Every ounce of me wish I was writing this blog in a better state of mind. I've been struggling with responding to messages on my social media platforms since Saturday afternoon. Since I know that I tend to be a rambler, this blog post will be the shortened version of how shit went left at the New Jersey Spartan Ultra Beast. If you read my blogs long enough, this means that this blog will take you about 15 to 20 minutes to read. If needed, read this in sections with a shot of Jack Daniels. I type a lot and talk a lot more in person. I'll link the second part of my blog, which will be more of a survival guide, when I'm done getting over my emotions.
Like all people in recovery at typical recovery groups, the best thing I should do is introduce myself:
My name is Latoya Shauntay Snell and I DNF'ed the Tri-State New Jersey Spartan Ultra Beast on April 29, 2017. Fuck it. I said it.
It's Monday morning and the clouds match my mood: Solemn. I hate writing out the entire statement so we're going to call the Spartan Ultra Beast, UB from this point going forward. The UB was the most humbling race that I ever attempted in my almost 4 years of running and one year of obstacle course racing. Some of my critical readers might think that I failed for the following reasons:
Race Day Morning
On Saturday morning, Rayne and I woke up at 4AM. We both already showered the night before and because we're broke ballers who wanted to eat practically the same as we did while training, we made ourselves a cheese omelet with French Toast inside of our motel room. There was no refrigerator, microwave or stove in our room. Being a NYC chef, you have to think of things on the fly all of the time. We came up with this "cool idea" to bring my hot plate, an omelet pan and utensils and cook inside of the room. Rayne, who is ex-military, told me a while back about cramming ice into a container to keep things cool. We thought, well shit, why not buy some food and cook in the morning. In turn, we packed our sink and two containers with products that held off for us to make our "gourmet" motel meal since we wouldn't be making it to the complimentary breakfast in time. If you try this on your own adventures, do not blame me if this doesn't work out for you or the smoke detector goes off. The key is to not smoke up the room, burn the place down and when all else fails, take your ass out to the store and spend some money. I might be a marathoner but I'm also a trained culinarian. Do this at your own risk.
All of our clothing was set out from the moment that we checked in. We headed on the road around late 5ish.
According to the instructions provided on the Spartan Race's email, our trip from our motel in Middletown, NY to Route 94 was supposed to take less than 30 minutes on the road. We found ourselves in the middle of West Bubblefuck at 6:20am. Did I mention that our wave starts at 7AM? By this point, we were in silent panic/meltdown mode but opted to go back to the location that we visited to pick up our bibs. Thankfully, we made it to the parking lot successfully, boarded the shuttle bus and slightly had a bit of relief. Unfortunately, I suffer from delayed anxiety attacks and had a full meltdown on the way to the venue for five minutes. Rayne and I did our first Spartan race together less than six months ago and we quickly learned how to not kill each other on an endurance course. He allowed me to get my thoughts together in silence and I quickly got over my worries when we left out.
"At least one in five of you will NOT complete this course today." -Spartan Race Announcer
We walked over to the start line, took several pre-race ritualistic selfies and talked with other anxious Spartan UB participants. Some people talked about their experience with the Vermont UB, which is one that will probably NEEEEVVVERR come to my list of things to do, but plenty of people who stated that this was their first go round. We inched up towards the front and heard the announcer getting the crowd riled up. Before we knew it, we were hitting the trails.
And We're Off to the Hills
Before I go on any further, can I send all of my love and hate to the people who designed this shit master 2000 with the upgradable douche bag pack of a course. If you haven't noticed, there will be a lot of acorns and profanity loaded into this blog post. The first four miles are horrific. Rayne and I did the Spartan Super together, which was roughly ten miles and knew that the beginning of this course would be terrible but Jesus Christ of Atlantic Avenue, it's like the goddamn hills wouldn't stop.
Forgive me in advance for not remembering all of the obstacles in its proper order because the inclines completely fucked us up. The first obstacle that we tackled was getting over a few bunches of hay walls. This obstacle wasn't terrible but it did leave a pretty little bruise on my hand. Thanks to my conveniently placed health issues with my love muscles, I had to use the bathroom SEVERAL times on the course. I sincerely thank Mother Nature for allowing me to piss on her the way that she obviously pissed on us. Why would I mention such a detail? Well here's why: When you're expecting to trek through the woods for 14 hours, ask yourself if you would prefer to pee on yourself or leave your modesty at the door and make love to a tree. If you opt to take on such a crazy trail/endurance race of this nature, please load up with disposable, environment safe wipes. They are one of your besties on the nature walk.
Although mile one was brutal, it was still bearable and our spirits were extra high. Rayne and I carried our hydration packs packed with salt tablet chewables, mustard and enough fueling to feed several starving families. We rotated between Honey Stinger gels, Lara Bars, Nuun Tablets and Salt Stick Chewables while on the course. Around this point, we battled the monkey bars, in which Rayne did an excellent job. I managed to surprise myself by making it past the halfway point. I missed the first set of monkey bars by two bars, which sucked. Honestly, I never attempted it in the past so this was a serious win for me.
At mile two, we were met with disrespectful looking paths that we had to hike. You could feel the fatigue steaming off of other UB participants on the course. Thankfully, they allowed us to skip the memory test, which is a sequence of numbers and letters that they expect you remember until whenever the fuck they feel like asking you at some random point on the course. It could be mile 17 or mile 25. If you don't know it, guess who's dropping it low for some burpees? Yup. You guessed it. YOU!
My lower back started to burn intensely but my training served me exceptionally well. Lunges, walking back and forth on stairs and the dreaded stair master truly helped. I stopped when necessary to get my breathing together but never for long periods of time. Across the board, people made it very clear to me that if you stopped for too long, you will experience muscle failure.
All Hell Broke Loose
I was going downhill at the 2.5 mile marker and my right foot landed the wrong way. I felt this sharp pain run across my ring toe and I knew something was wrong. Rayne checked on me to see if I was okay but I honestly thought that I lost a toenail at most. Not even ten minutes later, I stopped feeling my ring toe altogether. Mentally, I freaked out for a short amount of time but was adamant that I could push through. By Mile 3, we were met by the log carry and I couldn't help but notice this couple who were exceptionally banged up from the course. I watched one woman limp with a stream full of tears. You couldn't help but feel empathy but I knew that I had to keep moving. Minutes after the log carry, I twisted my right ankle. A sharp pain traveled down my calf for a split second and I whimpered loud enough for Rayne to hear. He asked me if I was okay and I sugar coated it with a bullshit lie; it was excruciating. My pride was still there and I refused to succumb so early into the race. The event is 26.4 miles and I'm not even out of mile 3. There was no way that I was leaving that course so easily. Minutes later, Rayne started to experience vertigo and felt his muscles locking up on him. He looked at me and stated what was in my head since a half mile into the race: "Does this go round feel harder to you or is it my imagination?" I couldn't help but agree that this course was drastically harder on us at the beginning than the Spartan Super from last year.
We both took in fuel, which preserved me but just enough to take away some of the cramping from his quads. He heavily suggested that I side step down hills to prevent further damage to my ankle and toes, in which I did. Other Spartan UBs offered assistance at moments, particularly when we were greeted with snow on the mountain. It was 78 degrees on Saturday. Pardon my ignorance but I had no idea that SNOW could make it through those types of conditions. Guess I was wrong. When going up a serious incline, bear and spider crawls seriously helped me going uphill in a safe manner. Despite practicing good habits, I twisted my weak ankle for the third time by the mid point of mile three.
Rayne pushed through the dunk wall and because I knew there was more water on the course, I didn't want to waste time trying to push through my crippling fear of drowning at this section. Unfortunately, anyone who knows the dunk wall know that I am being melodramatic and really hate water, as it's probably no more than a foot or two of water to dunk your head under. I opted to walk around it as he went under. We walked up the slip wall that was heavily drenched with mud, water and probably the 500 sacrificial offerings of people's skin on heavy ropes that came before us. Areas that require upper body strength has been my strong point for a long time despite being a road runner. In turn, I found this section to be very easy and fun. Once over, Rayne's cramping began to increase once again. I could feel this nagging feeling traveling down my right calves but my mind wanted to push me through it. We trekked through the woods for another 20 minutes and bam, there goes that goddamn ankle again. This time, I couldn't suppress how bad it felt and I told him that I stopped feeling almost all of my toes on my right side by this point. He knows me well: If I sound too calm, it's a lot more serious than I'm trying to make it sound.
Rayne: "Babes, are we going to make it through this race?"
Me: "Yes, we will push through as much as possible and give it our all."
My right foot said otherwise but my mind is a stubborn mule who has been scheming all of its life to give the haters her ass to kiss. In turn, we moved forward. If my memory serves me correct, we were hit with some animal called the Olympus, which requires you to hold onto mock boulders on the wall while crouch shuffling your lower body across. According to the volunteer, this is the first time that the East Coast Spartans were ever doing this. I understood the technique but my ankle wanted to put on its best impersonation of being a picket line. In turn, I succumbed to my fate of failing yet another obstacle. Rayne made it three fourths of the way and we opted to move forward through the course.
We went over the seven foot wall pretty well and finally, the woods decided to stop being such an ungrateful scumbag and the hills reduced after mile four. By this point, the damage was already done to our bodies. Rayne's body continued to lock up on him despite taking two rolls of salt tablet chewables, mustard, gels and fueling and my ankle was visibly swelling. We were met by the water crossing, which of course, made me panic. This time, I think we both agreed to not kill each other at this section. Last year, we had a huge blowup mid race at this section because he despises the cold water and I have a crippling fear of drowning, even if it's only two feet. This time, the water reached my chest and panic overwhelmed me severely. He talked to me through the entire process and we made it across.
"Babes, are you sure we're going to make it through this?"
I could see the doubt in his face and my ankle was growing in size. My confirmations of safely getting through this race were weakening. By mile 5, we were met by some insane looking monkey bar contraption that had hoops, ropes and bars. Despite my aggravation, I tried once again and made it half way this time. He did really well and I was happy for him but disappointed in myself. As we met other obstacles such as the plate drag and tyro traverse, I was pissed off, emotional and irritated. Rayne was playing music since the beginning of the race and suddenly, my speaker died. Thankfully, I learned how to do 20 mile runs without music and embrace the sound of my own breathing. This time, I heard my insecurities loud on the course. Honestly, I don't know what ran across my partner's brain but I was empty. My ego was in full force and it fought hard with my logic. Realistically, I knew I wasn't going to make it through this race and it wasn't from being tired. I knew the terrible thoughts would leave at some point. It bothered me that I would have to DNF this dream course because of the unexpected twists at my ankle. Utilizing the flat areas and downhills of the course, I started doing sprint intervals and speed walks trying to lie to myself that I could make it. Rayne knew that something was bothering me but I tried to remain silent.
We reached the Spear Throw at mile 7 or 8, he said something that I couldn't make out and I just cried into his shoulders. I think he officially knew we weren't going to make it from this point despite what I verbally stated out of my mouth. He landed the Spear Throw twice, which was great but at this point, I started embracing the pity party in my brain that I couldn't focus on the tasks.
I'm not one who enjoy crying for too long because hearing my own bitching is uncomfortable. In my head, I sound like my 9 year old asking the same question, poking into my arm being annoying and in turn, expressed my views on Facebook. I was over it. Completely over it. Maybe 20 minutes later, I asked people to send me positive thoughts. I am humbled by the loads of positive messages that came through. Not one bad message at all and they weren't generic at all. Some were crammed with my type of toilet humor. My absolute favorite one came in Facebook Messenger:
"My pussy pops vicariously through every step you take. Just sayin." - J. McGill
Some messages were in forms of threats from my family members:
Other messages were powerful:
Then someone threw this back at me:
Seeing my own cover photo put a lot of things into perspective. On November 12, 2016, I wrote on my own cover photo this caption:
"People always talk about mind over matter but I try to keep them both on even planes as much as possible. There's something beautiful about it when they're both working together like a marriage. Sometimes, they're 50/50. There's moments where they're not so balanced and it may be 75/25. Regardless, they still love each other and if they should ever divorce, I don't know where I'd be.
There's so much that I haven't even begun to explore thus far but I'm looking forward to seeing other adventures that life has ahead of me. My story isn't close to finished yet."
My own message gave me permission to ground myself and accept that I would not be finishing the Spartan UB today. How exactly? My mind was strong, despite having moments of fragility but my body had enough. I fought hard to get into this race but I have other races within a few weeks, not to mention that I have to work. What's the sense of throwing out rationality? I'd rather take a week off than six months off any day of the week. I didn't cave into a medic at that moment; I felt comfortable telling my partner that we would possibly not make the time cut off and our level of pain, fatigue and unpredictable circumstances might have to make us DNF. Rayne was adamant in reminding me that if I changed my mind or felt strong enough to go through the race that I should do it. Mile 8 and 9 gave me peace. I remember this level of peace from my Miami Marathon when I had to drop down to a Half Marathon due to my sciatica taking over my body. If you're interested in reading about it, check this out.
Rayne and I continued to push through the woods for as long as I continued moving. He refused to leave me, as I refused to leave him. When I got out of my head, I couldn't help but notice how bad the muscle cramping had got to him. I have to tell you guys that he has NEVER ran a 10K, Half Marathon or full marathon in his life. I want him to know how exceptionally proud of him. My gym partner couldn't work out with me as much because of our scheduling conflicts and my poor health that conveniently kicked in two days after I pushed the purchase button on the Spartan website. We both had a really rough set of months.
We made it past the Hercules Hoist, which is a weighted bag ranging from 60 - 100 pounds that is pulled in into the air and lowered down, as well as climbing up cargo nets, leaping over hurdles and carrying sandbags on our heads. Once we made it somewhere around the 11th mile, I hit my ankle one last time. A gentleman on the course said a short prayer for us and asked if I believed in God. I told him that I believe in something. Although I never caught his name, he told me that it was all that mattered. For some reason, it gave me a sense of peace that he said this to me. A tall, thin framed older gentleman whispered to me that we both looked like we were in bad shape. I admitted that we were. By this point, we saw other some Elite Spartan UB participants making their second loop on the course and was surrounded by Elite Spartan Beast guys and girls who only had to do the course once. He noticed our green arm bands, looked over in concern and congratulated us for even attempting to do such a course. He helped me several times go up the incline and once we walked around muddy waters, I could hear a medical van in the distance.
I screamed out for the medic, looked at Rayne and told him that I was done. He nodded in approval. Other Spartan Beasts and Ultra Beast participants called them over as well. A team of four stopped, two came over to us and assisted us to the van. Just like that, almost 12 miles in, seeing how close we were to the half way point, it was over.
The medical staff shuffled us into the vehicle and we past the kid races. I leaned into Rayne's shoulder and cried. Guys, I tried. I gave it my all. I think it hurts knowing that my training and nutrition was so good and spot on but I couldn't circumvent the ankle situation. Despite me saying this, please understand that we did NOT fail. Sure, no medals. Didn't make it the full loop but we didn't fail.
Why I Run
I cannot tell you all of the reasons why Rayne went out on the course. I know some of them are part of a short list of:
Perhaps, if he desires, we will do a joint blog together from his prospective. Let me know what you think guys. Nevertheless, here's the reasons why I ran THIS particular race:
We went to the medical tent and did what we did best: Talk SHIT! Rayne and I were in the medical tent for about 45 minutes nursing everything from my ankle to his nuts on ice. It felt good to rub in his face that endurance races make you hurt EVERYWHERE. Despite my moment of pettiness, I am so glad that he was there on my side but I really wish he didn't hurt so bad.
He went back to get the rental car, we wobbled our injured bodies back to the motel room, showered and went back out to grab food. A lot of this moment was a blur for me. I know that we ate Chicken and Shrimp Teriyaki but the high was coming down. My emotions caught the best of me and I cried some more. The pain started to kick in higher and the Motrin 800 was trying its hardest to work. At some point, we opted to grab items from Target. I felt strangely fatigued and cold. I'll explain a lot of this in my survival guide that I'll link onto this article when it's done. His muscle spasms and pain grew worse. We went back to the motel and before I knew it, I passed out. When I woke up, I was tucked in and he was in exceptional pain. Obviously, he nursed me during my 4 hours of sleep and we rotated shifts taking care of each other. I wobbled out of my motel room close to midnight, talked with another Spartan who was going to do the beast on Sunday and gave her tips. She told me that her husband sprained his ankle at mile 2 in Killington.
The next morning, Rayne and I listened to a motel full of sore Spartan competitors exchange war stories as other normal guests looked at us like we were out of our fucking minds. The course was hard but our tenacity was harder. Do I regret participating in this race? NOPE. Am I sad that I didn't complete the course? Absolutely. Will I get my redemption? Absolutely.
In the meantime, I have a tub of epsom salt and tiger's balm waiting for me. Check up on me in two weeks. I'll be doing the Brooklyn Half Marathon and hopefully injury free. Life goes on. As always, thanks for reading guys.
Love and light.