I wasn't prepared this year.
Like at all.
Quite frankly, I thought that this year would be my year.
Like many, I had a plan to be diligent, would commit to my 4 - 5 days a week of consistent running, eat healthy and keep my mind clear. Instead, I learned how to eat my own words while grieving, talking to a therapist and questioning if I even wanted to bother. Despite it all, I became bib number 68301: Third time TCS NYC Marathon finisher.
Pre Race Day & Hybrid Marathon/Ultra Marathon Training
Training was brutal in every sense of the way. Over the course of three months, I grieved the loss of my twins, had an expedited emergency procedure for moderate level endometriosis, lost several friendships, been stalked for a few months and had my account hacked in between traveling to four different states, which included completing the Chicago Marathon last month. Pardon my melodrama but I had to figure out how to keep the oxygen tank on standby while tending my type one diabetic son, watching a very silent but nervous husband who I know worried if my marbles were still intact and freelancing as a chef on the fly. If this was the first year of my fitness journey, I think I would have jumped ship once I miscarried. Instead, I tried my best to persevere.
When things started falling apart, I wasn't sure if I was coming or going. I questioned people's motives, even my own. At one point, I told several of my closest friends and family that I wanted to leave all of it behind. Naturally, people told me that I was grieving and perhaps I should take a few weeks off. Outsiders who didn't understand my knack for distance running flat out told me to quit and I had "nothing else left to prove." Frankly, I don't remember ever solely needing to prove anything to anyone else but I can see how someone could jump to this conclusion.
In August, I developed a modified 8 week marathon plan that I shared with the public. Truly, I didn't think that I would follow through when I wrote it but opted to share it just in case this was the last ounce of fitness help that I'd extend via social media. I wasn't sure if anyone would give a shit or upon looking at it, would think that I snorted a line of boric acid expecting someone to put in the mileage that I was asking of people in a short amount of time. Initially, I heard a lot of feedback about the plan. It dwindled off near mid September, around the time that I started to get parts of my mojo back.
NYC Marathon Eve was a complete blur. I spent most of my night prepping for a catering order and nursing two apple beers who tickled my thoughts of getting 3 hours of sleep. For an entire month, I had no idea on what I would be wearing on race day despite checking the weather like my life depended on it. Waking up to the sound of rain at 3AM was bittersweet. You get nervous when you have to run through it and in my case, I still had one more item that I needed to make before delegating the task to my husband and friend for a food pickup. In hindsight, I was a disheveled yet semi organized hot mess.
Marathon Before The Marathon
Although I'm a mega tomboy, I am a woman in every sense of the word when it comes to getting dressed. Sure, I don't typically look frilly, wear a ton of makeup and poof up my hair but for race day, I am like anal leakage. Combine this with my horrible sense of time and you have yourself a royal procrastinator. Being in my head cost me 30 minutes of my precious soul and I found myself running to the largest but most annoying train system in the world: The New York City MTA.
My train was conveniently late and I found myself assed out of getting on the 7AM Midtown bus. There was no way I was going to miss the marathon for such fuckery and in turn, I opted to jump on the 7:30AM Staten Island Ferry. I can see why veteran marathoners heavily suggested the bus option over the ferry. If you are an extrovert with anti social flare ups that outbreak like the Herpes virus, perhaps the Staten Island Ferry isn't for you. My body tensed up while taking selfies in a crowd of people. I smelled race day flatulence and wet hair. Do you have any idea of how pensive that can make anyone feel? I got over my irritation fairly quickly after we got on board, took a few more pre race selfies while the ferry was empty and copped a squat.
I'm a strange character: My emotions are like a jar of Skittles who sometimes wish they can be M&Ms. My nearest and dearest are aware that I'm a colorful person but sometimes, I want to hide my multitude of layers. I wanted to be a grouch for 30 minutes and a few strangers wouldn't let that happen. A first time marathoner struck up a conversation with me about her nerves. Just because I was feeling like a turd doesn't mean that I couldn't place my dipshit feelings on a shelf to talk someone else out of their anxieties. She asked for advice and I feel compelled to give you what I gave her:
Fuck everyone else's advice, dear.
I promise my commentary was much cleaner and compassionate than that but if you read enough of my blogs, know that I was long winded as shit with my words of wisdom. If you never did one of these crazy marathon things, expect to talk to a stranger or five. Marathon veterans tend to have cool (or boring as fuck) war stories about that one time in 'Nam where they bust their face open by running into a pole. Want some really interesting stories? Try talking to an obstacle course racer or trail runner. In my opinion, we tend to either pique your excitement of make you question our desperate need for a hug in a locked room.
Here's another tip for my back of the packers that is doing the NYC Marathon: If you are in Wave 4, chill in the Staten Island Ferry depot for a bit if you get there pretty early. My wave didn't kick off until 11AM and after seeing my fellow marathoner Victor, he made a great point: "I'm not freezing outside at Fort Wadsworth for no coffee." For a first timer, maybe you should skip over this suggestion. Please consider this is my third time around and while I'm not desensitized to the race day experience, there's certain aspects like freezing my ass off in a running skirt that I would like to avoid. Around 10AM, I shuffled to the line from the ferry to a Greyhound bus. When you are muddled together on an upscale cheese bus to await your leg funeral, you realize the unofficial marathon started hours ago.
And We're Off...
Fort Wadsworth was loaded with busy little ants scattering around frantically getting to their respective corrals. I was at level 4B and green, which meant that I started on the lower part of the bridge. Of course, this made me nervous because if you see suspicious rain drops, it's probably runner's urine. Yeah...it is technically not allowed but people get brave in a crowd.
Despite my oversharing of nasty tidbits, I shuffled in the front of the 11AM wave, took a selfie, talked with people on Instagram and recorded a Facebook Live video of the kickoff. Before I knew it, I was surrounded by over 50,000 of my adopted best friends, cousins and possibly creepy future marathon buddies from across the world.
From running the NYC Marathon in the past, I reminded myself several times to slow down. Adrenaline is surging through people's veins at the Verrazano Bridge and it's easy to watch people burn out before mile 10 because of the excitement. I know the hurt and mental tough that I would need to dig from my reserves. Clairvoyantly, I opted to go into cruise control and let my feet fall lightly onto the bridge when I was descending.
The first two miles overlooks the city and welcomes you into the notorious warmth awaiting you at mile three in Brooklyn. Eagerly, I traded in the sounds of footsteps for an uproar of cheers. Yes, I tell myself to take it easy during a run in the beginning but it's incredibly hard to do so with the positive energy. Despite what people state, personally I think that Brooklyn has the best cheer section out of all of the boroughs. If it's your thing, you get to slap hands with a wave of strangers who waited for hours to meet you. For three to even close to nine hours, you transform into a pavement stomping celebrity. People are excited to see you shine, showering you with encouraging words and loading you with towels, junk food and water. The volunteers are spot on, handing out Gatorade, water and sponges to keep you hydrated. After all, regardless of how exciting this may be, 26.2 miles is STILL 26.2 miles.
I kept my pace around 13 to 14 minutes a mile, a minute slower than last years' time. My phone lit up like an Operation game board and I knew each message held importance. Friends, followers and family members gave me a heads up if they were nearby. Unfortunately, I zoomed by a few before looking down at my phone. Thankfully, I met up with most folks, including people who I didn't expect to see on the course. One person who stood out was my Shape Up NYC instructor Amanda Young, who is this bad ass Equinox trainer who offered to teach a Personal Training course for the Shape Up NYC Brooklyn chapter a year ago. She captivated me with her energy but her story about trigeminal neuroma made me respect her on an entirely different level (watch the video below if you're interested in learning more about her and the condition). Hearing and seeing a woman that I admire so much tell me that she found me inspiring is humbling. When I cross paths with people like her, they tend to fuel me like the water, air and nutrition that I need on the course.
Edging mile seven took me near one of my favorite running routes. The crowd section is spectacular near the Downtown Brooklyn area going into Greenpoint. Even as a back of the packer, these guys are ALWAYS out there every year. Running through sections of Carroll Gardens to Greenpoint is like experiencing a sober Mardi Gras for runners. The bands are cranked up to high gear. Roars from the spectators echo through the streets. The signs are sometimes witty with a hint of cheese but keeps you reminded that you are in it to complete this hard task of 26.2 miles.
As I made a familiar left turn, I was greeted less than 10 blocks away to the Pulaski Bridge. While I frequent this area for my long runs, the Pulaski Bridge marked the marathoner's half way point. Officially, you can listen to people tell you that you're halfway done.
Going into Queens strangely fuels, scares and drains me all at once. You have the option to either look at it as being half way done or a time to melt down because you have so much distance left. Without sounding pretentious, this is truly a training run for me, as I have to do an ultra marathon on November 18th. Bearing this thought in mind, I quickly got over my feelings, dedicated my half way point to my son and allowed his love to be my vessel.
In my mind, miles 14.5 - 16 are every Disney villain that you can cross in less than 30 minutes. Thankfully, I didn't hear someone screaming "Earl" onto the concrete and donating parts of last weeks' lunch but I did see the familiar faces of exhaustion. Being in the back of the pack allows you to experience a different set of emotions that seem like an abusive relationship on the course. There's a mixture between fatigue, frustrated speed walkers, struggle runners and what I would like to call the "fuck this shit" crew who vow everything from never doing this marathon shit again to not giving a damn about a PR. In my mind, I graduated well beyond the "fuck this shit" crew years ago and didn't want to speed walk so I adopted being a struggle runner when I could. The Queensboro Bridge is like a bitter baby mother who's watched her ex boyfriend move on with the mistress, make babies that he proudly brags about taking care of and she's reminded that he's nothing but a piece of shit like her father. Oh, sorry, too dark huh? Pardon my horrific humor but just like a scorned lover, everyone heals at their own time. This year, I'm proud to say that I didn't proceed with anxiety as I once did. Instead, I told myself to get it over with since my family was waiting for me at mile 16.
I slowed down tremendously at Mile 16, swapping out some of the extra stuff that I carried with me and handing it off to my exhausted husband. I gave them funk and sweat filled hugs and kisses, glad that I was able to see a familiar face and steal a sip of his iced coffee. In hindsight, that really wasn't a great idea since caffeine makes me want to call an exterminator for whatever died in my body. My husband Eric and I went briefly went over our reunion plan and I went back onto the course.
The infamous cheer section didn't sound as loud as last years' noise but the people were still as vibrant as runners ran through a steady, annoying rain. My Super Woman cap shielded my eyes and parts of my hair from being soaked. I learned through the Spartan races that wearing a hat through shit weather is not only great for preserving heat but allows you to see the course without being overwhelmed by wearing glasses that can get foggy. The back of hair was wet and I could feel my dreads beating on my barren back. My Vaseline was wearing off and I lubed up in front of a group of spectators that stared at me polishing on a gunk of grease on my meaty inner thighs. I came to terms three years ago about not giving a damn about what people may think about me giving them a grotesque visual. Some unfortunate family may have to explain to their 7 year old about why I was finessing my nipples with baby powder scented grease at Mile 19 but I'm thankful that it didn't chafe just yet.
The closer I shuffled to the Bronx, I could feel the right side of my glutes trying to channel the jackass whisperer. A sharp pain pinched my quads for a few minutes. Initially, I worried that it was a repeat of last year's sciatica flare up and I told myself to reduce my running down to a walk. When you're this close to the end, the last thing that you want to happen is to be pulled off the course at mile 25.5.
I was content doing speed walking from the last bits of the Bronx, in which I was blessed with something in my cup that wasn't water, and loaded with goodies like Slim Jims, chocolate, water and cashews. I could feel the temperature dropping and while it was great that the rain stopped, I was greeted by night fall. Being hit with Daylight Savings Time and going back an hour, darkness was there by 4:30PM.
Opting to have no headphones or external speaker allowed me to have a conversation in my head as I typically do during long runs. I thought this year as a whole, exceptionally humbled by the opportunities presented to me. I thought about what food that I wanted to eat before hitting the shower. At one point, I let an inside thought slip, laughing out loud about hobbling down the stairs at 72nd Street train station as I do every year. The thought of the recovery process made me nervous and a part of me still question if I'm ready for my 60K on the 18th in Central Park.
My thoughts were interrupted in between mile 22 and 23 before making a turn onto 5th Avenue. An older gentleman started shouting at me and a fellow runner as we passed. I wanted to ignore him but my impulse made me stop to curse him out.
'"It's gonna take your fat ass forever, huh?" the stranger shouted.
"Your mother should've taken a bit longer to bake you, asshole." I retorted.
In all of my marathons, I never been trolled on the course. It was a bit disheartening to encounter such a hate filled Uncle Fester looking man who thought it was humorous to insult people passing by. Two runners saw the incident and convinced me to not waste time arguing with a barbaric man. They made valid points. After all, I didn't come out onto the course to lose it all for five minutes of kicking some strangers ass and earning a mugshot. If my year of blogging taught me anything, there will be trolls everywhere and they do not take days off. Trolls are relentless and most times, carry insecurities within self. For a mile, it fueled me with rage and I wasn't sure if I would be able to look past it.
Mile 23 greeted me with familiar faces. I saw an army of my running buddies and friends. Divine intervention set in or maybe I played How to Be a Millionaire in my mind, asking to dial in for a friend. Their presence cleared the smoke from my path. Strangely enough, I felt my feet itching to move faster. Around mile 24, the runners were guided to enter Central Park.
Home stretch is close and I knew it. The last two years, I lost a lot of energy around this point. My feet opposed that view this year. I thought it was luck initially since I was going downhill but my body wanted to move. One minute passed and I was still running. Before I knew it, I could sprint for five minutes. I stopped because I made myself excited and nervous. Giggling on the inside, I pushed myself to run again. Two minutes again. Five minutes again. Swift walks.
I can see the bright lights and hear an influx of people.
"800 meters approaching."
I wanted to run and didn't want to run. My feet felt animated and I imagined them crossing.
"400 meters approaching."
It's about to be over. The emotions draped me like a warm blanket and instead of crying this time, I opted to close my eyes, breathe deeply as I ran and each step felt like a montage was playing around me. 20, 16, 10, then 4 steps and before I knew it, "Congratulations marathoner," a volunteer stated.
I shook several hands and hugged faces that I cannot place. I took several selfies, smile unapologetically and allowed my phone to light up like a Christmas light. I'm a marathoner again. Please don't ask me which race number this is because I don't know at this very moment. I do know that this is marathon number 8. It feels weird to say that out loud. I thought I would've quit by now, like I used to do almost a decade ago when success scared every bone in my body. I had valid reasons to back out this time.
Marathoner or not, I'm still a grieving mother.
I'm still broken most days.
Sometimes, I still wake up in the morning and want to go back to sleep and chase after a dream of children that don't exist.
But here's the thing: Your circumstances can teach you a lot and shape how other events will follow. Most things that happen to you in this lifetime is out of your control but when you have the opportunity to shape shift something to your liking, why not seize the day. I could wallow in my misfortunes. I have that right and nobody can take that away from me. Conversely, I can be a warrior and grow something beautiful from the hardness and pain.
I have friends who wanted to race in the NYC Marathon, had the chance and circumstances prevented them from being able to execute their moment in the sunshine. To quote myself from my post on Instagram a few days ago, "...While my feet hit the pavement solely on my accord, my heart didn't move without you. In turn, I feel blessed." I gave the pavement numerous miles for selfish reasons like escaping my family or seeking something shiny. This time, I found my world flipped upside down conveniently around my marathon and ultra marathon training. My support system pushed me through. In turn, I can wholeheartedly dedicate this NYC Marathon to you guys. I cannot express my love and appreciation for the kind words and push that I received from hundreds, maybe even thousands of you on social media, when I lost sight of my purpose. I know I will be shaken by something again, hopefully nothing of this magnitude, but you guys lit my path and thankful that you became my candlelight and roses. I am honored to be a third time recipient of the TCS NYC Marathon medal. It's so much more than a sport to 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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