It was Saturday morning.
I didn't come home until 2AM. Conveniently, I was working as a Press Photographer covering events at the New York Comic Con on behalf of Comic Attack.Net. Aside from being a passionate runner, I enjoy doing freelance photography and culinary work when I can. After all, it is New York City and the New York Comic Con was already in my schedule way before I ever considered the Chicago Marathon. I worked New York Comic Con for two days and on that Friday, I went to meet up with a few friends at Howl at the Moon bar in the city, chilled with them until around 10pm and decided to live it up a little at the after party with the celebs and comic book geeks at Bowlmor bowling alley at 42nd Street. I may have had a bit over 8 drinks that night and surely was tipsy as all hell. This was something that I told myself that I would avoid but it was my last night in NYC for a week.
It felt like death to wake up at 3:45AM but my flight was scheduled to leave for 6AM. Thankfully, I had everything packed and set out for two weeks. Saturday morning, I told my family that I loved them, talked with my best friend for partial of the ride because he's a night owl who happened to be at work and rushed to the airport in a cab. The air was cool, my nerves were playing Tetris but there's something exceptionally beautiful about looking at the city lights when going up 50,000 feet into the sky. Everything and everyone is so small. In turn, I used this as the correlation to my race. The Chicago Marathon is huge and small at the same time. When something is placed directly in front of you, it's easy to get overwhelmed by the gravity of things but when you separate yourself for a few moments, it's easier to look at all sides of the board. I gave myself permission to stop tripping while en route to Chi Town.
Upon arrival, I headed straight to the McCormick Place Convention Center. The walk way seems like forever, especially when you are lugging a Dora the Explorer sized backpack and your luggage. You can feel the nervous energy, excitement and confusion in the air. So many vendors trying to sink their teeth into your pockets convincing you that you need more energy gels and a new pair of sneakers. I knew better: Stick to what you have been training in. Plus, my pockets hate lint. I picked up my bib and because the shirt matched my tutu so well, I made an executive impromptu decision that their shirt will be the one that I will run for the marathon. I tend to avoid this because I test out how good my gear will affect me prior to a race.
I headed on the Red Line to greet the host for the AirBnB, in which he's an absolute favorite to me thus far. Between the Ventra card and Lyft, they became my best friends in Chicago. For the novice broke tourist, shared rides are life until you're paired up with a nut job. Fortunately, I'm from NYC so neurotic makes me feel quite at home. That night, I ventured off to find some incredible food and see the Chicago Bulls vs. Indiana Pacers game at the United Center. Live games are much better than watching it on television in my opinion but tight seats in the nose bleeding section can drive you a bit nuts. My friends raved about Harold's Chicken in Chicago, which unfortunately had me pretty disappointed. Although fresh, I found myself as the very critical chef and food Nazi asking what was so amazing about it. It certainly wasn't terrible but it wasn't the best thing to masturbate against my tongue. I'm sorry Chicago. After enjoying a bit of night life, I headed for bed around 11:30.
Race Day Morning
On race day morning, I kept it pretty simple. Three scrambled cheese eggs with baby spinach and kale, buttered cinnamon raisin toast and a greek yogurt topped with honey and strawberries. Earl Grey tea with lemon and loads of honey became my friend. Unfortunately, my unofficial good luck charm of being sick during major events was here to greet me again. I was plagued this time with a viral and sinus infection. No medication. Cepacol throat lozenges and acetaminophen were fill ins for my typical menage a trois for my illness. Despite the pain, I refused to let anything stop me from attaining a medal that I flew close to 800 miles away from NYC to get.
The train ride was so nostalgic to the New York City Marathon that I did last year. The car had sprinkles of runners with their race bibs throughout the train. Bright sneakers, different shades of people and a multitude of languages filled the air as some passengers couldn't embrace the beauty that I witnessed. To them, we were probably an interruption to their Sunday morning commute while others wished us the best of luck on our prospective races.
Walking out of the train station, you could see a sea of colors scurrying to their corrals at Grant Park. Photographers assigned to the outskirts of the race pulled me over a few times as I frantically rushed through crowds to get to my assignment. Perhaps it was my very bright green tutu or maybe they know that there's nothing like capturing people in their element.
Since I'm a slow runner, I was assigned to the last corral. Upon entrance, I saw a familiar face. Olivia Frempong is my Black Girls Run sister from Rensselaer County who organizes the Albany chapter. She, like I, traveled away from our children to embark on this crazy experience because there's obviously something that excites us about possible bruises, missing toe nails, medals and food that we can buy at any corner store. We performed our unofficial routine: Selfies, Words of Encouragement & Bathroom Runs. The area was so congested that it was hard for me to get decent service at Grant Park. Wave two did not start until 8:00AM and by this point, the faster runners started at 7:30AM. We headed over to the corrals, jumping up a few letters ahead because the runners already started moving. We took a few more selfies, wished each other luck and took in the views around us. We are running the Chicago Marathon.
Ready, Set, Go!
I left my nerves in the fifth port a potty at Grant Park ten minutes before starting my run. While waiting for my wave to inch to the start line, I told myself that this run is not anything different than a training run but with 1.7 million spectators cheering you on. At some point, you have to surrender to the thoughts, fears and possibility of success. This is not my first time doing a marathon and with this knowledge, I gave myself permission to do so very early on.
Upon crossing, I gave my goodbyes to Olivia, as I told myself for three months that I would race at my own pace. It is very easy to put yourself or others under an enormous amount of pressure during a race when you run side by side. Someone will constantly feel like they have to keep up pace or at times, unintentionally competing against each other.
From the 2015 New York City Marathon, I truly grasped the definition of racing at your own pace. It is very easy to get caught up in the moment where you develop running amnesia because you deludes yourself into overthinking something that shouldn't be examined any differently. Another thing that I decided to implement for the Chicago Marathon is not setting a finish time goal. While there's nothing wrong with having a time frame set in your head, I have so many other race commitments that I need to tend to that my goals were simply to complete the race by any means necessary and as injury free as possible.
I ran with 40,399 strangers, being cheered on by over a million spectators who called me by my unofficial race name, "Green Tutu", and it felt incredible. For anyone who is doing a race for the first time, especially big ones, it helps to have your name visibly shown on your shirt. It was so weird running a few miles in and hearing someone say, "You run number 56239. Whoooo! You look GREAT!" It took for me to glance down to realize that this lady was shouting at me. Well, thank you ma'am for wishing me well and reading those numbers so enthusiastically.
I opted for no headphones on the Chicago Marathon. It had such a New York City Marathon vibe to it that I learned that people will keep you going. Headphones are helpful in deserted areas or when you need to listen to your own thoughts for a few minutes, not so much for a city like Chicago. There's too many things to take in. The Chicago Marathon takes you through 29 vibrant neighborhoods and so many enthused people marinating out in the cold for YOU. Fuck headphones. I decided to live in the moment from start to finish.
What I noticed about the first nine miles this go round is that I did not get as emotional as I did before. My first ten half marathons, I used to get exceptionally choked up on tears when I let my mind empty out its thoughts onto the pavement. By mile 10, I'd drown in my own tears because I would think about loved ones who passed on, particularly my father. This wasn't the case this time. I found myself strangely happy on the course. My legs were strong and were gliding like a gazelle. At one point, I actually questioned if this course was too easy, as the Chicago Marathon is not filled with a lot of inclines. It is exceptionally forgiving and great for a first timer attempting a marathon.
I maintained a 13 to 14 minute pace for 14 miles and felt pretty great about that. Perhaps a few of you are frowning on that time but I could care less. I am moving more than most people do in a month and it's all crammed into one day. Children made me feel strong on the course. There was a sea of children at mile 15 that made my heart melt. I may have became just a bit too ambitious on picking up my pace along this point because something about their energy made me feel like I could move faster. On second thought, maybe it was the candy, pretzels, energy gels and a bar that was nice enough to hand out beer on the course in a suspicious white cup that gave me such a boost.
Approximately mile 18, I started to experience a light chafing on my thighs and was quickly reminded that I forgot to put on any form of extra lubricant to my body. I cringed at this thought and used some Vasoline provided by the medics stationed by every mile. Around mile 20, I quickly realized that although I was running with a viral infection, my lungs felt very open and I could breathe with ease. There's something that is incredibly magical about exercising and this is certainly one of them.
Up until this point, I was on an incredible high but half way into mile 21 was a huge shift in thought. Instead of getting the typical aches in my legs, I felt sharp pains across my neck and shoulders. For what was probably 10 minutes, I found it difficult to move my head from side to side. By mile 22, I had to slow down my pace to a 15 minute mile, attempt to move around in stiffness and hold back tears. The weight of doing a marathon was starting to kick in. Out of nowhere, even the slightest of inclines felt horrific. All I could wonder was "...why now." I am at mile 22. This is practically the end of the marathon.
Let me tell you that pain is pain and when it gets sharp, it makes you question every decision that you make. At times, I had phantom pains in areas that weren't bothering me because at this point, I was completely over it. I wanted this run to be over. It didn't help that for a half mile, the course became silent. Energy gels and candy started to taste like too much cough syrup. The Gatorade was starting to turn my stomach and I wanted to kill every smiling face in my direction.
It is frustrating when you have someone yelling at you that there's only X amount of miles to go and they add in "why are you walking?" You go through a series of psychosis and want to gnaw at their legs, make them walk to a plank and forcing them to jump into a pool of their own ignorance. Posters with light humor such as "smile if you peed a little" and "don't fart" start to piss you off. How do they know that you peed a little bit in your pants back at mile 8? I was already reminded not to fart because as I said before, my biggest fear in racing is to not become a shit meme on anyone's social network. The Gingerbread Man is not a part of your imagination. It's real! If you have no idea about how real it gets to those cute and adorable little farts out on the course, I am giving you a WARM invite to read: Reasons Why I Never Want to Catch the Gingerbread Man.
My phone died back at mile 15 so I couldn't even tap into my super warrior Facebook network for words of encouragement. Despite being annoyed with life, I kept myself moving. Mile 23 had my stomach playing Daft Punk songs and I gave myself a five minute window before I contemplated disappearing off course to go poop shamelessly behind a parked car. Thankfully, the port a potty was on course and empty just in time with tissue. You guys don't know how much marathoners pray that there's tissue in these nasty incubators of smelly death because most times, after a certain amount of miles, you will be literally assed out of paper if you're not prepared. Note to you: Carry tissue and sanitizer for the course. Good luck to you if you're in costume. I stick to tutus because I can easily lift it up to my boobs to prevent doo doo butter from touching it.
Spontaneous Runner's High
I wish I could truly explain it to you but it would be damn near impossible. Although I did not hit the figurative runner's wall in this marathon, I surely did come across this insane amount of runner's high at mile 25. I saw the clock and this surge of energy performed a massive takeover in my last 1.1 miles. My stride lengthened, legs weren't stiff and although my glutes were on fire, I didn't really give a shit. I felt like I could run another five miles with ease (but you could keep all of those extra miles if there's no reason to run). There was a large screen showing runners crossing the finish line. I am going to make it! The tears started filling up in my eyes. I turn into such a softie at the finish at almost every race. Feet started moving faster. I can feel the muscles in my cheeks rising. Breathe in for two, out for two. And then this rude ass incline shows up. Chicago, are you fucking kidding me?
Let me harp on for a minute about this incline. You gave us marathoners 25.8 miles of a practically flat course if you able to look past the 20 bridges that you run up and down on (and that's probably not an exaggerated number) but decide, oooh, let's throw a fucking incline on the course at the last 800 meters just to fuck with them? WHY?! There were PLENTY of miles to be melodramatic on but you chose the very end. Chicago Marathon, you sir, are an asshole, but I forgive you.
I will not fake the funk to you. I was about to say to hell with running across the finish line. Seeing that incline made me want to throw a tantrum like a two year old pissed off about getting the wrong color gum ball, angrily stomping as if my dad told me to fix my face, snatch my medal out of one of the volunteer's hands and moon the entire crowd...but I didn't. As I have done for a fellow runner in the Nike Toronto 15K, another fellow runner returned a favor for me. She edged in closer, put her hand around my shoulder and told me not to stop moving. I picked up my pace a bit. All I could hear is her voice. She sounded like she was from out of town like me. "Don't stop running now sweetheart. It's the end. Earn your medal." She held out her hand and gripped a stranger as I have done countless times and we ran. Her inner glow helped my slowly dying flame. At the last 100 meters, she wished me well and I shouted out congratulations to her. She let my hand go and we ran across the finish line separately. It was done. Every ounce of me wanted to do a melodramatic fall, ugly cry and lay out on the ground but I know better than that. While it may play out a beautiful scene in your head, your unscripted acting can injure other runners and take away from their great moment. I remained mindful that there's 40,400 of us who will become marathoners today. Instead, I threw up my hands in happiness that it was over. I shut off my Fitbit, walked over to volunteers, thanked them for their participation and collected my medal.
It's over. All that occurred after this was a blur. I know that I got a lot of water and food. I must have walked another mile to the train station. My portable charger finally had enough juice in it to turn my phone back on and I went on Facebook Live to tell everyone, especially my sponsors for this race, thank you for getting me out here. Before exiting the park, an official asked me if I was okay. The viral infection started to make an appearance after what seemed like to me that it went on a trip to the store for over 6 hours and returned back home. She watched me gasping for air as I couldn't stop coughing. Nevertheless, I took sickly ass out of the park and kept moving. The train ride was exceptionally smelly. I secretly prayed hard for patrons not to sit next to me. God must have said "Not today, my child" and put two people near me. At least I wasn't the only putrid smelling bastard on the train. The ride felt longer. My nerves finally returned. The walk back to the AirBnB felt longer than it did that morning. Walking up four flights of stairs felt like death. I peeled off sweaty layers AFTER taking several thousand selfies.
I let the shower steam up a bit, let the water hit areas of my skin and as I wanted to sigh out a sound of relaxation, I realized that I injured myself a bit. Both sides of my breasts had peeled off skin down to the white meat. My back has a brand new scar on my back. The sides of my stomach had a light bruise. My ass cheeks hurt like hell. But guess what? My nipples were still there. I didn't have any bruises on my legs. My calves weren't inflamed and I could walk! My neck stiffness was not bothering me and although my nose flooded like a hurricane, I made it. I am a marathoner again. I fucking made it. My medal looks awesome. The shower hurts a bit but I don't wreak of depression, homicide and a rat feces. I am a marathoner. These scars were earned.
Can you believe that I went back out less than two hours later to get a celebratory dinner by myself and headed to the Architecture Boat Tour? The next morning, I perused the streets as if the marathon never existed. I ate everything known to man and didn't even feel guilty. My training was effective this time. And you know what? I managed to get a personal record for my marathon time. Nothing glamorous but I did shave off ten minutes. I finished at 6 hours, 33 minutes and 35 seconds at 15 minutes, 1 second a mile. This fat runner from Brooklyn, NY, with sciatica, disc degenerative disease and a laundry list of health issues the size of Texas finished another marathon.
Let me be clear about this: I never aspired to inspire anyone, not even myself. I am a person who is terrified of my own success because failure surrounded me for so long. Being told that I am inspirational still feels weird. I am still learning how to accept a compliment. I lost 100 pounds in one year at a point of my life and gained 50 of it back and lost it again. I learned that sometimes you don't have a choice in the matter when something is given to you. I am still learning that your fears and dreams are supposed to scare the shit out of you. They can make you a better person. Your growth shouldn't be determined on how many times you accomplish something but how you embrace the journey, taking in each step of the way and gaining something memorable from it. I am learning how to not be afraid to inspire others by living in my own form of truth. Being 5'3 and a half, over 200 pounds is NEVER an excuse to not be active. On Sunday, October 9, 2016, I earned my website's name once again of being a running fat chef and I am exceptionally proud of that. I cannot thank my supporters enough for toughing it out with me through 3 plus years of ups, downs and TMIs. I love you for it. Most importantly, I am falling back in love with myself. Number 56239, Latoya Shauntay Snell, became a marathoner once again.