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.
2 Weeks Before NYRR 60K
Typically I am pretty efficient about planning out my fueling, clothing and hydration for races. This year was a bit of a challenge doing these things a week in advance. Things like this happens when you schedule yourself for 46 races. Your joy becomes a job and some days, you really want to call out of work, pretend your sick with rabbit flu and watch television under an anxiety blanket -- and if you want to buy me one, please do because they're real. My mind was not in the most positive of places for two weeks. When things went wrong at the Javelina Jundred 100 miler, it took me a few days to take myself out of the sunken place. I was irrationally angry that I completed 22.8 miles versus getting closer to the 100 that I expected to run. My Chicago Marathon was longer in time than any marathon attempt before which would've been fine if I didn't go into hypothermia and a glucose drop to 20 post race -- thanks bag check. The Berlin Marathon was a shit show only because of coming in to no finish line despite being able to push people through on both races. The drawbacks of telling people your goals and falling short means everyone has something to say on it. I received 'advice' to drop down my distance, knee issues that I still don't know I have to weight loss suggestions and of course, whoopie cushioned moments from people who feel honored to gloat on forums to their inbox about how I was a 'fraud.' I was mentally deep friend in Krispy Kreme doughnut batter and my schedule looked insane: Unpack suitcase, laundry, feed and water myself, be a semi decent parent and wife while doing interviews with a shadowing camera crew, podcasts, speak on a panel and actually train all on a quarter tank of gas. After knocking out the NYC Marathon, I told myself that I'd bury myself with my ancestors for a week but that didn't happen. Instead, I took a few days off, trained thereafter and started pulling out my clothing for this race and didn't complete the process. And because I'm fabulously ass backwards, my duffel bag is fully loaded with everything for the Route 66 5K and Marathon but I didn't pull out my fuel and stuff until the very last minute. Gold star to me!
Plan for Your Physical Death
I thought back to my first go round with the NYRR Knickerbocker 60K in 2015. If you want to entertain yourself on how I "successfully" did it twice, check out my Medium post here. This blurb is in ode to every ounce of profanity laid out on the course yesterday and what things look like when they're crashing like the 2008 stock market. There's plenty of race reports out there loaded with "...all my life I had to fight" stories. I want to give you a glimpse of how you can turn lemons into lemonade and how to cope when that lemon might've been touched by raw chicken the night before.
On a serious note, here's a functional list of what you should have for your road 60K if you never did one:
Tweak to your ideal perfection but for starting temps in the high 30s transitioning to 43 and dropping back down because I'm a 16/17 minute paced ultra runner, you need layers darling:
OTHER STUFF TO CONSIDER:
I am not a fan of keeping it so light that I'm a minimalist but I don't want to lug so much stuff that I'm going for a seven day hike. As a plus size gal - 250 lbs to be exact - I can feel the extra weight already but I've become a bit of a geek about figuring out how much calories I need a hour. With that being said, all of that stuff is listed above. What's not mentioned in most of these things are the things you train for in 16 - 26 weeks: Your brain.
Be smart, strategic when you can but realistic. Listen to your body. Know the difference between mind over matter versus ego tripping and injuries. With my health issues, I am extra heightened and I have to make tough judgment calls more than I care to admit.
Additionally, unpack the mental chatter before your race. I have a lot of negative thoughts floating in my head (and on the internet) about myself regularly. Turn all of that shit off. Read a funny book -- I actually did or spend time with your kid. Watch some shitty show. Rest your feet but if you're opting for a massage, please do this DAYS before. And if that doesn't work, carry your version of a security blanket. Sometimes I borrow a beautiful message from my inbox that someone writes me, scribble it down on a paper and allow that to fuel me. Once in a blue, I write a note to myself. If you're a person who gets off on being angry, think of every screwed up thing a person told you and allow that to fuel you for the remaining miles. Every time you make a step, it's a polite way to tell someone to kick rocks.
If you have a support system, ask them to come when you need them. My husband attended all of my races first year but now it's a damn job. I didn't expect him to show up to all 46 nor do I want him to do that because he has a thing called a life. If you can predict how long you'll be out there or when you usually feel the suck, recruit people to come out on shifts. Thankfully I have a lot of support here in NYC and this is without asking; I know this is not everyone's reality. Because I'm a slow AF girl, I told him a time frame of when I expect to be wrapping up. He was prepared to meet me at the last hour as moral support and toted my changing gear. With this said, if you have someone to do this, GREAT. If you don't, here's the changing items you should consider:
Paying Tolls for Procrastination
Despite being decent about giving people advice, I'm notorious for breaking my own rules. I managed to get 5 hours of sleep because I am a raving lunatic. Thankfully I showered the curry chicken smell off of my body before hitting the bed and I emptied my stomach four times -- shit happens.
Out of paranoia, I checked my food drop bag and reassured my husband knew which backpack to take for post race. My breakfast was pretty simple: Two packets of brown sugar instant oatmeal, a banana, bowl of cereal with almond milk and a glass of water paired with electrolytes.
Every time I thought I had it right, I forgot another thing and conversely, I was late leaving my home for the train station. A part of me went into a light worry and the other side of my brain told myself that panic had no room here; what will be will be and I'll run for dear life to the middle of Central Park. In 2017, I was stuck on the train and jumped into an Uber that took me into the wrong direction. I had an anxiety attack to find myself on the other side, cried so bad in a taxi that the poor guy turned off his meter and sent me on my way. That episode taught me enough to calm the hell down and use your legs to get to my destination.
This year, the NYRR 60K headquarters was 'conveniently' positioned in the middle of the park. I jumped off the C line at 103rd Street and made a five minute shuffle to headquarters. It was near ball field eight and my procrastinating spirit still had to go pick up my bib. I mean, it was only 7:58AM and my race starts at 8AM. I hope you guys are taking notes in what NOT to do. Thanks to volunteers, I was able to shift my drop bag into a labeled clear plastic bag, drop it off onto a table and load up my checked in tee and bag into baggage drop off. I didn't have to move far to start the race since it was a minute walk away. Despite being irritated about my lateness, I didn't waste any time getting flustered about it. It was 8:08AM and when staff saw me, I was allowed to start.
I took myself into a light groove at a 15 minute pace and finding a comfort zone. The first loop is the longest -- 5.2 miles to be exact. Thankfully this race doesn't take you through the entire park because if it did, I would meet the worst Pokémon known to Central Park: Harlem Hill. Instead, I was greeted with Cat Hill and a long way around where I could almost touch 59th Street -- Columbus Circle. If you move slowly like me, there's a chance that you will feel alone on this part and question a few times if you went the wrong way. The volunteers were there long enough to see me and I allowed my shoulders to lose its tension. Before the end of that section, it connects with loops 2 - 9 and you'll soon be united with the faster runners who were probably on their 2nd or quite possibly 3rd loop versus my one.
I didn't reach my first loop until one hour and eighteen minutes but because I was basing it off gun time, this looked closer to a hour thirty. I saw a few people sitting down at table making notes when people crossed and I can hear a person shouting out my number. Unlike the typical events, ultra races doesn't typically produce a large number of participants which makes me feel like I'm at home. In turn, the process is different. There was a large board that displayed my name and how many loops I had remaining. I smiled bright on the outside and felt like sour milk internally because this was shaping out to be a long day.
Hello Sciatica! Would You Like Some Coffee?
Before the end of mile six, I felt a familiar pain rest on the right side of my body. Admittedly, I grew a bit irritated. I expected my sciatica to flare because I felt it on Saturday night but I was hoping that it wouldn't surface until much later into the race. I pulled out my warming balm and might've mooned a few children as I went up the first hill; I apologize to the parents and children I might have traumatized.
My strategy for race day was simple: Run/speed walk intervals with a mixture of don't die. My best time to date for this race was 9 hours and 47 minutes. Because my times have been at its shittiest this year, I knew I was looking at 10 hours outside and my only goal was to finish -- with or without a medal. I didn't want to do math and strategically ate everything that I crammed into my pocket on each loop. The only numbers that concerned me were the ones emitting from my watch and at times, I didn't care much about that. As a slower paced runner, my first goal is to enjoy what I'm doing and beating the clock is secondary. It wasn't always that way but trail running taught me patience.
I finished up the second loop and I could feel my happiness draining from my pores. By mile 10, my sciatica pulled up a chair, kicked its feet onto my coffee table with muddied boots and asked for the strongest brew of coffee that I had in my house.
How it Went to Hell in a Matter of Hours
Allow me to remind you again that this is not a post about me making a triumphant comeback. Instead, this is a tale of how you can make the best out of a crappy situation especially if you are new to ultra running.
I felt my smile slowly fading around the 11 mile mark. By this point, a fellow runner asked me why I chose this 60K as my first race. I tilted my head to the side, smized with my eyes and corrected her by reassuring her that I wouldn't dare choose this as my first race. If I finished this 60K, it would've been my 177th completed adventure. I've been on the assumption rodeo before and didn't allow the comment to irritate me; the growing pain on my hips were enough to place my anger at a proper place.
My brain was starting to resemble scrambled eggs by start of loop 3. Any time my brain goes into a dark spot, I remind myself to find some sort of humor. Most marathons and ultras, I start to argue with gravity between miles 16 - 20; I felt the rage kick in around mile 14.
Here's my rule of thumb: When you start to feel a bit depressive during a marathon or an ultra, check your fueling. This might sound like another sad attempt of a joke but it's very true in my case. The lack of nutrients sometimes makes me think of reasons why I should quit. I hear all of the terrible voices in my head that it's too hard or daydreaming of what I could be doing at this moment. If you feel like that, it's feeding time love bugs. After a few bites of my Stroopwafel, I felt a bit better but my sciatica wouldn't leave.
The cold air started to smack my face really hard at certain points but the run crews on the course kept my spirits up for a great portion of the race. I am a member of Black Girls Run and one of the volunteers that worked the start of the course gave me a big hug at each loop when she saw me. Typically I'd put up either a race day picture or a flat runner picture of my clothing and supplies on social media. I was so out of it that I didn't have time to do it this go round. In turn, a lot of people were surprised to see me out there.
I saw members from Boogie Down Bronx Runners. If you never saw them get down on a course, you're missing a dope sight. At the NYC Marathon, you can either find them running on the course or cheering and fueling people on between miles 19 - 21. I looked forward to seeing them on each loop at the 60K. Each time I saw them, a person would ask me if I needed something. Oftentimes, I'd grab the pickles and Doritos. Someone would ask how I was feeling and each loop, my response would get much more ridiculous than the last. I somehow graduated from requests for alcohol to a gun to shoot my legs off. Their laughs made me laugh and kept me going. And they even positioned themselves at the peak of Cat Hill -- a nasty little incline that makes you want to jump on that cat statue and scare it with a dog.
On the first set of loops, I declined help from people who offered but by 16, I was starting to crumble. The pain on my right side intensified and I tried to brush it off. I saw two people eating each others' faces with kisses and for a split second, I thought it was a moose; I really wish this was a joke. The pain was starting to mess with my logic and I knew it wasn't my nutrition this time. No tingly hands, dry mouth or slurring -- just pain.
Again, I tried to find my old pal humor by listing all of the things that I hated at that moment:
Before the start of my fifth loop, one of the volunteers at the aid station told me I looked like an angry zombie and came over to me with a cup of water. It made me cackle because I pictured this and it made me literally wet myself. The act pissed me off and now I was a slightly wet angry zombie who was scared she would chafe.
As my watch hit 16.8 miles, I saw my friend Janelle Hartman from The November Project. She had a camera and at first I smiled and then my wave literally turned into middle fingers in the air. Janelle knew I was falling apart. She told one of the crew members to hold her camera and she started running alongside me. And before I knew it, I had my first cry of the race. I truly needed to let it go. My last few months have been mentally stressful. My sciatica was just exhibiting the things that I've been masking for a bit on and off this year. Having her run alongside me helped me release the mental junk that's been resting in my head. She ran with me until the checkpoint recruiting people to cheer me on and I gave her a hug before picking up a 15:30 pace again.
I started feeling good again and then I heard my back crack as I reached mile 18. Sometimes all of the products, precise nutrition and backup plans cannot prevent the inevitable: My race day was going to end soon and I felt it. The pain touched a nerve close to my love handle and it traveled down to my toes. I watched my time shift from a 15:30 to a 17 minute pace. Around 18.5, I saw some of the cheer squad and buckled down to ask for help. I caved in and allowed the crew to hit me with the Theragun. For a mile, it did the trick. I took the baggie with Doritos, applied on some warming gel and kept moving until Cat Hill made its presence once again.
Each step felt like sharp knives and I was seeing streaks of light in every step for two miles. I wobbled up close the peak and Vanessa saw me in pain. Vanessa and the crew tried to bring my right side back to life for ten minutes. She felt the knot on the side of my body and we could hear it breaking down. Foam rolling and manually massaging this inflamed area is not only hard work but painful. I started to feel good once again but after five minutes, my body started going cold for standing still for too long. A light panic brushed me and I asked myself if I'd be able to get to the sixth loop to get a medic on my own. When I heard another crack at my back, I searched around for someone to help. A group of volunteers were ending their shift and I felt bad in stopping them but knew I had to push my pride aside. Two women called in for a bike medical transport. Ten minutes later, the bike medic radioed in for an emergency vehicle. At 20.1 miles, my race was over.
The truck was warm and it was hard getting relief sitting down and standing up. I contacted my husband to let him know what was happening and he worried about me going home on my own. After being evaluated, popping two Tylenols and sitting under the heating vent, I called my little sister Latisha and my mom and asked them if they could pick me up. I watched people come into the medical tent, some with medals and two who were in tears from their race ending early; it was a bittersweet feeling.
As I talked with some of the volunteer medical staff, one of the women told me she suffers with sciatica. Although I never want anyone to relate to my pain, she gave me a sense of peace knowing that she understood and described exactly what I was going through. Before leaving the tent, she massaged into the area instinctively and it hurt something miserable but it took my 8.5/10 pain level down to a manageable 5 -- magic hands is what I'll call her.
I wobbled over to 102nd Street and 5th Avenue as I met up with my mom and went into the car. I laughed with my family for a bit and made peace with the outcome on my way home. They looked at me weirdly when I told them I'd be doing a marathon this weekend; I'm used to that reaction by now. When I reached home, my husband helped me up the stairs and I took a shower. The heat from the water and steam helped me unwind.
I did all of the post race crap that people hate doing, including myself: Foam rolling, eating a semi full meal, wrapped myself in layers and elevating my legs to allow the blood to flow back down. As I laid down on my husband, he could tell I wasn't broken up about the race compared to the way I was with Javelina Jundred 100 Miler.
One of the best reality checks came from trail and ultra running for a few years. You have to treat running similar to a yoga practice. Some days, you'll knock out everything the way that you envision it but there's others where the simplest things will go wrong. I learn from the experiences, take what I need, write down notes and move forward. This time, I'm reminding myself to back off heavy workouts for the week, keep my running under 10 miles throughout the week until Saturday and very light to the lower end of the moderate spectrum for my gym workouts. Thankfully my bags are packed for Tulsa, OK and I'm preparing to be honored at The Root 100 for their 10th Anniversary. That sounds weird writing but I realize I don't give myself enough credit. Attempting 40 plus endurance races isn't a regular occurrence and knowing that more than 80 percent of my schedule are finishers, I truly cannot complain. I'll meet this course again and I hope that I can get my redemption.
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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