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.
Welcome to Colorado
Lingering around the airport for a while, I joked about meeting the TSA bae from Kansas City, MO who was charming—don’t worry, I’m married guys. Like most millennials, I engulfed myself in as much social media as possible as I waited for one of my Skirt Sports Ambassador sisters to arrive; Darrietta Lee, a super inspiring Chicago native who I anxiously awaited to meet was the first person to physically greet me in this practically humidity free city. We instantly hit it off, exchanging stories of being excited for the retreat weekend and noting how clean it was in comparison to our relatively busy respective homes. We hopped on the RTC bus - a nine dollar 24 hour bus ticket that takes you through a relatively decent part of Colorado - took us conveniently close to Boulder. A former Skirt Sister who reached out to me almost a year prior was gracious enough to not only be my guide around the Boulder/Louisville community but was courteous enough to let me board for the last half of my trip with her beautiful family.
Amy, a person who I happened to miss around the week of NYC Marathon, greeted me and Darrietta with such a warm embrace; her teenage sons are phenomenal. I didn’t meet her husband, a fellow Gemini, until days later into my trip. She took us to a Smashburger to fill our hungry stomachs, cautioned us to hydrate more than usual thanks to altitude and made us feel more than welcome. Hours later, she drove us to the hotel that we would be staying— a location conveniently less than 15 minutes from the Skirt Sports 13er (13.1/half marathon) course. From here, we met with several of our other hotel roommates: Danyell - my Chicago buddy who assured that I’d be lodging with her, - Mary from Ohio, Dyenna, an ultra runner, Kristen, a spunky fellow runner and her fabulous daughter in law who completed our diverse circle. Naturally, we unpacked, talked about ourselves and became comfortable with each other, as we became unknown family members for almost four full days.
Skirt Sports Retreat - Friday
Honestly, most people see me in fitness gear in all of my social media pictures and videos. For a special event, I opted to dress up a bit and even applied on some makeup that wasn’t half bad. Upon arrival, I met a multitude of diverse women from across the country in one central location— the infamous Skirt Sports store. The air was filled with excitement, food and faces that were paired with Instagram handles.
I must note how much I appreciated meeting so many people that I either follow, communicated with on post or follow my crazy fitness endeavors. Although I am an extrovert, I have to admit that I was a bit nervous. My relationship with women years prior to fitness was exceptionally sketchy. Trust issues, hurt and pain were things that I used to associate with the thought of having female friends. Instead, a collective of women gave out hugs, shared their stories and even told me how my transparency helped them in their day to day life. Because I have a hard time crying in front of people, I prevented myself throughout the night from getting emotional. The sometimes guarded me came into play at various moments afraid that this many personalities would eventually clash— thankfully, so many women at the retreat immediately chased those fears away. Before I knew it, I greeted not so strangers with bear hugs to picking them up to doing selfies — as a side note, I get a kick out of picking people up but do my best to respect people’s space.
Throughout the night, I was blessed to meet the fabulous Skirt Sports team: Nicole DeBoom - Ironman Wisconsin winner and Skirt Sports unicorn, Noelle Wilson, a Long Island native who promptly answers my endless questions and inquiries, Keri and Jen, two women who I very recently started conversing with on various occasions. By the end of the night, I met over 100 people and my nerves dissolved like water in a scorching pan. At one point, I had a really bad urge to use the bathroom and found myself greeting someone as I zoomed past them to prevent an accident while she was still inside— if that’s not an intimate yet TMI experience, I don’t know what to call it. Despite being this open about this incident, I’m grateful that she didn’t take pictures of my literal potty run.
Skirt Sports Retreat - Saturday
Saturday morning, altitude wasn’t kicking my ass in a winded way but gave me enough congestion and dry mouth than I ever desired. As my Instagram and Facebook followers nagged me about continuously, I drank water ALL of the time and certainly avoided alcohol on my first night. Unfortunately time change added to the proverbial beatdown every night of my Colorado trip and I would find myself wired by no later than 4AM. In NYC, I’m up around 4:45 to 5AM to go to the gym, run and do my cycling before dropping my son off to school.
Since I wasn’t severely impacted by the altitude like my fears made me believe, I picked up my training regimen for the Javelina Jundred 100K on Friday morning. I must admit that those few miles kicked my ass. My gym routine was exhausting, my running time was slow with much needed walk breaks and swimming practice was disaster dot com. Even with the struggles, I did the best that I could. Nevertheless, moving around on Saturday wasn’t terrible thanks to testing the waters on Friday.
Saturday’s event was filled with inspiring speakers, one person being my literal trail running buddy Mirna Valerio, along with two other fantastic women who spoke about everything from chemical addictions, body acceptance and emotional wellness. We participated in group drills in between speakers, had great food from Mad Greens, took a load of selfies and most of the women partook in yoga.
After the retreat, we had the option of going on a trail, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I found myself mesmerized by the earth beneath my feet and in front of me— an overwhelming view of the mountains, fresh air and beautiful landscapes that made pictures appear surreal. At one point, I attempted to do a boomerang and in my venture, I fell onto a cactus. Honestly, it wasn’t as terrible as I thought, just time consuming to pull out and definitely itchy after a while.
For the evening, I spent time with some of my roommates and Mirna to vibe, bond and reflect over the beautiful experiences thus far. And yes, we had exquisite meals at different places throughout Louisville, Boulder and Denver. Mary and I even had a chance on one of the days to visit Skratch Labs, an endurance formula company who helps athletes retain electrolytes, remain hydrated and fueled for all sorts of fitness endeavors. Preparing for the half marathon, I went to sleep before 11PM, hoping that I’d get at least 4 to 5 hours of sleep— I must admit that the insomnia and random headaches were quite a nuisance. It’s a common drawback of adjusting to altitude.
Skirt Sports 13er and Beyond
On race day morning, I changed my outfit completely to leggings and a black tee. There were three options for the Skirt Sports run: 5K, 10K and the infamous 13er (13.1 mile - Half Marathon). Naturally, I opted for the longest distance despite being nervous about the reduced pace that I knew I’d take on this course.
All of the participants and onlookers were pumped. We were greeted by hula hoops and promises of cake at the finish line. At 6:30AM, we were off to the trails to beat the 90 degree sun that awaited to dance on our skin.
The 13er course was two loops of beauty with hiccups of incline. Unlike the various conversations about last year’s course, a three mile incline of a deathly hill was removed from this course and replaced by a baby form of hell totaling two miles greeting me at the beginning of mile two and approximately mile seven respectively.
Running is certainly a challenge to many but doing this in over five thousand feet of altitude made my chest burn ferociously at times, especially for a woman accustomed to being at sea level. By mile three, again I found myself nuzzled in the back of the pack and by loop two, coming to very comfortable terms of possibly being the last person on the course. My only goal was to finish in time before cutoffs.
While doing a run/walk mashup, I was greeted by surprisingly calm geese. As a traveling hybrid road and trail runner, these long neck bastards will attack you if they feel feisty. On the first loop, a group of fellow ambassadors talked loud around the geese to attempt to scare them off. Despite our tactics, this tribe was unaffected by our squad and watched us intensely as we shuffled past them. I openly thanked them for not chewing my nubby calves off.
By the halfway point, I saw an infectious cheer squad greet us with encouraging words, screams and mental pushes to get through. Around mile 6, I saw people who were completing their 10K, one of which was my roommate Mary; in my mind, I gave her look that can only be described as a cry for help. Admittedly, I was on a fucked up journey called the struggle bus, feeling the effects of gravity and colorful sprinkles of internal profanity— okay, I said some out loud too.
When my lungs felt challenged, I power walked through the burn. It’s a frustrating feeling when you know that you could typically push through and your body feels strong but your chest is serving you an eviction notice. I opted not to dwell on this battle and embrace that it will all be over soon. Hell, I’d be going downhill around mile twelve.
Uniquely, this course has some stellar views of the mountains, lakes and thankfully I wasn’t greeted by snakes or any vicious animals that nature has to offer. Sure, this may be their home but I love knowing that I didn’t pee myself because I was scared half to death by a garden snake.
Almost at the end of mile 12, a bright eyed fellow ambassador came back looking for me.
- Holy Crap... REALLY!?
Despite feeling altitude work its dark magic, I knew it was only right to hustle on my pace. Downhills gave me the option to sprint and in turn, I did my best to move through the last portion. My lungs burned for five minutes and I broke it up with a minute or two of speed walking and then running for a portion of the flat. A right turn for less than a quarter of a mile greeted me to the thirteenth mile and a left turn gave me a goose bumped cluster of emotions with matching roars echoing through my body. A collective of Skirt Sports ambassadors awaited my arrival as they created an arch for me to run through. In less than 20 seconds, I completed my first Skirt Sports 13er with an amazing community. And just like that, the race was over.
I saw women doing hula hoops and a crowd sought me out to take a selfie. As usual, I took crazy selfies, including picking people up but I never expected the gesture to be returned. Honestly, it made me nervous. Despite being a very comfortable plus size woman, I have trust issues that I am constantly working on. Instinctively, my head and mouth said no as I backed up, nervously chuckling and warning that I’m pretty dense thanks to powerlifting. A herd of women picked me up for a half minute to create more than just an epic group photo but breaking down a wall stronger than a levy. If there was a moment that permeates in my mind from this weekend, it was that one. As one of my fellow ambassadors stated it and pardon my butchered quote, she thanked me for allowing them to pick me up as I do them. That simple statement meant the world to me. Quite often, women are conditioned to be in competition and not trust others. Instead, here lies a tribe who embraced not only my notoriety but my mind, heart and spirit. When I came back to the hotel, I had a relief cry in the shower. This experience was way more than I ever asked for. A former skeptic found a rainbow in Colorado and it’s built on countless women who were vulnerable enough to share a part of their time, life experiences and love with me, judgment free. As I return home to NYC, my heart feels lighter and I am wearing a glow that didn’t exist prior to this trip.
Days after, I did a photo shoot with some of Skirt Sports family, a podcast with Nicole DeBoom and Mirna Valerio, ate a ton of food and even gained a Florida sister from another mister, an ultra runner who is going for the Western States Ultra name Sam. I experienced six days of magic, working through various personalities that differed from my own and being reminded of the journey that I once embraced but metamorphosing into a fresh butterfly.
Spending my last few days with Amy was the calm moment that I desperately needed. I am constantly learning more about myself and feel confident in my abilities to grow into a mythical woman. Some people wait for death to be remembered but I want to be a living legend by embracing the moments while I’m here. In the meantime, I’m relaxing my nerves thankful that I made it back safely from a very turbulent flight as I guzzled several complimentary whiskey and cokes. I'm looking forward to my 10K in Central Park this weekend, Finger Lakes 50K at the end of the month and a host of races. The only race I'm focusing on at the moment is making sure my husband enjoys the remaining part of his birthday and preparing for a family trip to Philadelphia in the morning--I'll be 33 tomorrow. Cheers to starting a new chapter.
Latoya Shauntay Snell
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