle was one of the people who lit me up on a day that I was terribly low in my spirits after going viral. I was still deep in the grieving process of my miscarriage and she was the not so strange stranger that gave me my medal and hugged me like an old friend.
I was greeted by the Queensboro Bridge and met up with a very impressionable follower by the name of America. She left such an impression on me as others told me that I left on them after Javelina Jundred 100K. America was moving since the earlier parts of 9AM. I knew she was in a bit of pain but her spirit screamed that she had it in her to make it to the finish line. I reduced myself down to a walk until we reached mile 16 exchanging on our respective reasons why we do marathons. Our stories - although different - mocked each other; we were both athletes with disabilities who don't qualify for those divisions in most races. It's not uncommon to hear of these things in the road racing community. If you don't look the stereotypical part, don't expect to gain an entry. Yeah, it's disheartening but it doesn't stop the fire from burning between on our soles. And so, we moved at our pace.
At the end of mile 15, I saw my old junior high school buddy turned police officer. He was one of the people who told me via Facebook Messenger that he'd see me on the course. Seeing him gave me joy but seeing my family at the start of mile 16 powered me through countless, dark miles to come. My husband and son waited for me near the middle of mile 16 and 17 after sending me off almost 6 miles prior back in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I told my husband of my plan to slow it down. He furred his eyebrows together out of concern but respected my decision. After years of waiting for me at the finish line, he knows my timing was off and it doesn't take me this long. Nevertheless, we developed our meet up point and he whisked me off back into the crowd.
By mile 18, markers were being pulled down from the course and people weren't able to track me any longer. I kept up with Martinus and Sydney through text. Throughout the entire race, we were less than two miles apart and it gave me an ease of mind. At mile 20, I met up with Team RWB and saw my friend Bille Depra who did the Ragnar Adirondacks back in September. She gave me a boost of liquid courage in a cup and I felt energized for the rest of the course.
I watched the sunset while in the Bronx and met up with my other best friend Rayne on the course. Our yearly ritual is to meet up before mile 21 with Slim Jims, possibly a bottle of water and when I'm really low, a Reese's buttercup. This year, I was feeling excellent and only wanted the beef chews. His son Noah walked alongside me on the last bridge and as usual, he wished me well as I continued the course.
I thought my lowest point would be approaching miles 21 and 22 thanks to the memories of last year's heckling. Things don't hit me until it's in front of me some days and as I got closer, I worried how this would impair my emotions. This year, I was presented a bouquet in the form of Harlem Run members. I saw them lined up in the exact area where I was heckled last year. I refused to cry in front of them but I fought back tears for almost a mile. "You won't get heckled this year..." is what I heard in a distance; people actually remembered that terrible experience.
Through the darkness, I saw Sydney's family waiting for her around mile 23 and I knew it would give her much joy. I assured them that she was still moving and at this point, accompanied with Martinus literally pushing her through mile markers. By this point, Sydney reached the figurative runner's wall that Martinus and I are uncomfortably familiar with.
Upon entering Central Park, singular water stations were still available and spectators announced what mile we were at. I cannot elaborate on how much people truly helped out this year. As a 6:30 paced marathoner, I had no idea of what it was like to be out there for so long in a road marathon. This year, my city amazed me. People still waited out in the cold to cheer us on and as I saw more lights surface from the skyscrapers, I knew I was reaching mile 26. Before reaching my last turn back into Central Park, I saw my friend Spencer and she gave me a hug. I shuffled my stiff body to the last 400 to 800 meters and crossed the finish line.
I felt great but I wasn't satisfied for a few reasons: My friends didn't make it there yet and I was met by a friend who happened to volunteer, breaking the news to me that NYRR ran out of medals. I was crushed for both of my friends; I didn't know how to tell them that there would be no finishing medals for them this year. After fussing with several staff members, a medical personnel overheard my concerns and told me to hold tight at the finish line. Minutes later, they found the box.
I received my finisher medal minutes later after getting a call to come over and snagged two extras. I wanted to be the person to put medals around my friends' necks. Around 30 minutes later, I watched them both walk hand in hand across the finish line filled with two extremes of emotions. Martinus was a ball of emotional mess and made me cry and I watched my best friend Sydney jumping up as if we left a church sermon. I couldn't be more proud of us for pushing through what so many see as the impossible.
After getting through parts of the unofficial 27th mile, which was significantly shorter this year, we were draped with insulated ponchos and met up with Eric, EJ and Sydney's significant other. Martinus declared that we wouldn't take the train home and we jumped into an Uber almost ten minutes later.
I took a hot shower nursing some light thigh chafing and allowed my body to come down from my adventure and stared at two medals before indulging in red velvet cake. After dinner, I drifted off to sleep with dreams of two events that occurred in a two week time period. Martinus and I did our weekly podcast as normal, recapping the good, bad and ugly of the event and I wished him well a few days later.
As I type up this post, I'm nursing a bronchitis infection that existed days before the Javelina Jundred. People talked me out of indulging in an unscheduled run with the Rocky Run in Pennsylvania; perhaps I do need to take a break. In the morning, I will resume packing up my bags for the Spartan Ultra Beast in South Carolina, pull out a race outfit for the Prospect Park Turkey Trot 5 miler and another suitcase to take me to Washington for the Seattle Marathon. I'm coming to a close on this year's adventures and awaiting to spend some necessary time with my family. Parts of next year's adventures are already in place and it'll require a new set of goals. In the meantime, I'm thankful to reflect on this journey with a hot cup of coffee and double pack of medication.